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Ottawa Fury FC: Growing Up From the Grassroots

Every Wednesday throughout the 2014 NASL season, a guest writer who regularly covers the NASL and soccer in North America will give their take on the league or the sport in general.

 

By Jason S Rufner

 

The North American Soccer League (NASL) lived up to its name when it granted a franchise to the capital of Canada.  Nestled on the banks of a river that bears its name, rampant with staid neogothic political edifices buttressed by structures of ultra-modernity, Ottawa is a cosmopolitan city that stands ready to embrace the world's game.

So far in its inaugural season, it has done just that.

"We're very, very pleased with how well it's been received," Fury FC president John Pugh said.  "There's a good market for soccer in Ottawa."

He ought to know.  A former semi-pro footballer, he hails from the country that gave soccer to the world.  When he came to Ottawa from England, his tenure as a university computer science professor was to be one year long.  He hasn't moved back yet.

Pugh stayed put in the Great White North, founding a successful software company.  In 2002, after selling the firm, he purchased Ottawa Fury Soccer Club.  In 2011, he helped put his new hometown in the NASL, and Ottawa Fury FC had a place at the table in 2014.

The Ottawa Fury is nothing new, even if its men's professional team is.  The brand has been established since 2000 as Fury SC, producing championship-caliber women's teams (10 division crowns and one W-League title) and a plethora of talent through its youth academies, developmental teams and grassroots programs.  Hundreds of footballers, men and women, have graduated from Ottawa Fury Soccer Club to play collegiately in Canada or the U.S., or for the national teams of 14 countries.

"We wanted to give the best opportunities to players in Ontario and Québec, and we felt there were enough good players around the city to attract scholarships and even professional careers," said Pugh, obviously proud of Fury's amateur soccer offerings.

With the establishment of its NASL squad, Ottawa Fury FC has become a regional franchise.  The team trains across the river in Gatineau, and matches are broadcast in both French and English.

Canada:  It's not just for hockey anymore.

The city -- working with Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group, the club's owner of which Pugh is part -- fashioned a true jewel for the NASL's crown with TD Place.  Rising from a downtown neighborhood called The Glebe, it's a futuristic sports cathedral with a waved roof, large capacity and latest technology that denotes big-time events.  Correspondingly, over 14,500 jammed inside July 20 to witness Fury FC battle New York Cosmos in the stadium's christening.

"That was a very grand opening," Pugh said.

The Dominion of Canada is rightly thought of as a peaceful nation, but its citizens can get ferocious about their sports.

Fury FC's showdowns with FC Edmonton, currently NASL's only other Canada-based club, has already impassioned flames of the nation's East-West rivalry.  The two have already taken it to each other in the Canadian Championship, an annual tournament of the nation's five professional soccer clubs.

Dueling supporter groups have sprung up:  the Bytown Boys, an homage to Ottawa's original name, and the Stony Monday Riot, commemorating a fateful day in 1849 when the capital suffered its only riot ever.

Jonathan Bagg is among the more vociferous fans in the Riot, a loose group of a few hundred originating from Fury FC's non-professional days.  He says the Riot – and its Fury – is really beginning to take off.

"It's been huge.  Being a city that's such a melting pot, a lot of people here have grown up playing soccer.  Now, to get to watch a professional team play here, it's just been so exciting," he said.  "For our supporter groups, it has been our purpose."

Every match day, the Riot brews at Original Burger, then moves en masse into their team's home dome, taking over and spilling out of Section W.  Their traditions are non-traditional, deliberately evoking a Canadian cultural pride with its songs and chants.

"HEY, you score a goal an' HEY, you score a goal an' HEY, you score a goal and we lose our minds...," Bagg sang as the Riot would, reformatting the words of "Don't Walk Away Eileen" by popular Canadian rocker Sam Roberts.

Not your typical soccer chant -- but Ottawa is not a typical soccer city.  So far, though, it's working out nicely.

In a town with the National Hockey League, the Canadian Football League and an embarrassment of riches in the amateur hockey ranks, the North American Soccer League adds another flavor of major sport to Canada's fourth-largest metropolis.

"We really feel that we've graduated to the pro level.  The brightness of the lights, the richness of the colors, the sheer size of it," Bagg said.  "You can see it....  We want to get more people in Ottawa getting that feeling for soccer and having a good time with us."