Friday, Southsider and blogger Michael McColl takes ALL CAPS “Away From
The Numbers” for a fan’s perspective on the Vancouver Whitecaps.
I’m going to admit it right from the start. I envy Portland and what the Timbers Army bring to the MLS show.
If you’ve seen any of their matches on TV so far this year, electric doesn’t even begin to describe the gameday atmosphere.
From the fans singing the national anthem at their inaugural home game, to the Cascadia derby against Seattle and the constant singing and bouncing at every other home game, it’s blown people away.
It’s also helped the team to carve out a strong home record and create the kind of fortress that myself, and people like Paul Barber, publically stated that we wanted to see at Empire.
It’s not just in MLS, of course. The TA have been what I consider the best supporters group in North America for years now, and that transfers fantastically to matchday in the stadium.
Anyone that’s taken in a match down in Portland the last few years cannot fail to be impressed by the atmosphere at Piggy Park.
This weekend sees the next chapter.
It’s the first meeting of the Timbers and the Whitecaps as MLS teams, and with a travelling army of over 500 blue and white hordes, many Caps fans will be popping their Portland cherries.
All a far cry to the 50 or so fans that have been going down in the Whitecaps D2 days, but we made one hell of a noise at that number, so Saturday is going to be immense.
So for the newbies, what can you expect?
Well, amazing hospitality for one thing.
Many of the fans making the trip will have gone down to Seattle.
The atmosphere inside Qwest (as it was back in the day!) was the best I’ve ever experienced at a Caps away game.
That may not be bettered inside the Piggery, as the TA are louder and more constant than Seattle fans which will drown us out a little, but you will find the whole experience of the night will be way better than what Seattle had to offer us.
The Timbers Army have been amazing hosts to travelling Vancouver fans for years now and we have a great relationship with them.
They could not have shown better hospitality to us at the matches we’ve had there of late. A lot of which seems to be based on the fact that we’re basically not Seattle fans!
Strange how not a lot of Portland nor Vancouver fans have a lot of time for Seattle or the ECS.
The hatred between Portland and Seattle fans has to be seen to be believed.
On one of our trips down to Portland, I lost count of how many people were shaking my hand one minute and thanking me for heading down, only to be followed by some rant about how much they hated Seattle!
Some Portland fans even formed A.C.E.S. – Any Club Except Seattle. Their scarves were even banned from Qwest Field at one point.
It’s good that we have a friendly rivalry with Portland, although yes, it does irk a little that that’s mainly because neither them or Seattle see as us their main rival.
Before the game and after, it’s friendly rivalry in the bars and streets, as fans of both sides share craft beer and Voodoo Donuts.
Some even indulge in a little tonsil tennis. Towards the end of last season, when all the paranoia about rival fans fighting a bloodbath in the streets was in full flow, Southsiders and Timbers Army fans shared a great natured pre-match barbecue at Swangard and a post-match penalty shoot-out on the pitch.
Come gametime though, the hostilities begin and there is no place as intimidating in North America for opposition football fans and players than that inside Piggy Park on matchday.
It’s how football should be and what awaydays are all about, but let’s not all get too cosy though. We still hate their team. They are our Cascadian rivals after all.
Portland is also a great city both a night out and a fun day.
Many Caps fans are heading down with their families and there is no end of things to do and see and places to eat.
The famous (maybe that should be infamous) Voodoo Donuts really has to top the list of anyone with a sweet tooth and obviously being Scottish that includes me. Most others will be hitting the many bars and clubs.
Going to Portland (and Seattle too) doesn’t feel like you’re actually in the States a lot of the time. The laid-backness of the place is just so Vancouver.
It may be in jest, but there is some truth that British Columbia, Washington and Oregon should breakaway and form their own Republic of Cascadia.
Hell, a lot of Southsiders and Timbers Army already have the scarves, badges and patches to start the ball rolling.
So if we’re so similar, what is it then that makes the atmosphere at Piggy Park so different to what we have here in Vancouver?
If it was only that easy to work out, then we could do something about it. Even if we bottled some of the Portland experience this weekend and let it out next weekend, I don’t think it would help.
The Timbers Army have had greater numbers than the Southsiders for years, and had the organization too.
Moving to MLS didn’t see their numbers increase by tenfold like we have here, but they still increased and is always the place to stand at any Portland game.
At the Piggery, the TA have general admission seating and fans line up for before kick-off, sometimes for hours, to make sure they get the best seats in the house.
In Vancouver, we struggle to make sure we even have all our fans seated for kick off and even for ten and fifteen minutes into the match sometimes.
Everyone seems to be on the same page of the songbook at our Cascadian rivals. This is undoubtedly helped by the fact that a lot of their songs do not have swearing and so others in the stadium join in more of them, more readily.
I do like my traditional swearing in football chants though, so I won’t be holding that point up too much *cough*
The fact that they have such numbers, and they’re all together and not spread out all over the place due to ticket price differentials, helps carry their sound and their chants. It allows them to be heard by everyone and especially on TV and that makes people, especially those ex-pats from footballing countries to think “wow, what a proper footballing atmosphere”.
It also helps that they’re mic’d up and have a very supportive front office for what they’re doing. The FO even provide sand buckets for their flares and smoke bombs.
Portlanders also like to let themselves go and sing, and that’s something that Vancouver is going to take a while getting used to it would seem.
It’s happening though.
The “White” – “Caps” call and response chant gets the whole stadium into it, and some other songs that have emanated from the Southside are now starting to get picked up and sung elsewhere – notably “Whitecaps, clap, clap, clap” and the Eric Hassli chant.
From tiny acorns and all that.
A lot is made of the ECS and what they have brought to MLS.
Sure they’re big. Sure they’re loud. But spend some time listening to them and their songs are limited in numbers and buoyed by being never ending at times.
They also give the impression of having nothing to do with what’s going on on the pitch a lot of the time.
I’d rather have the smaller numbers singing constantly, or the whole stadium rocking at stages of the match, but relevant to the game, than that.
Just as well really, for that’s what we’ve got and I’m glad we’ve got that, as Empire has been magnificent at times this year. We just need that little bit more.
The Vancouver support has been praised by many this season for being loud and turning up in numbers.
There’s also been criticism, maybe call it encouragement, from some players of late asking for the fans to not just be there at the start of the game and the last fifteen minutes.
There needs to be a long hard look at the on the pitch side of the Caps in the close season.
Maybe we the fans should be doing that in an off the pitch capacity too and bring it better, bigger, louder and more organized next season.
Watch the Timbers game on Saturday. If you love the atmosphere and want to see that at BC Place, then you, and every one of us, is the key to making that happen.
Let’s watch our Cascadian rivals be bigger and better than us this season, but let’s also work on being the pride of Cascadia next year onwards, drinking champagne out of the Cascadia Cup in the process.
About the author:
McColl began writing about football in 1989 and has freelanced for
various newspapers, magazines and websites in the UK. He moved to
Vancouver in 2007 and currently pens two “Away From the Numbers” blogs
– one on everything football and the other specifically about the Whitecaps and North American “soccer”.
a proud member of the Vancouver Southsiders supporters club, though his
views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the