My earliest and most fiercely felt experience of non-familial love wasn't the result of any one event. There was no epiphany or lightning bolt, no defining moment. Football was just always there. On the televisions, in the parks, splashed across the newspapers. It was seemingly the one constant in the half-heard mutterings of the adults I was around, voices strained as they bemoaned penalty decisions, offsides and any other injustice they could think of. Football didn't invade my life, so much as quietly seep in through the cracks. An uninvited guest that has, at times, outstayed its welcome. In the years since those giddy days of youthful infatuation, I've repeatedly wondered why I do this to myself. Why we all do this to ourselves. Why we obsess over something so utterly devoid of any real meaning. We're rational people, all of us. We know we shouldn't care so much about it, but come Saturday afternoon, there we all are. Transfixed. Hypnotised. Love-drunk idiots who should really know better.
As Sir Alex Ferguson wisely put it, “Football, bloody football”.
For a child growing up in mid 90s England, the hobby of peering misty-eyed at the quite frankly baffling sight of twenty-two men chasing a sphere of leather was unremarkable. In fact, it was to be expected. In the playgrounds and parks of home, the earliest stems of friendship feed off the sunshine and rain of the game. Even as adults, early exchanges between awkward strangers in pubs and offices from Portsmouth to Durham are usually resolved with a hopeful ‘So, who do you support?’. It’s an absurd foundation to build relationships on, but we make it work. If we didn’t, we'd be faced with negotiating the potholes of adult life unarmed, just impotent vessels of pasty skin and bad teeth, punchlines without the set-up, bangers without the mash. It's no great stretch to conclude that we need football far more than football needs us.
My personal relationship with the sport started at six-years-old and continued through childhood. It survived the toe-curling melodrama of my teenage years, solidified itself during early adulthood and now, at this point, is so deeply ingrained in me that to consider surgical removal would be pointless. It's a benevolent, and at times malevolent dictator that calls shotgun on my weekend plans. I don't want it to be this way, but it is, and it was ever thus.
Moving to Canada, a country I believed had no interest in football, represented a fresh start. It would loosen the shackles a bit, it would act as the blinding sunshine of a prison yard after years in solitary confinement. Canada, a football-less utopia. A place where this sport and I could remain friends without the added dysfunctional obsession. And it was all going well until the day I picked up a copy of the Metro and found myself reading about the beginnings of the Canadian Premier League. And then, the final nail in the coffin of my attempted sobriety, were words detailing the inception of a team who, come next April, will play their home games a five-minute walk away from my home. At that point, I didn't stand a fucking chance, did I?
The birth of Halifax Wanderers FC, or HFX Wanderers FC as those in their marketing department would likely prefer that it is referred to, began, publicly at least, in December 2016. After meeting with officials from the then touted Canadian Premier League, SEA owner Derek Martin pitched the idea of a pop-up stadium to Halifax City Councillors. Three-months later, approval was given. Momentum behind the club built, a supporters' club was formed, and a buzz spread throughout the city, particularly among the football community. Fast forward to May 2018 and HFX Wanderers FC were officially announced as the third team to join the new Canadian Premier League.
All cities worth their salt need sports teams. They exist as a key fabric in the tapestry of a place's identity. They are an object of pride, a church for the secular, a common link between different factions of a community who would otherwise never meet. It doesn’t matter if the team is shit. It doesn’t matter if the team is brilliant. It just matters that the team belongs to the city and reflects the values and identity of the people it represents. This is something HFX Wanderers have done fantastically well so far. Every detail of the club's burgeoning image has been inextricably entwined with who you, who we, are as Haligonians. From the club crest to the The Kitchen, it’s all there in harbour blue and navel grey. But we shouldn't ignore the fact that it was a risk, this venture. It arguably still is. Who, after all, would hedge their bets on a team that plays Canada's fourth most popular sport in its thirteenth most populated city being a success? Proof was needed to allay fears, to confirm to everyone involved that yes, Halifax needed a football team.
And so it was that on July 28th, 2018, after years of talking, convincing, planning and building, HFX Wanderers XI took on German side Fortuna Dusseldorf at the Wanderers Grounds. It was a beautiful day. The stadium, wonderfully situated in the heart of Halifax, was pulsing. Prior to kick-off, the wooping, hooting and chanting of the endearingly passionate Privateers 1882 supporters’ group could be heard all around. The pubs were full. The streets alive. And finally, belatedly, beneath blue skies and blinding sunshine, a whistle was blown and a near sell-out crowd of Haligonians watched a group of local boys give everything to win what was, on the surface, a game of little consequence. The result on the pitch, an entertaining 2-2 draw followed by a penalty shootout victory for the Wanderers. The result off the pitch, a resounding success. A well-deserved reward for years of hard-work and dedication from a group of people whose names I don’t know, but who one day, I would like to buy a beer for. Because of them, Halifax had a football team.
This blog will, in earnest, try to ride on the coattails of this journey. For now, it will be a twice-weekly look at as much of what is going on around the club as possible. From how the club is run, to hopelessly scouring Google for any information we can find about new signings, to eventually, joyously, being able to write about actual matches that have actually taken place in an actual Canadian Premier League.
I can’t wait.
Thanks for reading.