Time is Now For Ottawa Fury SupportersNASL club pleased with diversity of support groups, must be flexible to foster positive relationships
by Jonathan Bagg | Friday, March 14, 2014
Soccer supporter culture is the most fascinating form of sports fandom.
It’s one of the few forms of mass sports support that grows primarily from the efforts of the fans, relatively unhindered by the guys from “corporate” whose job it is to make sure everyone is “experiencing the brand."
That’s a challenge for some North American ownership groups that are used to providing a canned experience, with cues to cheer blared over speakers and across jumbo-tron screens.
“We want Ottawa to develop its own soccer culture,” says Matt Hawkins, a member of the Stony Monday Riot, 1 of 3 Fury FC supporter groups (SGs) to have announced itself in advance of NASL 2014. “If it is 'quiet' in the stadium, it's the supporters fault and we'll have to do more.”
It’s a sentiment that is echoed independently by Christian Marcoux, member of the Fury Ultras: “The supporters groups shouldn't be the number one concern of management. Their job is to put the best possible team on the field and our job is to have a good time in the stands.”
For its part, Ottawa is pleased to see a diversity of SGs taking shape.
“We feel very fortunate to already have three Fury FC supporters groups before Fury FC has even played a game,” says John Pugh, President of Fury FC. “The three groups - the Bytown Boys, the Stony Monday Riot and the Fury Ultras - all have very different roots and cultures and will no doubt appeal to and attract different audiences. We look forward to them contributing to a great game day atmosphere at our games.”
All 3 groups note that the club has been good at making themselves available to supporters, having hosted 2 “summits” whereby representatives of the three supporters groups met with management.
“Our relations with the club are professional and fairly productive,” says Mustefa Al-Zaidi, a member of the Bytown Boys. “The club has done a good job in being open to our feedback, and attempting to implement measures to ensure our continued ability to support them on match days.”
An example of such a measure was the moving of the official supporters section closer to midfield to improve the supporters’ view and bring them closer to a larger mass of fans. The Fury responded quickly following feedback from the supporters groups when the original location of the section was announced. The club has also made tickets more affordable for supporters, by offering a discount to all members of the three SGs.
Stadium: Independence is key
But beyond assisting with some of the underlying game day set up and maintaining open lines of communication, the groups want to maintain their independence, though admittedly to varying degrees.
“We want the supporters section to be as 'hands off' as possible,” says Hawkins. “It is our member's creative and voluntary efforts that produce what we make.”
The Ultras strike a similar tone. “Controlled chaos would be a nice way to start the first year in the supporter section,” says Marcoux.
Meanwhile, the Bytown Boys are somewhat more accommodating. Says Al-Zaidi: “Our expectations of the supporters section are fairly open to procedures which the club would like to implement. Having said that, we expect our ‘supporters culture’ to be understood and, at the very least, tolerated by staff present in our section.”
And so it appears that Ottawa may need to walk a fine line in managing the relationship with the different supporter groups.
On the one hand, the Fury must make decisions that enable the growth of soccer culture in Ottawa - which benefits SGs. On the other hand, Ottawa can’t get too involved in the execution of SG activities for those who don’t want to become marketing vehicles.
Based on Mr. Pugh’s comments, Ottawa is aware of this reality, and is happy to see groups take as much lead as they want to.
“We are thrilled to see them supporting Fury FC Community events such as the recent player introductions at an Ottawa 67's game and the Extra Time Series of pub events,” says Pugh. “Better still the groups are organizing more and more events themselves such as the FIFA 14 Tournament, viewing parties, etcetera.”
“We respect and recognize the independence of each group and their individual goals. Regular communication is key.”
Ripe for the picking
The most beautiful forms of football culture grow on diversity, creativity, musicality and the appropriation of unique historical events and personalities – all of which can be expressed in the stands.
Once mature – and if authentic and original – the outcome is energy, emotion and goose bumps for everyone in the stadium. It seems like the dynamic in Ottawa, a traditionally quiet support town, is ripe for an exception.
A last bit on the SGs
The supporter groups and the Fury seem to be on the same page going into the first year of the NASL: they see the growth of supporter culture as a longer-term endeavor, and are optimistic that the groups will grow steadily over the year, as more people learn about them and see them in action.
All of the groups have a website, Facebook and Twitter presence – worth a look and easily found on search. Here are their handles:
Stony Monday Riot: @StonyMondayRiot
Bytown Boys: @BytownBoysSC
Fury Ultras: @FuryUltras
Note: A massive thanks to all 3 supporters groups and Fury FC for taking the time to respond to my questions for this piece. Each group has its own backstory and lore, worthy of more in-depth coverage than this article would permit.
NEXT UP: April 12 – Ottawa Fury vs. Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, Lockhart Stadium, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. TV TBD.