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COLUMN: Get on board with the beautiful game, Rovers here to stay

'While some don’t understand the game and the often low scores, they don’t see the excitement of the whole experience,' says reporter as Rovers hit the pitch in Barrie

As a reporter, Sunday was an eventful day.

As a fan of the beautiful game of soccer, it was heaven.

I spent Sunday afternoon watching the debut of the Simcoe County Rovers FC on the Barrie sports scene. It was a historic day.

There were many volunteers there, setting up sponsor signs, tables, tents, sound and everything else it takes to make a team’s game day happen.

There was a lot of work, especially as the mindset was one of the whole soccer country watching how Sunday went due to the big names on the Rovers ownership team.

Whether you are a soccer fan or not, it was an amazing atmosphere with both the women's game and the men’s game attracting just over 300 fans for each of their matches.

Soccer fans are usually louder than the fans of other sports, with their chants and songs they sing throughout the game. The Barbarriens, the Rovers' supporters club, had blue and white smoke flares, a drum and the vocal chords that likely carried off the field at Georgian College and throughout Ward 1.

As I walked around the sidelines, I heard two main things from fans. They were excited to see a high level of soccer in the community, and they were glad to be there at the start of something that is clearly going to only get bigger.

The loop the team plays in, League1 Ontario, has grown into something special and the executive team in charge of the semi-professional league have made it so cities around the province are lining up to have a team.

One man told me he was laminating his ticket, because he truly believed the Rovers would eventually compete in the Canadian championship against the likes of Toronto FC and the clubs from the Canadian Premier League.

For myself and many others, soccer is a passion. While some don’t understand the game and the often low scores, they don’t see the excitement of the whole experience. A good soccer game involving a team you’re passionate about is not just what happens on the pitch, it's the whole stadium.

Having grown up in the GTA, I’m a huge Leafs fan. I know how passionate hockey fans are. I am one of them. But I don’t see that same fandom at an NHL game as I do at an English Premier League game. In my opinion, it's just different.

But you could see it on Sunday, in both the women’s and men’s games, in the faces of the fans. You could see it in the faces of the volunteers who, as tired as everyone was, set up, tore down, worked throughout the game with the conversations after being about how being here at the ground level was a huge moment for all of us. 

Team president and co-owner, not to mention Canadian soccer legend, Julian de Guzman was there, helping, doing interviews and chatting sincerely with volunteers he sought out. The same with the team’s other co-owner/chief operating officer Will Devellis and co-owner/chief executive officer Peter Raco  those two guys never stopped all game.

Watching high-level executives getting their hands dirty and working inspired the group of volunteers. It was evident.

This truly was unlike any sports experience I have had in this city. I’ve covered pretty much every sport in Barrie over the last 12 years and this had a different vibe than others. I think it was that ground-level feeling, that feeling of seeing how far the Rovers, and soccer in general, can go in this region. 

No sport has been talked about more in this country for the last couple of years, nor will any sport be as talked about for the next few as Canada goes to the World Cup in November and co-hosts it in 2026.

If you’re not a soccer fan, you need to give it a try.

We who are can be very welcoming. We will welcome the chance to help you find a favourite international club team. Might I recommend Everton FC.

We’ll help you understand the World Cup and sell you on how Canada could very well make it out of their group.

And we know you’ll fall in love with the Simcoe County Rovers FC.

By the way, the women won their game 3-0, the men drew theirs 1-1 with both teams playing their counterparts from Oakville.

The Rovers are here.

Professional soccer is here.

Sports fandom in this city will never be the same.

Shawn Gibson is a staff reporter at BarrieToday.