Apr 27, 2019; Hamilton, Ontario, CAN; Hamilton Forge fans cheer on their players in the second half against York 9 in the inaugural Canadian Premier League soccer match at Tim Hortons Field. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports for CPL
Footy fan talk: From bacon and bagels to Forge FC fanatic
A registered practical nurse and full-time student, Smith, 33, used to spend most of her free time going to see live bands, checking out the local music scene in her hometown of Hamilton.
But when her husband Craig, an artist and chef, started going to breakfast events hosted by the Barton Street Battalion, the CPL’s first supporters’ group, she decided to tag along.
“There was no way I was missing out on breakfast,” she quipped.
Trading in late nights for early(ish) mornings quickly became routine, and what began as an excuse to eat bacon and bagels grew into a love for soccer and her fellow Forge FC fans.
“The group started getting bigger and bigger,” recalled Smith, happily reminiscing about her early days as a Forge supporter.
“The excitement from everyone got me pumped for the team. Listening to them talk about how historical [the CPL] was for Canada and Hamilton got me super excited.”
It was because of those early days — learning the songs the group sings while dancing to drums — that Stephanie realized she could combine her two loves, music and soccer. Now, when asked about her gameday rituals, both passions shine through.
“My husband and I get dressed in our Forge gear, while getting pumped up with music before we leave the house,” Smith said.
For Smith, the marriage between her two loves has made the transition to soccer fan an easy one.
“We chant and cheer the whole game. There’s just something about singing in a group that makes any experience and amazing one,” she said.
And though Stephanie is a self-proclaimed beginner when it comes to soccer (but always the academic, she stresses that she’s learning the game’s rules), she is the perfect guide when it comes to watching a Forge game in person.
From the inaugural match in April (“it was really cold”) to traveling to away games (“I think we had more fans there”), Smith has become a CPL expert, and she was more than willing to share her matchday routine.
“We carpool with one of our friends to The Endzone for a drink before the game,” she explained.
The Endzone, a massive sports bar in Hamilton, has served as a second home and basecamp for the Barton Street Battalion.
But it’s not exclusive to just Forge fans; the group welcomes any CPL supporters before — or after — a match. Once everyone has finished their drinks and food (though, Tim Hortons Field also has plenty of options), a bus service is provided to transport everyone to the stadium together.
It’s there where the passion becomes palpable. The Barton Street Battalion act as their own opening band, getting others pumped before the main event.
“On the bus we’ll start our chants and songs to get us energized,” Smith explained.
She later added: “Once at the stadium we help set up flags if needed and take our perch at the front of our section.”
The group’s section, which is appropriately named The Bellows, looks like it has been set ablaze by fans. The majority of supporters don Forge’s orange home jerseys, with a smattering in the away grey, looking like the perfect mix of fire and ash threatening to spill out into the pitch below.
For Smith, this friendly fire made up of fellow fans and family has become a second home. And, more importantly, an inclusive one.
“In the supporter group, we have a strict policy that everyone is welcome – no racism, no homophobia, no sexism,” she stated in a no-nonsense way.
Barton Street Battalion has been very vocal about its inclusivity, making sure the stadium is a welcoming place where anyone can enjoy a match – and that’s one of the reasons why Smith thinks the team has become so successful.
“I love that it’s something different for Hamilton. You know, we have the Bulldogs [AHL hockey team] and Tiger-Cats, but this adds something different. I love Hamilton and love living in this city. I think it’s important to support our community, and especially something new if we want to see the city grow and flourish. Forge FC, to me, represents a chance to make things better, to help our community grow,” Smith offered.
“Good stuff doesn’t always make the news, [but] Hamilton was lucky enough to get chosen to have a CPL team in the inaugural season and that is really special.”
And it’s not a one-way street, as the team is demonstrative in its support of the supporters. After the first game, the squad ended up in the supporters’ section clapping and high-fiving the fans jammed into The Bellows. It’s a tradition the players have continued after every match.
“The team has also always shown their appreciation for their fans, which is awesome,” Smith enthused.
And she wants more people to experience moments like that, encouraging those who can to check out her local team.
“I think people just need to come to a game and see what it’s like; tickets are reasonable and when the weather cooperates, it can be a really fun afternoon,” Smith offered.