Away From The Numbers

AFTN GOES GLOBAL - THE PROVINCE ARTICLE

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(* This article first appeared in the Vancouver Province newspaper on Tues Feb 22nd 2005 *)

In one of sport's stranger relationships, supporters of a struggling semi-pro Scottish soccer side have adopted Vancouver's own Whitecaps as their second team.

Fans of East Fife have started to champion the Whitecaps and have elevated the team to cult status in their small community on the east coast of Scotland.

But while the Whitecaps might be encouraged by the backing they are currently getting from Fife fans, they will hope not to emulate the team on the field of play.

East Fife regularly draws crowds of well under 1,000 and are currently third from the bottom of the fourth division there.

The Vancouver Province
The relationship, fostered by the East Fife fanzine Away from the Numbers, is the brainchild of editor Michael McColl, 36.

He was introduced to the Whitecaps by his wife Caitlin, 25, who is from Nanaimo and studied at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

Although not a huge soccer fan herself, she got her husband hooked on the Whitecaps and he is now spreading the message among East Fife fans.

The fanzine's website has a history of the Vancouver club and gives East Fife fans regular updates on the Whitecaps, as well as a link to the club's official site.

The soccer season in Scotland takes place mostly during the winter, leaving fans free to follow the fortunes of the Whitecaps during the summer.

Last summer it ran a prediction competition asking East Fife fans to predict the scores of Whitecaps games and the goal scorers. The prize for the winner was a Whitecaps hat.

"Football is one of those sports that can unite people from different nationalities, cultures and languages", said Michael McColl. "Everyone is the same and they have the same passion to see their team win. Supporting smaller teams like the Whitecaps and East Fife is what football is all about. There's no glory hunting involved, just hard struggles. When you do find yourself winning championships or trophies, it's all the nicer when it comes along. Both teams have a proud history and heritage. Links between supporters of different teams in different countries is something which football is perfect at doing."

He is full of praise for the Swangard setup.

"They are a club that actually care about their community, which isn't the case with many Scottish clubs. The fact that they have men's, women's and youth teams all playing under the Caps banner is the way all football clubs should be going. I was impressed by the size of crowds they can attract and although the standard is on a par with the lower Scottish leagues, there were a number of players I saw that could go on to do great things."

McColl hopes to attract some Canadian interest in East Fife.

The Vancouver Province
He and his wife are considering moving to B.C. in a few years and would like to see a formal link between the two clubs by then.

He added: "With a move to Vancouver on the cards and leaving my beloved East Fife behind, I'd like nothing more than to achieve a link between the two clubs in whatever size, shape or form that may be. If the website's prediction league can help achieve that than all the better."

Whitecaps director of soccer operations Bob Lenarduzzi said he was unaware of the East Fife link.

But he was certainly delighted to hear of it.

He said the original Whitecaps from the '70s and early '80s enjoyed international recognition because they had attracted several top players from around the world.

"At that time we had some players who weren't necessarily past their best - players like Willie Johnston and Alan Ball," said Lenarduzzi. "The profile of the club was international. There was a recognition of the Vancouver Whitecaps. When they folded in the middle of the '80s there was the 86ers. But they were like apples and oranges compared to the old team. Now we've taken the name back again and I think we're benefiting from the stuff we did in the '70s and '80s."

The original Whitecaps' first manager Jim Easton was a Scot and the early teams included other of his countrymen.