For Missy Searl, HFX Wanderers FC are more than just a soccer club.
When the team was first announced, she bought three tickets in section 104 of Wanderers Ground, one for each of her sons, with the extra ticket intended to go to one of their friends. However, when Searl’s mom passed away earlier this year, her sons insisted that she take the third ticket.
The trio have been mainstays on the second row of section 104 ever since.
“My sons Daniel and Chris are 30 and 27, they’re my best friends,” Searl, 51, said with unmistakable mother’s pride. “We have a lot of fun together and soccer really helped the three of us get through this year.”
For Searl, the inaugural Canadian Premier League season has played a large part in her grieving process, taking her on a journey of healing through unexpected new friendships. She intended on going to matches with her children, but fellow spectators in the stands around her have since become family.
“We sit with the greatest fans,” she explained. “The man in front of us is visually impaired and every now and then he’s cheering at the wrong time; but we help him out. We have a four-year-old in front of us who is a ball of red-haired fire. She’s amazing, she’s our cheerleader.
“We also sit by a 12-year-old, and one game, he asked me for my cell. I thought he was going to take a picture, but he put his number in my phone! It’s just been amazing. We just have such a cool little community that we made in 104.”
But her “104 family” doesn’t stop when the final whistle blows; their association has since grown independent of soccer, becoming entwined with her life. In fact, along with renewing their season tickets for the 2020 season (and promising each other not to change sections), the group has also bought season tickets to the Halifax Thunderbirds (National Lacrosse League). As Searl explained: “We’ve made this cool core group that is going to go to one sport to the next until our guys come back in the spring.”
However, it’s not just her seat mates who have become a second family to Searl. The club – both its players and staff – have all come to call her “Mama.” That’s because Mama Searle has formed a special bond with the team, one that has been taken off the pitch and into her kitchen.
It began when she befriended HFX Wanderers defender, Ndzemdzela “Zoom” Langwa. According to Searl, she figured, “he has got some down time, why not see if he can come over for supper?” So, she promised her favourite player a home cooked meal.
Langwa took her up on the offer, but not before asking if he could bring a guest. Searl, always the gracious host, told him the more the merrier. However, she soon found herself hosting nearly half the team, when Langwa, his fellow defenders André Bona and Mohamed Kourouma, and forward Chrisnovic N’sa, all showed up at her front door.
“I was glad I ended up cooking a lot of food!,” she said with a laugh, before adding on a more serious note, “it felt really good to make them feel at home.”
Since that first meal, players have since become regular dinner guests, attending barbeques, and evenings out at local restaurants. They’ve also attended family events, including Searl’s father’s most recent birthday. Prior to the party, Langwa sent her a text message to confirm if there would be cake (there was).
The players love the family so much that at their last Halifax game, the team’s post-match Viking Clap celebration turned into an eating motion directed towards Searl, asking from the field, “are we coming over for supper tomorrow?” (Sadly, the answer was no, she had to go to a baby shower).
The CPL season has been cathartic for Searl in dealing with her mother’s death, a bittersweet journey she has shared with her sons and strangers-turned-family. However, it all came together for Searl when she was asked to carry the Wanderers flag during the fans’ pre-game march to the stadium. As Searl remembers this moment, she still reminds herself not to let the flag touch the ground in retelling the story.
You can hear in her voice just what this team, and this community, means to her.
“It’s been great to help me get through this first year,” she reiterated, before adding “and my boys are making sure I am enjoying every minute of it.”