The first year of the Canadian Premier League exposed tightly-knit communities of supporters all over the country, as fans organized into supporters’ groups and made their voices heard in the stands.
Away from the stadiums, though, soccer fans in many cities have had just as much of an impact. Pretty much every CPL supporters’ group, from the westernmost Lake Side Buoys to the Privateers 1882 in the Maritimes, organized initiatives in year one of the CPL to give back to their communities in some way.
At the moment, that seems to have become the main focus for many groups, since they can’t exactly wave flags and cheer for their clubs on the terraces.
York9 FC’s first supporters’ group, Generation IX, is helping lead the charge on that front. The past couple of weeks, they’ve focused their efforts on supporting COVID-19 relief-related causes by selling scarves and accepting donations. Their fundraising drive didn’t exactly start that way, though.
“How it began is we were originally raising money to sponsor a youth team, for the Toronto Azzurri Soccer Club,” explained Sergio Di Lorenzo, part of the group’s leadership. “They’re very good with working with underprivileged children, kids from the inner city, as well as sponsoring Special Olympics teams all around, mainly in North York around York Lions Stadium.”
Things changed when it started to become clearer that youth soccer will also be on hold for a while due to the ongoing pandemic.
“Hopefully there’s a season for the kids as well, but at this point it’s too uncertain,” Di Lorenzo said. “We said, instead of just leaving that money sitting around, we might as well put it toward something that can make a difference right now.”
So, Generation IX announced on April 13 — which should’ve been the day of York9’s home opener vs HFX Wanderers FC — that they’d pivot to this, more immediate charitable cause for the time being.
Di Lorenzo stressed that the group definitely still plans to sponsor a Toronto Azzurri team when soccer returns, but they wanted to send the money they’ve raised so far to somewhere it’ll have the most immediate impact.
The scarf drive has been a smash hit, with their initial order of 100 scarves flying out of stock, according to Di Lorenzo. They’ve also had contact from the club, with coach Jimmy Brennan supporting the initiative and defender Morey Doner taking one of their scarves.
“It’s good to see that our vision was in line with the club’s,” Di Lorenzo said. “Everyone wants to do what they can to help, especially in a time like now where people don’t really know how they can help because you’re not allowed to leave your house, you’re not allowed to do much, but we’ve gotten support from the club in that regard.”
Y9 have also announced some COVID-19 relief initiatives around the same time, with their special Health Care Heroes jerseys benefiting Mackenzie Health in Richmond Hill, plus their socially-distanced celebration planned with Indiana-based club South Bend Lions.
Charity initiatives, according to Di Lorenzo, are what’s keeping the supporters’ group together while actual football is on hold.
“People that are really missing going to the stadium, we’ve been able to drop (scarves) off to their house to make them feel a little bit happier,” he said. “We’ve dropped some off in Kitchener, and they’ll be like, ‘Wow, you made my day.’
“It’s just helping us keep the faith that we’ll be back soon.”