If you ask anyone who the top 10 soccer nations in the world are, Canada would not make that list. Everyone knows Canada is good at hockey. Despite this, the world’s beautiful game is alive and growing. Ranking 109th in the world, The Canadian Men’s National Team does not have a stellar track record, and apart from appearing in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, has not been very visible on the world stage. But Canada has passionate supporters.
The Voyageurs were founded in 1996 to support the Canadian National Teams. They have thousands of members spread across the country. They work countless hours building support and coordinating members across the thousands of kilometers of our country. They are present at every Canadian home game and many members travel to away games as well. Their presence is felt whenever Canada, Men or Women, plays.
Emory Davidge, Rebecca Contant, and Mel Bostrom are three Voyageurs, and with the Women’s World Cup in Canada this year, as Emory explains, they felt strongly that Canada needed a women’s supporters group. “Supporting with the Voyageurs is always amazing but it always felt weird to me personally having men capo supporters at a women’s game…and the song ‘shirts off if you love the Reds’ only goes so far.” And so the Beaver Brigade (http://beaverbrigadecanada.com) was born in April, 2015. A female led supporters group. The purpose is not to take anything away from what the Voyageurs do but to add to the culture and strengthen it. “We’re really trying to work with the Voyageurs. We aren’t competing with them…we just want to help them build support for the team, specifically the women’s team, by growing the community outside the traditional soccer supporters group circles.” The group is in it’s infancy with just 35 members spread across the country but they are gaining momentum during the tournament hoping to grow to 100 by the end of the World Cup. The Beaver Brigade is “having a space and encouraging women to support. And having women organize it is the best way to do that. We’re really encouraging women to find their voice in organized supporters groups, which hasn’t really happened before in Canada, and we’d like to help grow it.”
The groundwork for the Beaver Brigade was laid when Emory, Rebecca, and Mel became members of the Southsiders, a supporters group for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS. And they noticed a void in the supporters culture. In a male dominated and often aggressive atmosphere it was difficult to get women into the section. “I’m all for being cheeky, but there was a lot of homophobic and sexist language.” So Rebecca and Emory got on the board of the Southsiders and made it their mandate to make women feel welcomed in the group and become part of the culture. The Whitecaps have a natural rival in the Portland Timbers and the Southsiders travel there for away games. The ladies found likeminded supporters when they went to Portland Thorns games in the NWSL. “We watch the Thorns play and hang out with the Rose City Riveters. We have a lot of friends who are organizers of that group and it’s just so amazing watching women capo-ing an entire section with tons of women, and teenage girls, and young girls.”
The World Cup holds a lot of meaning for this and future generations of female soccer players in Canada. Growing up, Emory found it a struggle to play soccer in Vancouver. She recalls times when fields were double booked, and the boys’ team trumped the girls’ so they couldn’t practice. She’s played on dozens of gravel pitches just to get some practice time in. Knowing that she would never get to a professional level, she eventually stopped playing. But things are different now in the women’s game. “Having this tournament here is going to be so inspirational for a whole new generation of girls. I have a daughter now, she’s 9 months old and I brought her to the roster unveiling. She’s had her picture taken with Erin McLeod and with Kadiesha Buchanan. I’m just so hopeful now that there are really powerful role models for young girls to look up to.”
The Beaver Brigade has planned to be at every match Canada plays in the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The Voyageurs and Beaver Brigade have a section at BC Place in Vancouver, Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton and Olympic Stadium in Montreal. “The Women’s World Cup is our first opportunity to all stand together. We want to be loud. We want to be positive. We want to add to the mass of red.”