The Cascadia Cup: On the CNMT, Supporter Culture, the End of Globalism and the Future of Football

We live in era where we all crave authenticity. Globalism, for all of its benefits, has effectively destroyed our understanding of what it means to belong to a place and group of people. Tribalism, despite its primitive trappings, was a powerful force that gave human beings a sense of identity and belonging. It was an effective form of community.

Jordan Smith
February 3rd 2012
Original Article can be found on 79 Forever 

Modernity’s idols of individualism and “freedom” (best described as “mobility”), have struck right at the core what it means to belong to a place and a larger community. And so as the modern “global” experiment spirals wildly out of control towards the brick wall that awaits it, it is no wonder that “tribalism” is making a strong comeback.

I am told I am Canadian. I am told that I am in relationship with a vast group of people that stretches from one side of the North American continent to the other side of the continent. In Vancouver I live under, effectively, the same rules as someone living in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I am grateful for this and am proud of my country.

However, in recent years, this sense of being connected to this larger entity has been growing weaker. The only thing that seems to get anybody “proud” of being Canadian is sporting events. The Olympics or the World Junior Championships in hockey are about the only things that get us off our asses and waving the flag. Which, forgive me the pun, should raise a rather large red flag.

Vancouver WhiteCaps Cascadia FlagSports are effectively fantasy. They are a substitute for the competitive, animal instinct to survive. In short, they are a healthy substitute for man’s propensity to wage war on other tribes. Sadly, this instinct for war isn’t ever going to go away, no matter what social scientists, crap psychologists and drug-addled musicians will tell you. Sorry Mr. Lennon, but Imagine, just might be the most pathetic, fantastical, pie-in-the-sky, shite song ever written.

Sports are a good thing for this very reason. They give us an outlet for that instinct and desire to put on a uniform and go out to battle.

But, for me, the connection between my tribe and battle has to bear some semblance to reality. And for me the Olympics and the World Junior Championships fall well short of the mark. For me, those things don’t mean anything. I have no real connection to them other than this vague idea of a country called Canada. Don’t get me wrong, I know Canada is a real and meaningful thing, but I can’t apprehend it anymore. The channels for information and connection to something as vast as Canada are clogged with news from even further away places, social media, pornography, sports and games. Virtual reality = actual fantasy.

Maybe it’s the corrosive effects of the internet that have led to my disconnection from my country, my city and tribe. I know more about politics in another country than my own country. Hell, I know more about the GOP Primaries than what is going on in politics in my own city. Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t even speak the primary language of half of the population living in my neighbourhood. This isn’t to say that my language or colour is better than anyone else’s… it’s just saying that I don’t know how to indentify who I am anymore. Fashion identifiers just don’t work for me. Hipsters? I just can’t connect. Who the hell am I? Where do I come from? And I am not the only one feeling this way.

It’s a big problem.

Whatever the case may be these days I feel more Cascadian than I do Canadian. I don’t indentify with the colour red. Sure there are maple trees around here, but their leaves don’t turn all blindingly red in the fall. They kind of fade to a yellow or rusty brown and fall to the ground like soggy pancakes in the dank, fall rain. In winter, rarely do the ponds freeze anymore, allowing me that peculiar and incomparable Canadian joy of playing hockey outdoors. The Canucks are so blindingly corporate my heart just aches for a Trevor Linden to give me a sense that heart and loyalty still matter in this world. Kevin Bieksa is the closest thing we have on that team. He has embraced the city and seems like a real, living personality. Having said that, the common man can’t afford to go to Canucks games anymore; now season’s tickets are held mostly by corporate executives, who have not enough heart and humanity to make a genuine and joyful noise for their “team”. Their fandom is a financial transaction, a cultural mask that has no heart or connection for them. Their fandom is a virtual thing.

Conversely to my not connecting to the colour red, the colours of the Cascadian flag make sense to me. So does the evergreen tree in its centre. They reflect my physical reality. I understand the cultural vibe of Portland and Seattle. They are each unique and different than Vancouver in their own ways, and yet they are familiar to me. Like cousins. Sure, I want the Whitecaps to beat them in the local derby games, but I find my true hatred reserved for those others: Toronto and Montreal.

