Montreal·Analysis

A unique home opener 250 Montreal Impact fans will never forget

On Tuesday night, the Montreal Impact became Canada's first professional sports team to play in front of fans since March, and those fans now have a story they can tell for years to come.

On Tuesday night, the Impact became Canada's first pro sports team to play in front of fans since March

A handful of the 250 fans admitted into Saputo Stadium Tuesday wait for the Montreal Impact-Vancouver Whitecaps game to start. It was the first time since March that sports fans in Canada were allowed to watch a pro team play in person. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

There should probably be a 5,000-fan minimum before Darude's Sandstorm can be played in any stadium, but why focus on the minutiae of what was an extremely unique sports fan experience in Montreal Tuesday night?

Like many things in 2020, it was an evening to remember — if for nothing more than how different it was.

There were only 250 Montreal Impact fans inside the gates of the 20,000-seat Saputo Stadium, spread out across five sections on the south side of the venue.

They had enough room around them to, at a minimum, do jumping jacks and at a maximum, do cartwheels each time the home team scored.

The Impact could have waited until provincial laws allowed more people to gather at events, but instead they shouldered the cost and the responsibility of being the first major sports team in Canada to welcome fans back.

It's fair to say the fans who applied for their tickets, got them, then watched their team compete — and win — in what almost felt like a private showing will be telling the story of their experience for years to come.

The Montreal Impact face the Vancouver Whitecaps in a near empty Saputo Stadium. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Of course, it won't be the last COVID-era game in Canada with fans. Temperature checks, sanitizing stations, facemasks, boxed meals instead of concessions — it's all part of the new normal, but it doesn't feel normal yet.

The 250 in the stands did their best to rally their team with chants, cheers and rattling the grandstands by stomping with all their might. To the fans' credit, their efforts did give the slight undercurrent of a home-field advantage.

They were too few to really tip the scales, so the sound system was used to give them an assist by pumping in some crowd noise and timely boos, hisses, oohs and ahhs.

It was also possible to hear the Montreal Impact supporter group, the Ultras, rallying outside the gates and banging their drums.

Members of the Montreal Impact salute the sparse crowd after beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

In a lot of ways, Tuesday was a test run. Opening a stadium for 250 fans is in no way profitable for the club. The hope is that it shows they can be trusted to safely accommodate more fans down the line.

The team says they can accommodate up to 6,400 fans while still respecting physical distancing, so perhaps as the season progresses they can get closer to that number and bring in the Ultras from the cold.

It's far too early to raise the "mission accomplished" banner, but the early returns are positive and it does seem like the effort put forth by Impact management to bring back as many fans as they could added value to the game.

About the Author

Douglas Gelevan, a national award-winning sports journalist, has been a member of the CBC team since 2010. He is currently the sports journalist for CBC News Montreal.

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