When a loud cheer erupts, followed by a cloud of blue smoke floating across the historic Wanderers Grounds, you know something good just happened.
It's the first season of the Canadian Premier League—a professional soccer league featuring players with experience from around the globe—and the HFX Wanderers Football Club is one of seven teams in the league. The stadium holds 6,500 people but with bleachers close to the field, it feels like so much more.
"It's an unbelievable place to come to," says Wanderers midfielder Elliot Simmons, who was raised in Canada and England. "It feels like 20,000 to 30,000 people there because it's loud...It almost has a very European feel."
Part of that European-like atmosphere—a popular buzz word in soccer lingo to describe the overall mood around a match—comes from a 1,000-seat section on the east side of the field behind the net known as The Kitchen. It's where fans stand, wave flags and sing and chant for the 90-minute duration of the game. Most of the good-natured rambunctious behaviour is cooked up by the Privateers 1882 supporters group, a bunch of soccer die-hards who were instrumental in shaping the identity of the new team.
If you're looking for a baptism-by-fire Wanderers experience, The Kitchen is the place to be. Most of the chants are easy to pick up: For example, someone will belt out "Who do we sing for?" The rest of the crowd replies, "We sing for Wanderers." Not exactly rocket-science. When the Wanderers score a goal, fans ignite blue smoke bombs, adding a spectacular visual to an already exciting moment.
As can be expected, lulls happen or moments of inspiration are required over the two 45-minute halves. That's when players like Mohamed Kourouma—a winger born in Guinea and raised in Montreal—get The Kitchen fired up and encourage more cheer with a simple raise-the-roof motion of the arms.
"For me, when we're struggling a little bit or when we need goals, I make sure to try to wake them up," says Kouroma. "And that personally is a boost for us, you can see that when I started doing that. They're giving back to us."
If you're looking for a less intense soccer experience, the mainstand along the side of the field features reserved spots in the bleachers, great views and is away from the blue flares and sometimes-colourful language.
Already the Wanderers Grounds have inspired some great comebacks by the Halifax team. In three straight games in late May and early June, the team let in a goal but stormed back to win two matches and pick up a tie. No matter how emotionally invested in soccer you are, the Wanderers Grounds is a great place to enjoy sports and pick your new favourite hometown hero.
"For people who don't know a lot about soccer, I think it's the best place to come and experience this because we have the best fans," says Kourouma. "On the field, we're getting it together, we're trying to play better soccer. We're going to be good."
The CPL season started in late April and runs until mid-October.