And so when OldFan asks me why the Whitecaps of 1979 connected with me more than the 86’ers, the answer was easy. I felt like a Whitecap in 1979. I wanted to indentify with their success (who doesn’t want to be successful?), and I did identify with a name and colours which reflected the best of what I loved about Vancouver. I thought the uniforms were beautiful; I loved the contrast of white, navy blue and baby blue. Who doesn’t love things that we think are beautiful? I wore my jersey (uniform) that proudly declared my tribal allegiance at school pictures two years running. I marched around the schoolyard at recess singing “White is the colour, soccer is the game…” And then it was over and someone was telling me to cheer for a team called the 86’ers that wore yellow jerseys. Sorry bud, but it just didn’t work for me. I don’t indentify with a number or the colour yellow. And you are trying to replace my true love. Not going to happen. I was, am, and always will be a Whitecap.

The outrage over the CSA’s decision only reveals the weakening national fabric. At least for me. And things aren’t going to get better. As energy costs go up the idea of cohesive, homogenous state that stretches 9300 kilometres in breadth will begin to be revealed as more and more ridiculous and untenable. As populations continue to grow in local regions, it will become more and more impossible to govern them effectively from Ottawa. One only need look to the political situation south of the border to see that state secession in the USA is an inevitability.

This isn’t a bad thing folks. We’ve seen this movie before. The fall of the Roman Empire saw Europe and Latin break into the Romance languages and the modern European states. It’s hard to see how this was a bad thing. We all love the uniqueness of these languages and cultures. And we’ve reached that moment in history again when the larger entity fails and we must withdraw and reconnect with what makes us who we are: Our local tribes, communities, environment, and customs. If we don’t the very planet we live on will cease to be able to support us. And that should give us pause.

Which brings me to supporter culture. What is it with this phenomena which is largely new to North America?

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you already know the answer.

It’s the new tribalism.  A new kind of localism and authenticity. It rails against corporatism and globalism. The very name Southsiders embodies this connection to place. How much more local can you get than a name that describes the very acre of ground you are standing on? That is the kind of authenticity the modern experiment has left us crying for. (I long for a real grass pitch too, because it’s AUTHENTIC. It’s beautiful. It smells wonderful.)

And if you still don’t know why was so much hatred was thrown Sydney Leroux’s way? Because her decision embodies the selfishness of modernity that worships self-promotion (individualism) and mobility (freedom) above community and loyalty, which cuts right against the grain of what supporter culture is all about.

I love the fact that I can go to a Whitecaps training session with the Southsiders and actually talk to the players and coaches. I love the fact that the model we are investing in is the development of local players. It’s the way it should be.

Sure, many of the players are foreign mercenaries. This is true. And if the money involved in MLS continues to grow, which does seem inevitable, some of the things I have been lamenting here will increasingly find their way into the Whitecaps world. Players egos will get bigger. Access to them will decrease. But I am hoping it can be different in football (soccer) in North America.

Paul Barber was a great case study of this tension between money in football and supporter culture. On one hand he brought in corporate dollars to help make the Vancouver Whitecaps more successful (which supporters want), but on the other hand he was a heartless PR man who quickly ran afoul of the supporter culture, which he clearly did not understand or have a grid for in his corporate brain. Thankfully Rachel Lewis and Bobby Lenarduzzi seem to have a better appreciation for supporters and the tension between maintaining a competitive edge in the MLS marketplace while nourishing the grass roots of football culture in Vancouver. Perhaps it is because they are born and bred Vancouverites. Tommy Soehn? Again, not from Vancouver.

Looking at the overall trajectory of Western culture it is easy to despair that MLS will get swallowed up in the global ethic. And yet the very force that has resuscitated the league is supporter culture. And as demonstrated here in Vancouver, the foreign mercenaries failed in running the Whitecaps, and we have local faces in charge again. This is a very good thing. Might we be witnessing a larger sea change in the world of local football?

I am hopeful. I really am. It’s silly, but sports has a funny way of getting to our hearts and teaching us things that seem too complex to understand in a larger context. But maybe we are figuring it out. Maybe the tide has changed.

Which brings me back to the National Team. I am just not sure how to solve the problems inherent in a National Team representing a country as disparate, diverse and spread out as Canada. I am not sure how we knit support and a national identity together behind a team that is more identifiable with failure than success.

But I do I know that if my country’s team never plays where I live I won’t care about them because they won’t represent me. We won’t give them our money, our time, or our pride and strength, which it seems like the team desperately needs.  If the coaches and players think that the National Team existence is for their own success as footballing individuals, well f**k them. Why should I care? Why should I support them?

Maybe, Gerry Dobson, the team doesn’t owe me or any other city in Canada anything, but what that means is that we as Canadian taxpayers and football fans don’t owe them anything either.

And if that’s the case, what the hell is the point of it all?