Sporting an Alex Bunbury jersey and Barton Street Battalion scarf, James Hutton welcomed a group of approx. 25 people to the Barton Street Battalion meeting at The Pheasant Plucker last week.
Barton Street Battalion is a group of Hamilton soccer supporters. They know the Canadian Premier League (CPL) is coming, and while there has yet to be an official league announcement, the group has secured their identity as the first official supporters group.
Make sure to follow the Barton Street Battalion on twitter @BartonBattalion and we hope to see you at the next pub night.
If you’ve ever been to a Toronto FC game, I’m sure you’ve seen the singing, flag waving, jumping group of supporters located behind the net. They aren’t just regular fans. They’re ultra-passionate fans devoted to the game and devoted to making sure everyone else in the stands knows it. While Toronto boasts five separate groups, the Barton Street Battalion is Hamilton’s first.
Once the CPL starts (it’s projected for 2018), you’ll find the Barton Street Battalion cheering in the stands for their home team. The team is yet to be named – but Hamilton Tiger Cats Football Club Inc. (who will own the soccer team) has trademarked potential team names: Hamilton Steelers and Hamilton United.
Hamilton Steelers was Hamilton’s original team. They were part of the Canadian National Soccer League from 1981 until the league dissolved in 1992.
Motivated by a combination of impatience and passion, Hutton held the first Barton Street Battalion meeting in February 2016.
“When The Spectator started putting out news about Hamilton getting a team and Hamilton being the home base of the league, I immediately wanted to be involved so I started the conversation with my group of friends,” who are all TFC season ticket holders, he says.
Hutton believes the ethnic communities that make up Hamilton will contribute to its success, noting how James Street North was closed down to accommodate Portugal’s most recent Euro Cup win.
“When you come to Hamilton, you understand it has a lot of character and you can see that as you walk through the streets. I think if the team can capture that and if fans can capture that in the stands, then it will be a very unique working class vibe to Canadian soccer.”
The CPL is said to include teams in Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and western Canada. But Hamilton is a key player.
Nick Bontis, member of the Canadian Soccer Association’s board of directors, was also in attendance.
“I won’t say anything about any other city. We are in, guaranteed. We are first,” he says in regard to Hamilton.
That makes us the Ambitious soccer city, too.
Bontis even suggests a family or junior supporter group section for young soccer fans to take part in Barton Street Battalion.
John McGrane, former coach of Hamilton Steelers, professional soccer player, and the only Hamiltonian in the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, says the supporters club is the lifeblood of the team.
He says grassroots soccer is so important to building Canada’s soccer identity.
“We need to create a career pathway for the young kids in our community to live a dream life. We don’t get a national team without a league.”
Paul Beirne, the CPL’s first hire and the first employee of Toronto FC, also says the top priority of this league is to improve the men’s national team.
“It’s the right time and a right step for us as a nation to become more mature. I have dreams of 30 or 40 teams across the country. It’s doable.”
In the meantime, you can show your support by wearing a Barton Street Battalion scarf to get the ball rolling.
Reflecting on his Bunbury jersey, Hutton notes the contributions Bunbury made to the soccer world: he started off with the Hamilton Steelers in 1987 and moved on to play for the Toronto Blizzard, Montreal Supra, West Ham, Portugal’s Maritimo, and Kansas City Wizards. He was part of the Canadian National Team and was named Canadian International Player of the Year twice.
“Bunbury wouldn’t have had that if he didn’t have Hamilton Steelers to give him that professional start. That’s what this league will be doing for us and doing for local Hamilton players.
We can have great international players like we did in the past. We have to prove that Hamilton is a soccer city and Canada is a soccer country.”