In every corner of the world, supporters define soccer’s ongoing traditions.
Imagine, for a moment, the sight of 35,000 Londoners at the Boleyn Ground, blowing bubbles in the air as West Ham’s players prepared for another English Premier League tilt. Or, closer to home, thousands packing the stands of Brian Timmis Stadium to spur on the Hamilton Steelers of the old Canadian Soccer League.
For Hamilton-native Alex Bunbury, that kind of passionate support lives long in the Canadian soccer legend’s memory. It proved invaluable during his playing days, a motivator unlike no other. As his hometown Forge FC prepares for the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural 2019 season, Bunbury hopes to see that support grow louder in Canada, from coast to coast.
“It doesn’t get any better,” Bunbury told CanPL.ca of the culture of soccer in Canada today. “Timing is everything. We’re riding on the coattail of a great World Cup, and there’s so much more interest in the sport. We couldn’t have asked for a better time to start the CPL. I’m excited, as I’m sure many other Canadians are. I think this is going to be really special.”
Drafted ahead of the Steelers’ inaugural 1987 season, Bunbury was initially left in disbelief by the vocal support he and his teammates received by the packed crowds in The Hammer. He hailed that consistent and “phenomenal” turnout, which he admitted he may have taken for granted as an 18-year-old. Later on at West Ham, Bunbury experienced first-hand one of the richest traditions in supporters culture. He walked away from the London club with a strong impression on how supporters can will success at a football club.
“You’re talking about a different animal,” Bunbury said of West Ham supporters.
“Supporters, they’re the heartbeat of your franchise. Without those supporters, it would be very hard for any club. As we proceed in this much-needed Canadian Premier League, we have to have that support in the CPL … and it spreads, too.”
For those who follow soccer, the role of supporters as a motivator is well-documented and unabashedly appreciated by most clubs and players. But it’s not just a feel-good sentiment: Bunbury explained that vocal support has a tangible effect on player performance, too.
“It’s almost like somebody’s lifting you up and giving you that extra push across the finish line. That’s the best way I can describe it,” he said. “You’re exhausted. You can’t take another step. But that chanting, that cheering, that encouragement, it just gives you this push. It’s an incredible boost that you get.”
On the flip side, Bunbury explained, hostile away supporters can also unnerve players.
“You can be intimidated,” he admitted. “You go to Azteca Stadium (in Mexico City) – and I’ve done it a few times playing for Canada – and it can be intimidating. They’re chanting and throwing things at you. It’s scary. But it works both ways. That’s why they say it’s really hard to get a result on the road.”
Whether at home or away, Bunbury stressed that having that support in the CPL will be vital to the success of the league. Each club is currently accepting membership deposits, and Bunbury urged fans of the beautiful game to pledge their support in order to truly feel the ownership that comes with a league that belongs, first and foremost, to Canadians.
Crucially, it is the forging of that identity that Bunbury hopes Canadians really embrace.
“We’re Canadians. We’re different. We have a different sense of values than any other country,” Bunbury offered. “The Canadian Premier League will give us our own identity, and put Canada on the map. Canada has a lot of talented players. They just need hope and aspirations to play at the highest level. People will have to be patient and understand there will be speed-bumps, but every year, it’s going to get better for our young people.
“I’m so overjoyed with what’s happening here. It’s a true blessing.”
You can check out Barton St. Battalion on Facebook for more information about the group, as well as ForgeFootball.Club to secure your membership with a deposit ahead of the CPL’s inaugural 2019 season.