It’s fair to say the re-branding of Impact de Montreal to Club de Foot Montreal has disenfranchised some of the club’s most passionate fans, and caused a split in the fanbase.
With no games at Stade Saputo it’s a little difficult to understand just what that split looks like. Is it 50-50? 60-40 or even 80-20, for... or against? We’re all really left to make our own judgement through social media posts and interaction.
One thing’s for sure it’s easier to find those disgruntled with re-branding to come out and talk about it rather than those left unaffected, or in favour.
But there clearly appears to be sizeable numbers on each side of the debate.
Some like US-based fan Ryley Duffy (20) and long-time Montreal soccer activist, Simon Willeme, are onboard with the new initiative. Ryley has spent significant time and hard-earned student income, travelling from south of the border religiously since he was 16, while Simon has coached, played and followed Montreal soccer teams passionately from the days of the Supra.
Then there are others like the fan groups who are fundamentally opposed to any name-change whatsoever, and who don’t find favour with the re-branding or the narrative surrounding it.
We’ve heard from the Ultras through these pages recently and over the past 48 hours I’ve spoken with three fans to better understand the situation in which sensitivity-levels are becoming intensified.
As well as Ryley and Simon I spoke also to Ali Shay who is taking the lead for the 1642 Supporters’ organization in rejecting the name-change and calling for ‘Impact’ to be reinstated.
“If I didn’t think the club would go back on this name-change I wouldn’t be putting time and energy into it. I’m busy enough. I run a business, have three kids. My life is busy enough. If I didn’t think there was hope I wouldn’t be leading this for my organization,” said Ali.
The 1642 group sees itself as a progressive supporters’ organization and is the one responsible for the bell and the Drogba banner coming on-loan from Stamford Bridge.
They prize their uniqueness and tend not to do things collaboratively with other clubs, particularly the Ultras, who along with 1642 form the two main supporter groups at Stade Saputo.
Normally each of these two main groups situated at opposite ends of the stadium, prefer to avoid each other rather than harmonize, however the re-branding and particularly the name-change brings them (and others) together in a common aim.
The polar-opposites each recorded their names as signatories in the statement produced last week, calling for CF Montreal to revert back to its traditional name of Impact de Montreal.
This was a pretty huge deal for both organizations.
Says Ali Shay: “Front office knows this, so hopefully they take the fact that we have collaborated on this issue, very seriously. Normally we wouldn’t [collaborate with the Ultras] and if there was any disagreement within the leadership of our group it was not based on the wording of last week’s statement, but perhaps on co-signing with other organizations, but we managed to get all our leadership on board.
“It’s a very big deal. These are two groups which generally tend to avoid each other because they are very different. We acknowledge each other’s existence and we maintain a line of communication, but our line of communication with the Ultras is way smaller than it is with Front Office.”
1642 prides itself on some very open communication channels existing with Impact de Montreal since forming in 2015, and because of this they find it quite illogical they weren’t consulted by the football club when it came to rebranding.
“It’s just crazy that no-one reached out to us. It’s just like they didn’t want to talk to us, in fact it would have been very easy to talk to us,” remarks Ali.
“There’s been communication in the last few weeks. The club contacted us to say they wanted to hire someone to deal with supporter groups and they wanted us to be involved in that discussion.
“We’ve always told them we are open to be involved in any type of discussion, but we’ve never been involved in any discussion about rebranding and if the club wanted us to take part in a community committee for instance, some time in the future involving all the supporter groups, then of course we would say, ‘Yes’.
“We’re not the type of group to say no to communication.
“In fact our main focus in the next short while is to find channels of communication open so that we can discuss with the team and let them know how we feel. It shouldn’t be hard to do that.”
It’s clear from talking to the two main supporter organizations and the six other signatories to last week’s statement, that none was consulted over re-branding despite CF Montreal’s claims to the contrary.
While it would be helpful for the club to explain its claims around fan consultation, details at this stage seem unlikely to emerge.
Ryley Duffy, who is pro, or at least neutral on the re-branding, is disappointed by the lack of fan consultation on the club’s behalf, but is also disheartened by the reaction of many in the main supporter groups.
He feels there are more important things than re-naming/re-branding, what happens on the pitch for one, and like Simon Will considers it much more important for Montreal to retain a successful pro-club in the city, than to argue about name-change and branding.
