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If there’s anyone entitled to walk about Empire Field with a smug “I told you so” look on their face these days, it’s the old school Vancouver Southsiders who survived the horrors of the “family-friendly soccertainment” matchday experiences of the 1990s and early 2000s.

These are what many long-time Whitecaps supporters consider “the dark days”… a time when vocal, boisterous fans were met with dirty looks and complaints from less-active spectators who found the whole supporters movement to be an inconvenient nuisance that detracted from a quiet day out with the kids.

Thankfully, attitudes have changed substantially – both at the Whitecaps front office, and with the populace in general – just in time for the arrival of Major League Soccer in Vancouver.

I’ve said for years that that proper, authentic supporters culture would flourish in Vancouver if the right conditions were present. Among those conditions – the locals needed to begin equating the Whitecaps with the classy, intelligent global sport we see portrayed in coverage of the World Cup and UEFA Champions League, rather than the lazy summer days of nachos, T-shirt contests and silly mascots at a Burnaby track and field stadium.

The Whitecaps marketing department is definitely moving in the right direction (and to their credit, they have been doing so for the past few years). More importantly, soccer fans all across British Columbia have looked at what Southsiders have been doing for years to support  the Caps, and they have recognized that there is no time like the present to take things to the next level at Empire.

This month has been absolutely monumental for Canada’s oldest soccer supporters group (we’ve been at this since 1999!). An incredible amount of growth in the past two months has reaffirmed my earlier declarations that Vancouver (the city) is the heart and soul of Canadian soccer, and Vancouver (the fans) would get behind their club in ways that would surpass anything that Toronto was capable of doing.

As of the writing of this article, 534 Vancouverites have paid their dues to join the Southsiders juggernaut and proudly bear the group’s trademark two-tone scarves with the shiny silver trim. A quick check of the membership records shows another 80 plus change have recently signed up and are waiting to be processed.

Altogether, that’s more than 600 die-hards who will be standing up and singing Boundary Road with their scarves raised overhead, match in and match out. That’s amazing when you consider the group had just 50 paid members at the onset of the Whitecaps’ final season in division two in 2010.

So where do we go from here? While 600-strong is a great beginning, it still represents just 10% of the seats in the south end which the club has designated for standing supporters. There’s lots of outreach to be done yet, and still a few kinks to be ironed out with respect to getting the right people in the right seats. There are many fans who have been seated at the south end who were not fully aware that standing is supposed to be the status quo there, and as such they’ve been pestering security to make Southsiders and other smaller supporters groups sit down.

Sorry folks – as the song goes, we shall not be moved.

A supporters section provides an experience that can be exhilarating for some, but somewhat uncomfortable for others if they didn’t realize what they were getting into. Hopefully the club can work with those individuals to seat them somewhere else in the stadium that is more to their liking.

That said, the Southsiders are no longer the only supporters group in the stands. The North Gate Ultras have taken up residence across the field, and La Doce is drumming like mad in the southwest corner (they’ll be relocating to the north end following the move to BC Place). Meanwhile, a Southsiders sub-group cheekily named The Prawnsiders has established themselves in the grandstands, as has another chorus of supporters called the Bag Lunch Crew.

With so many fans making the leap from being spectators to full-on supporters, it’s clear that the movement is catching fire. Vancouverites take their football very seriously, and the 2010 Olympic festivities showed us that we have the capacity to shake out the cobwebs and have some fun once in a while.  Put those two elements together, and you wind up with the proverbial lightning in a bottle.

The Southsiders have captured the attention of the city’s media and have dominated discussions throughout BC about the amazing atmosphere that spectators and supporters are generating at Empire. The key, of course, will be to sustain the momentum by encouraging supporters to continue doing their thing. Right now we are working with the Whitecaps to address some fussy regulations that have severely limited our ability to deck out the Southside in a sea of waving flags. Full marks to the club for hearing us out on this issue and trying to find a resolution.

In the meantime, if you are a spectator who prefers to sit, we thank you for your support of the club. You are just as much an important part of the Empire experience as we are. We only ask you to understand that the south end of Empire (and BC Place) – from corner to corner – has been intended for standing supporters from Day 1. This is how it was marketed to us when we bought our tickets, and how it continues to be sold online. Rather than relocating yourselves, we encourage you to stand up for a match, just to give it a try. We’d much rather have you standing and singing alongside us than running for cover, because that’s precisely what we were forced to do at Swangard so many years ago.

There’s room for us all at Empire. Let’s make it work.

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