Championship Memories – Pt. 2

9 12 2008

A few weeks ago, I talked about one of the enduring memories I have of our championship run.  I saved my best memory of the final match for later, and now seems like a good time to divulge.

Working for the Whitecaps is truly a unique opportunity.  In a little more than five years, the club has turned from potential bankrupt franchise to an up and coming presence on the local and national scene.  I have only been involved with the organization for about 3.5 years, but even in that short span of time, I’ve seen the staff size grow and the ambitions continue to reach skyward.  I say this all the time, but it truly is exciting to be part of something from the ground up.  We are on the cusp of bigger and better things, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of the ride.

But we’re not there yet.  We are still a small club.  We play in a league that is considered to be inferior to the MLS.  We play in a stadium that is located outside of Vancouver, has limited seating and even more limitations with respect to facility improvements.  We have a bright future ahead, one that envisions us packing BC Place with more than 20,000 fans for an MLS match.  But we’re not there yet, and that’s what makes this victory so special.

When you’re a small club, there’s a level of intimacy between the team and the fans.  Unlike some of the bigger sports teams in Vancouver, an experience at a Whitecaps game provides a closeness to the sport and the players themselves.  For example, a young child can take part in the player introductions prior to the match.  You can sit in the bronze section and watch a throw-in take place right in front of you.  You can sit in the BMO Club and dodge flying soccer balls.  You can venture into the Southside and take part in heckling the opposing keeper.  And by match end, you can shake hands with the players and grab an autograph of two.

It’s this level of intimacy that made the final match so special.  The players celebrated the victory with the fans.  Literally.  Fans poured onto the field and the players were quickly engulfed in a mob of ecstatic supporters.  In true Canadian fashion, the fans on the east side arranged themselves in a long line on the pitch and maintained an orderly conduct in front of the few security guards.  While 2006 will always be a great memory for me – having travelled with some coworkers to Rochester for the final – I was happier for the fans in 2008.  They deserved to witness the win first hand.  We’ve had fans that have been with us since the beginning and they have all seen their share of speed bumps along the way.

Future victories will not have the same level of intimacy that Swangard provided that night.  You’re probably not going to see fans pour onto the pitch at BC Place.  Everyone wants to see us grow as a club, but with growth comes a little less of that intimacy. Much like the Canucks or Lions, when you have 20,000+ people in a building, you have to ensure a heightened level of security and safety for all those in attendance.

Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait for us to parade down Robson St. with 100,000 fans like we did after winning the NASL trophy in 1979.  But for now, I’ll take that one special night in October, when the fans got to storm the pitch and celebrate alongside the team.

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