Simon’s involvement in coaching within the Montreal soccer community for many years opened his eyes to the support the Saputo family has provided to Montreal football from grass-roots to professional levels.
“Saputo has been losing money with this club since the nineties just for the love of the game.
“I think it needs a bit of a re-birth. For me the Impact when you look through the years, there’s been a lot of bad decisions at various levels. The attendance is not there. The way the club is going etc, it’s a loss-maker.
“Professional football is still in its infancy here and there’s still not that much interest in the Impact. Is this rebrand going to change things? I don’t know, but we’re at a point where it’s worth a try.”
Simon likes the new logo, feels it looks better than the old one and points to the club’s announcement of increased merchandising sales in the wake of the rebrand.
“That it’s a snowflake it doesn’t bother me much, in fact I think it’s a wink towards Expo ‘67 and also the city’s Metro system. I like the narrative around the new logo.
“Could the rebrand have been done better or differently? I’m sure, yes, but it’s done now. So we have a choice. We either sink the boat further or show them support.”
Simon opted for the latter of those choices, creating a new Facebook page, CF Montreal - Supporters, days before the rebrand was launched. There had been enough leakage of details for him to assume the new name for the club (he actually opened the group as Montreal FC, before changing it, on the day, to CF Montreal).
He felt that like himself other supporters were being treated with little respect on other forums after expressing comfort with and support for the prospective rebrand. So the Facebook page was borne from this thought in early January. It’s popularity has grown. In little more than 5 weeks, it has attracted 762 members.
The group’s mandate caters to CF Montreal supporters who are proud of the club’s new identity and who wish to discuss and share opinions freely. Posts in all languages are welcome so long as the common interest is a love of CF Montreal.
What Ryley Duffy likes least about the rebrand is the term ‘Foot’ in the name, and suggests, as does everyone else I have spoken to in favour of the rebrand, “Why didn’t they just go all the way and call it ‘Club de Football Montreal’?
The term ‘Foot’ in the new club name appears to carry annoyance value for all, irrespective of what side of the fence they sit.
While Ryley gets why fans are passionately opposed to the name-change, he is critical of the social media vitriol directed at the President, Kevin Gilmore. “I think fans have more say under the Gilmore presidency than ever before. I really love what Kevin has done for the most part and can see his vision.
“People sometimes are too near-sighted, probably something that comes naturally to us as humans, and suddenly this guy, Kevin Gilmore, wants to change things. I’d say the same thing for Joey Saputo. This team has done so much for the growth of the sport in Quebec, it’s amazing.
“I understand the rebrand. Take the logo, I love it, although it doesn’t look super-professional. But in a sense I think it means more to the community. And merchandise sales have risen substantially after the rebrand without even launching the new jersey.”
Ali from 1642 disagrees about the logo...
“It’s ridiculous on many fronts. First of all there’s a snowflake. Who wants to be called a snowflake, it’s a summer sport?
“I can imagine all the writers and all the announcers from TSN when we’re playing Toronto, and we lose a game, which happens a lot, and they’ll say the Snowflakes were blown away. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Ryley’s view differs. “Montreal has deep roots and they call Canada ‘the true north’. Montreal has always been a snowy city and I love the story they had behind it, the blizzard and all fans coming together in the stadium to support the club and the players at the same time.
I think the term ‘snowflakes’ is stupid, so it’s not even part of my vocabulary, and if it’s not part of my thought-process it doesn’t bother me.
“Yes, it gives Toronto fans something to call us, but I’d rather be called ‘snowflake’ than ‘clown’.”
So the debate looks set to continue. I’m not sure those in favour of the rebrand are a silent majority. They might well be, but the commitment and passion of those against, some of the club’s most vociferous and passionate fans, cannot be ignored.
It’s beyond doubt fans are part of the match-day experience, crucial to a healthy club landscape. They create the noise and bring colour, enthusiasm and energy which transmits throughout the arena.
Feelings are running high at this particular time. There appears no appetite from anyone I’ve spoken with for boycotting matches. No-one ever really wants to consider such drastic action. Everyone simply wants to get back to watching football at the stadium.
CF Montreal has a task on its hands right now to ensure a significant number of fans are not alienated and that their sentiments are afforded due consideration.
Certainly, pleasing everyone is impossible. A winning start to the season will help immensely to calm the waters, but even if such a rare beginning is achieved, how long before the noises of discontent re-emerge?
Heading into its tenth MLS season, there’s slightly anxious times at the local football club.