Manitoba

'Football is life': Passionate Winnipeg fans promise full-throated support for Valour FC

Winnipeg soccer fans gathered at the King's Head pub to watch Valour FC play their first match in the new Canadian Premier League.

As new pro soccer team debuts on the road, fans prep songs for home game Saturday

These Valour FC super fans are part of the Red River Rising fan club. They met at the King's Head pub in downtown Winnipeg to watch the city's franchise play their first match in the Canadian Premier League. (Walter Bernal/CBC News)

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."

Ian Smith has been waiting 27 years for Winnipeg to get a professional soccer team. (Walther Bernal/CBC News)

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.

Omar Kinnarath grew up playing soccer in Winnipeg's West End. He says one of the first gifts he received was a soccer ball and he was hooked from the start. (Walter Bernal/CBC News)

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.

Rigor Maglaya bought season tickets for Valour FC's home games as soon as he heard Winnipeg had a soccer franchise. (Walther Bernal/CBC News)

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.

Victor Avalos was born in Chile. His father was a football fan, and he grew up to love the game. He's now looking forward to taking his own kids to watch Valour FC at Investors Group Field. (Walther Bernal/CBC News)

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. 

About the Author

Caroline Barghout

Investigative Reporter, CBC Manitoba I-Team

Caroline began her career co-hosting an internet radio talk show in Toronto and then worked at various stations in Oshawa, Sudbury and Toronto before landing in Winnipeg in 2007. Since joining CBC Manitoba as a reporter in 2013, she has won an award for her work on crowded jails and her investigation into Tina Fontaine's death led to changes in the child welfare system. Email: caroline.barghout@cbc.ca

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