Zach Diaz is in an ideal situation as a soccer-loving student at York University. How many students, after all, have a professional club on campus?
In fact, York9 FC’s presence at York Lions Stadium was one of the reasons Diaz decided to apply to and later attend York University in the first place.
“York was always one of my first choices for universities and I always thought York9 was a bonus – having a professional club playing on campus,” Diaz told CanPL.ca.
“It would be cool to be part of something new, with the Canadian Premier League and York9. I bought two season seats last year.”
Diaz, a first-year student at the Schulich School of Business, attended many of York9’s home matches during its inaugural season. He noticed, however, that there were few YorkU students at the games despite the stadium being on campus.
“My friends and I thought there should be a way to get students to the games,” Diaz stated. “There are students willing to help grow the team on campus.
“There’s no direct connection between the club and the university and my idea was to create a supporters group that would create one.”
So, when he moved on campus last Fall, he decided to organize “the Green Lions,” a student-run supporters group dedicated to Y9 and spreading the word on campus about the team.
After reaching out to students on Instagram, the Green Lions hit the terraces when York9 hosted Valour on Sept. 15.
“There were 10 or 15 people, which was great considering I had only pitched the idea a couple days before,” Diaz said.
By Y9’s 905 Derby finale vs. Forge FC in October, the Green Lions’ numbers on the terraces swelled.
“When York9 won 4-0 (vs. Forge), there were 40 to 50 people there. It grew really quickly. It showed there is a good foundation here,” Diaz said.
The late-season litmus test gave Diaz and York9 officials hope that the Green Lions could grow in 2020.
Diaz admits there is one really big hurdle: most full-time students at YorkU aren’t in school from April to September. But Diaz believes there is interest in the team outside, and he points to the aforementioned Forge match, which occurred during reading week and over Thanksgiving weekend – a time when many students typically aren’t on campus.
“There’s over-the-summer interest. There are a lot of people looking to buy season seats, students trying to do chants. Kids that aren’t even in university, that want to go to York in the future, are trying to get involved,” Diaz explained. “There are some kids in Grade 7 and Grade 8 that love the idea that (the Green Lions are) student-run and for young people. They’ve been coming to games. They’re always coming up with ideas for banners and chants.”
Work is underway for the Green Lions in 2020. Several members are working with on-campus soccer clubs, Diaz is continuing to get the word out on social media, and York9 itself is keeping in contact with the supporters’ group (and even hosting a Green Lions sign-up form on their website) set to join Generation IX in the stands next season.
For Diaz, the hard work will have to continue well past 2020 for the Green Lions, as they look to increase their membership.
“The York University connection is the easy one, but it’s (also about) offering to any young people in York Region who like York9,” Diaz said.
“We’re trying to make it a recurring thing – it will go longer than the four or five years we’re involved. We want people to support the club for as long as they can. However long York9 plays at YorkU, it will be special.”