'Football is life': Passionate Winnipeg fans promise full-throated support for Valour FC
As new pro soccer team debuts on the road, fans prep songs for home game Saturday
For Ian Smith football is everything.
He moved to Winnipeg from England 28 years ago and for a brief five years between 1987-1992 he had the Winnipeg Fury to cheer on. Then nothing. Until now.
"I'm really excited," said Smith. "We've been waiting a long time. It's overdue."
The long wait for the return of professional football — or soccer, as most Canadians know it — ended last summer with the formation of Valour FC, Winnipeg's entry in the new Canadian Premier League. On Wednesday night, the team hit the pitch for the very first time when they opened the season against the Pacific Football Club in Victoria, B.C.
"I've been waiting for something like this to come because football is life," said Smith.
He's been writing songs and sharing them online with other soccer super fans in anticipation of the historic match. He and other members of Red River Rising — a Valour FC fan club — gathered at the King's Head Pub in downtown Winnipeg a few hours before the game started to practise some of those songs.
"It's very different to you know, a hockey game. This is not, 'Go Jets go,' it's going to be creative. It's going to be responsive to what's happening on the pitch," said Smith.
He hopes to get the songs up on an Instagram page so that more fans can start to learn the words and eventually crowds of people will be singing together at games across Canada.
"If we get like 9,000 people singing the same song it's going to be pretty awesome and those players on the pitch are gonna raise their game and that's what the crowd is all about."
'This is a football city'
"Finally we get to show the rest of Canada and North America and the world that this is a football city," said Omar Kinnarath.
One of the first gifts Kinnarath received as a child was a soccer ball, and he was hooked ever since.
"That's all I've ever known … this is like literally a dream come true."
As much as he was excited about Valour FC's first game, he's even more pumped about going to their first home game at Investors Group Field on Saturday.
"To see our 11 guys on the pitch, to see the fans, to hear the songs and just just to feel the atmosphere. We want to create an atmosphere of goosebumps".
"We're gonna bring a little bit of that Winnipeg flair, Winnipeg weirdness to it, that's for sure," said Kinnarath.
"To have a soccer team to call my own is a huge deal," said Rigor Maglaya.
Maglaya is a diehard fan of Arsenal FC in the English Premier League, and had gone to games when he was living in Japan. As soon as Winnipeg announced its new team, he went out and got season tickets, before they set foot on the pitch.
"I'm ready to make some noise," said Maglaya. "Go Valour!"
Soccer is part of Victor Avalos' family. It's part of his culture. He was born in Chile and came to Canada as a child. He remembers watching games with his dad. Now that Winnipeg has a home team, he looks forward to taking his kids to watch them play.
"That's part of the culture, of soccer culture. You want to take your children and hope that they will embrace the sport as well, and then they'll do it and it goes on and on like that," said Avalos.
No matter the outcome of their first game Smith believes Valour FC is here to stay.
"I don't see this as a franchise. You know it's not like something where you sort of you buy your team and then it's just a commercial enterprise. This is community. And It will work if we get behind it," said Smith.