The HFX Wanderers kick off their inaugural season this month. After announcing Canadian and international player signings over the winter, the team is formed and hosting events around the city promoting “The Kitchen,” their pop-up stadium on downtown Halifax’s historic Wanderers grounds.
The Privateers 1882 are the team’s first and largest supporters’ group. Built upon a shared passion for soccer, the group is already creating community through meetups, marches and lively discussions about the Wanderer’s newest signings.
James Covey, supporter-club president, has been an avid Wanderers fan since before the team was announced. The 48-year-old web-team manager was at the HFX Wanderers reveal in May 2018 where he and other Privateer’s sang songs and waved flags in blue and white Wanderers scarves.
The Wanderers Amateur Athletic club, namesake of the team, was founded in 1882—perhaps a little after the last of “Barrett’s Privateers” of folk-song fame, who inspired the other half of the Privateers name.
“It’s like suddenly you have a whole new circle of friends,” says Covey.
While they’re fiercely proud of the East Coast, the group traces their beginnings to Edmonton, Alberta. Garrett McPhee, a “displaced Cape Bretoner” was working there when he heard rumours of an all-new Canadian Premier League. Coincidentally, he named a Twitter account “Halifax Wanderers” while dreaming of an East Coast team.
Team plans became more concrete and soon he was receiving messages from across the province from fans eager to connect to a group of supporters.
Covey and others managed the group on the ground in HRM, hosting the first in-person meet-up in February 2017 at the Halifax Ale House.
In 2018 the team did officially come to the Maritimes, and so did McPhee. “I probably wouldn’t have moved to Halifax, honestly, if there wasn’t a team,” he says. “That’s the whole reason I’m here.”
While Covey is the face of the group, McPhee is one of a few who manage the Privateer’s active Facebook page, Twitter account, and website.
Over the past two years, the group has gathered across the city to watch international games and plan for the inaugural season. “The thing we like about it is the sense of ownership over the club,” says Covey. “The relationship between the fans and the club is different than in other sports.”
He says soccer allows supporters to develop traditions and a unique culture, as opposed to other sports like hockey, where play breaks often and planned activities distract the fans. “We can provide a message that you can’t necessarily do in a hockey game,” says André Bourque, a Halifax-based paramedic who joined the Privateers last year.
During a soccer match, songs and signs, broadcast to a TV audience, could raise important issues among the community. They mention hoisting flags during Pride Day, or celebrating East Coast heroes like Viola Desmond, through signs and banners.
For Bourque, that’s the draw of being in a supporter group. “It seems like a good cause,” he says. “It blends soccer and doing something for your community.”
McPhee lists off ideas how the Privateers can reach out to Halifax in other ways, like donating “clean sheets for clean sheets” (finishing a game without conceding goals) to Halifax shelters. They also ran a food drive for Feed Nova Scotia last Christmas. “I don’t think the community aspect of [the Privateers] can be overstated,” says McPhee.
Many supporters groups around North America host charity events, like New England Revolution’s supporter club, the Midnight Riders.
Covey and McPhee say the Midnight Riders have served as a model for charity involvement, and also advised on the Privateer’s charter, which will firm up the group’s rules and expectations of their members.
“We want to adopt a charter which addresses what’s [allowed] on game day, and what values we espouse,” says Covey.
Both the Privateers and HFX Wanderers will stay separate entities, each supporting the other as they continue to grow. “What will be interesting is watching what traditions our fans come up with,” says Derek Martin, president and owner of Sports and Entertainment Atlantic, the owner of the team. “We expect them to develop traditions that they take a hold of and keep doing game after game after game.”
An official beer brewed by Wayfarers’ Ale Society (soon to hit Halifax taps), honorary Privateer captains, and bagpipers marching to the game are all key for the Privateer’s plans this season. “It’s making these traditions, that’s the really fun thing,” McPhee says.
The Privateers have already had a taste of the game-day atmosphere. In July 2018, the Wanderers (consisting of players from the Atlantic Select’s Under-23 team) hosted Germany’s Fortuna Düsseldorf for a friendly game in the new stadium. Covey, McPhee, and Bourque gathered fans at local bars and pubs before marching across the downtown to the Wanderers grounds, where a 1,000-seat bleacher will be home base during games. “I had to stop and look [at everyone], and realize… this is awesome,” says McPhee.
When they arrived at the Kitchen, about 50 fans gathered in their section of stands. As more people migrated towards the Privateer’s section chants and East Coast songs like Joel Plaskett’s “Nowhere With You” echoed across the field.
“I think you’ll see that throughout the season,” says Bourque, who cheered alongside McPhee and Covey at that first game. “People will see what’s going on in The Kitchen and saying ‘hey, I want to be a part of that.’”
For the Privateers, the preparation may be almost as fun as the celebrations at the field. They plan to march to the field together from downtown Halifax, rain or shine, with drums and bagpipes in tow. Local celebrities, like Cory Bowles of Trailer Park Boys, will join the Privateers as honourary captains of the club.
“We’re out here on the East Coast,” says Covey. “and the best parties are going to be the ones we put thought and effort into.”
McPhee agrees, mentioning how through the Privateers could celebrate East Coast culture in front of a national audience: “We want people to go, ‘damn I wish I lived in Halifax.’”