North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Keep the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton

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A few weeks ago, I went to my first Tiger-Cats game, which was a bit of a memorable experience.

Truth be told, Hamilton’s kind of a rough town. My buddy E and I made a wrong turn off the QEW and ended up taking a back way through the city, snaking through the downtown as we tried to find Ivor Wynne. We passed sketchy looking bars, boarded up buildings and more then a few skullets. And we eventually found the place.

And damn, what a venue.

Ivor Wynne is old, it’s beyond outdated and it’s amazing in ways I had no idea stadiums could be. It’s smack dab in the middle of a residential area, bordered by a school and a bunch of houses. There are no overpriced bars nearby and no $20-an-hour lots. Hell, there’s no lots really at all – most people pay $10 or so to park on a lawn. You just walk right up into the stadium through a few gates. It’s great.

Basically, it’s the anti-Toronto.

Inside, the fans are something else. Raw, passionate, vocal, probably drunk. There were furry hats, foam claws and chanting, always chanting. Some dopes tried to start the wave; it didn’t catch on. Here’s a small sampling of the customized jerseys I saw:

  • Eat em raw
  • Argos Suck
  • Toronto Sucks
  • Pigskin Pete (although he’s some kind of mascot, so maybe he doesn’t count)
  • CFL Rocks

Add to these a huge wack of old jerseys, some looking close to 30 years old, that almost every fan seemed to wear. While there was a tent that sold a few Ti-Cats thing at the stadium, it was pretty obvious that most of these fans had worn them for years. There were a few that looked pressed and cleaned and others that had been worn so much the colours and numbers had faded. Those that didn’t have a jersey wore some variation of the Ti-Cats yellow-and-black scheme.

I didn’t see a single person in a business suit. I didn’t see anybody spend the game on a blackberry. I didn’t see any of the corporate stuff I seem to always see in Toronto.

It was really a tremendous crowd, easily one of the best I’ve ever been been a part of.

And it would be a real shame if they lost their team.

There’s been a bit of talk lately about the Tiger-Cats moving from Hamilton. Ivor Wynne is old, and while it’s not altogether without charm, it lacks the modern immediacies owners would like. There’s seats only on two sides, really; the luxury boxes are few and look fairly small; the seats are all wooden benches; so forth and so on.

Which means the team – and owner Bob Young, in particular – are prepared to move the team to a city willing to bend over backwards for them.

It’s not that the Hammer isn’t building them a new stadium. They are, actually – the city is planning to build a new stadium to be used for the 2015 Pan Am games – but it doesn’t meet the exacting demands of the Cats ownership.

One report suggested that Young wants the new stadium closer to highways, on the mountain. Hamilton city council has voted to start building at a west harbour site.

Another report says that the issue has quickly became political, with terms like “pro-city” being thrown around, as mayoral rivals come out of the woodwork and argue for capitulation.

It really seems like the fight is going to other levels. It doesn’t seem to be so much a sports topic any longer as it does inside baseball, an extension of old grudges. Which is certainly a shame.

This wouldn’t be as bad if the owners wasn’t so vocal about moving the team and cities weren’t making it known how much they’d like the team. There’s been offers from Oshawa to Quebec City to Moncton, New Brunswick.

I have been to all of those cities and lived in Oshawa for three years. They are all good towns, but have nothing approaching the level I saw in Hamilton. In the Hammer, the fans were loud, great and made the game a hell of an experience. I’m used to Toronto crowds that tend to only get loud for T-Shirts, free pizza or, occasionally, Vince Carter. Their fans are really something.

And while I can’t say I’m a fan of the Ti-Cats, I can’t imagine how this must feel: not only is their owner talking about moving the team, not only has council chosen a spot Young has repeatedly said he doesn’t want, but other cities are openly trying to court your team.

Don’t forget, Hamilton isn’t really a place with a lot going for it. It’s still a blue collar town; from where I sat at Ivor Wynne, I could see the smokestacks over at the steel mills where I imagine most of the people in attendance knew somebody working or worked there themselves. I got the impression that for a lot of fans, going to football games was something they did once in a while, a way to blow off steam and let go after a long workweek.

But then, isn’t that what most sports really are? They’re about being entertained, having fun and not having to worry about paychecks or rent or bills. They’re not supposted to be about stadium arguements or hearing pleas from afar luring your team away.

Which is something I think is being lost in the arguments. The fans are there and probably always will. It doesn’t matter where the new stadium is. They will find a way there. They already find a way to their current one, where parking is on lawns (don’t worry about the flowers, pull up a little further ahead) and the seats are benches in a stadium almost as old as time itself.

The Ti-Cats are one of the oldest professional teams in North America and have some of the best fans in pro sports. It would be a shame if the city of Hamilton lost them both over municipal politics.

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Written by M.

August 21, 2010 at 11:35 am

Posted in cfl, football

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. as a (former) hamiltonian, i appreciated your description of the relationship between the ticats and their fans. it brought back a lot of memories of taking the bus with siblings and friends to ivor wynne, then walking back home after the game surrounded by other ticat fans discussing the highs and lows we had just seen. what was clear throughout the years–through good and dismal seasons, and through economic downturns that saw fewer and then more buildings boarded up on the way to the stadium–was the relationship between the team and the city. it was a downtown experience that was about the fans and the city as much as it was about the ticats.

    make no mistake–this will change irrevocably if the team is moved out of the downtown core. it does matter–it matters enormously–where the stadium is. bob young seemed to understand this when he said–and said repeatedly–that he didn’t care where the stadium was located and that it was for the city to decide. he was part of the discussions leading up to the pan am game selection that was based on a stadium in the downtown core. “build it, we’ll play in it” he maintained.

    you’re right–it would be a shame if the cats were to leave after being less than open about where they really wanted the stadium and the lengths they were willing to go to influence the public debate and council’s decision. but it would be an even greater shame if, after so many fans and season ticket holders and longtime hamiltonians have spoken so eloquently about the need to rebuild the downtown and for the cats to be a part of that process, that private money trumped public debate and the broader public good. and i say this as a lifetime fan, in spite of having relocated to ottawa where a similar debate resulted in building a stadium outside of the city to the dismay of many downtown sens fans. we go to the junior hockey games now–you can walk to them.

    erika

    August 25, 2010 at 10:50 am


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