HALIFAX – HFX Wanderers FC gave the people of Halifax more than a few chances to light up their blue smoke and let it drift across the historic Wanderers Grounds on Saturday afternoon.
A goal from Luis Alberto Perea in the 82nd minute gave the Wanderers the 2-1 victory against Forge FC and sent the flag-waving and song-singing supporters in “The Kitchen” into a frenzy.
“It was fantastic, nice to see all the blue on the crowd,” Wanderers coach Stephen Hart told reporters after the match.
“They were loud. My throat is sore because of it – I couldn’t get my message across. But I’m just happy for them, you know, I’m happy for them and I’m happy for my players.”
While the Privateers 1882 supporters group was in full voice over 90 minutes, perhaps the loudest non-goal cheer of the game came when midfielder Scott Firth, hailing from a local high school, made his pro soccer debut as a substitute in the 73rd minute.
He wasn’t the only one with family in the crowd, as Perea’s parents — including his father, former Colombian national team players Luis Carlos Perea — were also in attendance.
“It means a lot (to score in front of family). I’m really thankful to God, to the universe, because I feel really lucky that I had that chance to score,” Perea said moments after being named player of the match.
The Colombian striker was a major question mark coming into the game. Perea said he was probably at “60, 70 per cent” in terms of fitness. Coach Hart was quick to give him credit for his debut performance.
“We weren’t even sure he could start,” Hart said. “He’s a beast. He said he would try and go and give us as much as he can and when he’s done, he’s done but he played the 90 minutes, he fought.”
Perea said he wants to finish the year as the top scorer in the Canadian Premier League and was able to put himself into that race with his marker.
“That’s always on my mind, just trying to score, be the leader in the scoring list. One game, one goal, so I have to keep that up.”
After a march to the match from nearby bars and pubs down the street from the stadium, Wanderers Grounds soon filled with over 6,000 fans — a sell-out crowd for the club’s home debut.
“That was fantastic,” said veteran goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams, who made three saves including a crucial late block to preserve the win. “We have been waiting on this moment from the time pre-season started in March.”
A thick mist on an overcast afternoon meant the grass field was wet, causing the game to be sloppy at times. But the rain didn’t dampen spirits in Halifax, as the Wanderers picked up its first three points of the season, rebounding well after a 1-0 loss to Pacific FC in the opening game.
For Hart, those three points are important … but they’re not the only takeaway from the game.
“I am one about performances and we were still a little sporadic in performance but much better and we got the result. But I wouldn’t say it’s relief. I would say it’s something for us to build on,” Hard said.
Even though it was Wanderers songs dominating the crowd noise, travelling members of the Forge FC supporter group Barton St. Battalion also added their voices to create a special scene across the grounds. Halifax is, after all, the most frequently cited destination for an away trip by supporters across the CPL.
“The atmosphere here was great,” Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis admitted.
“Every player wants to play in front of an atmosphere, whether you’re home (or) away, I thought it was very good.”