On approach to Halifax’s Wanderers Grounds, you should greet locals with a question: “What’s cooking?”
Wanderers fans — the Privateers 1882, more specifically — should share a common response: “Head to The Kitchen.”
For Canadian Premier League fans beyond the Maritimes, an east coast “Kitchen Party” is what happens every time a group of Maritimers get together at a house party and inevitably gravitate to the kitchen.
So, naturally, HFX Wanderers FC affectionately named the stadium’s 1,000-seat east end “The Kitchen” ahead of its inaugural season.
The club’s top brass and head coach are adamant The Kitchen will help provide some, uh, home cookin’ inside what’s expected to be one of the CPL’s most intimate environments when the league kicks off next spring.
“We absolutely love the location of our grounds” said Derek Martin, President of HFX Wanderers.
“It feels like a park, but you’re only two blocks from 20-plus bars and restaurants to enjoy before or after the match.”
Part of the allure is its simplicity, which, in many ways, lends itself to the 6,500-seat Wanderers Grounds becoming quite boisterous on CPL Matchdays.
“It’s been one of our key focus points, to create an intimate and unique venue that’s soccer specific,” Martin said of a stadium that’s just a short distance from the city’s picturesque Harbour.
“The fact we can design this site is unique. It doesn’t have a track. It doesn’t have big football end zones. It will create a special game day atmosphere.”
In coordination with The Kitchen, the bulk of that atmosphere will be generated by HFX fans seated in the 3,500-seat grandstand, stretching from corner flag to corner flag, along the north touchline.
The opposite touchline, Martin says, will be lined with field and sky box suites converted from shipping containers that overlook the benches.
“The converted suites are unique for our city, given the importance of the shipping industry and the harbour. We’ve received really positive feedback. We fully expect to have those sold and full for the season.”
The west goal line will be lined with more stacked containers flanking a larger, 40-foot container (50 seats) of which the roof will act as a stage that looks out over the venue, towards downtown Halifax.
But while the uniqueness of the cozy Wanderers Grounds largely hinges on its location, Martin stressed an additional talking point entering the league’s inaugural season — the venue’s natural surface.
“It was one of our other strategic keys that we believe gives us a competitive advantage,” he said. “Coach Stephen Hart has been talking to players and utilizing the fact it’s a grass field. Players prefer grass. We see it as a great advantage for us.
“We think it adds to the beauty of the setting, as well. It’s a very basic thing, but it’s amazing how people connect with natural grass. There is a very primal reaction to seeing freshly cut grass, a connection to nature that adds to the romance of our setting.”
The club’s more than 1,000 Founding Members already have connected with a club that’s resonating in its city. Martin said HFX Wanderers are aiming to have a season ticket wait list in their first campaign.
The next question, of course, is what to do as the club kicks off and captures the imagination of a community.
“Given the success we’ve had in the first year we’ve already met with the city to see how the next few years might unfold,” Martin said. “We are working through various options now to determine what is possible.”
The CPL’s east coast outfit can smell success in Year 1 — an aroma that began in The Kitchen, but looks likely to extend to all reaches of the province.