Whitecaps fans vital to their future - The Vancouver Sun

Simon Fudge
Special to The Sun

The culture of soccer has many unique traditions. One of them is the vocal and passionate support of fans for their favourite team. That type of atmosphere has attracted many to soccer stadiums around the world, including North America. Toronto FC's arrival in Major League Soccer last year has introduced Canadians to the colourful stadium pageantry normally seen in Europe and South America.

Having passionate support is also vital to Vancouver Whitecaps FC, especially with the club's aspirations to become an MLS franchise in 2011. Fans at Swangard Stadium this season may have noticed a couple of fan groups that have helped generate fervent support for Teitur Thordarson's side.

One of those groups have made the area behind the south goal at Swangard their home for several seasons. Formed in 1999, The Vancouver Southsiders have acted as 'Vancouver's Weapons of Mass Distraction,' having given the opposition an uncomfortable time.

"It started off as a mixture of Vancouver 86ers fans that gathered in the south end partly because they wanted to enjoy the European fan experience, as opposed to the traditional family atmosphere," said longtime Southsiders member John Knox.

"The group then met up with some Croatian fans, who also stood in the south area as supporters of former Whitecaps player Johnny Sulentic. Over the years, we were known by different names depending on the beer sponsor, but we got fed up changing our name every season, so we just stuck with Southsiders."

With the club pursuing a move to MLS, Knox is hoping to see the Southsiders grow in significance.

"The challenge is there for us to work a little bit harder to foster the environment that's seen at Toronto FC matches, for example," he said. "Should the Whitecaps join MLS, I don't anticipate any problems with that, but we certainly have to do our bit to make people know there is such an experience to be had here in Vancouver."

Such opportunities saw the creation of a new fan group for Whitecaps defender Takashi Hirano. The arrival of the former Japanese international gave the club a chance to tap into Vancouver's Japanese community in a bid to attract new supporters.

The 'Taka Fan Club' has attracted around 140 members, with the group turning Swangard's Section K into an area called "Taka's Seat."

On Sunday, Whitecaps fans are being asked to support the club's MLS bid when the Minnesota Thunder visit Swangard. As part of MLS Rally Night, fans will be used as extras in the club's official bid package through video and photography that will be sent to the MLS head office next month.

The time for Sunday's game has been changed to 7 p.m.

- The Vancouver Whitecaps suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 road defeat to Puerto Rico Islanders Friday evening. Substitute Noah Delgado's late goal secured Puerto Rico's first-ever league win over Vancouver.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008