In the 68th minute of Atlético Ottawa’s match against the Halifax Wanderers on April 15, chants of “Ottawa has a T-Rex, Ottawa has a T-Rex” rang around TD Place, the joint home of Atlético Ottawa and the Ottawa Redblacks.
Lo and behold, the section of die-hard fans known as the Capital City Supporters Group had gained a fresh face – an inflatable Tyrannosaurus Rex wearing the red and white stripes of the home team – which crowd-surfed across Section W.
The inflatable dino would not count towards the attendance of more than 7,000 fans who showed up to support the soccer club in its first game of the season. The match would finish in a hard-fought draw.
The Atlético recorded their second straight 1-1 draw in Winnipeg on Saturday against the Valour FC. Ottawa’s next home match is April 29 against York United.
For away games, the CCSG organizes viewing parties at the Glebe Central Pub on Bank Street, where many fans gathered Saturday to watch the game against Winnipeg.
Malcolm Shaw, who came off the bench to play the last 15 minutes of the April 15 match against Halifax, has been with the club for three of its first four seasons. The 27-year-old striker has seen the club grow from humble beginnings to take the regular season championship and reach the Canadian Premier League final last year.
Shaw gives some credit for the unexpected run last year to a newfound identity, something he doesn’t believe existed in previous seasons of Atlético Ottawa soccer.
“Everything was new. So new philosophies were implemented, tactics, identity,” he said. “We developed and cultivated that throughout the year, and everyone bought into it. I think really last year we cemented our identity in terms of how we play. … And the fact that all 23 to 25 players bought into it is what, again, brought us success.”
Of course, the identity of the club would be nothing without their thousands of fans and single dinosaur. In the last three seasons, Atlético Ottawa’s attendance has consistently stayed in the 4,000s, a trend the club will look to improve while holding onto their loyal supporters.
Bryce Crossman owns the inflatable dinosaur named Wally. He brings it to every home game.
‘How can we get attendance to five or six thousand people every game, because one way is winning on the field, but the other is having fun while you’re there.’— Bryce Crossman, interim president, Capital City Supporters Group
As interim president and matchday officer of the Capital City Supporters Group, Crossman prides himself on establishing club identity through fan culture. His matchday roles include leading chants, creating and maintaining the infamous ‘Olliewood’ sign behind the south-side net at TD Place dedicated to star midfielder Ollie Bassett — and pumping up his trusty T-Rex.
“My whole thing is how much fun can we have during a game? How can we make the kids and other people have fun watching us and want to come back?” said Crossman. “How can we get attendance to 5,000 or 6,000 people every game, because one way is winning on the field, but the other is having fun while you’re there.”
The work done by the supporters’ group is noticed by the players, Shaw says.
“There’s so much credit, not just to, obviously, our performances on the field, but just to the supporters’ group and the front office and them trying to do everything they can to get the city involved and engaged,” he said. “And getting everyone aware that there is professional soccer in Ottawa and it’s a great experience to come out and support the team and really get immersed in soccer culture.”
‘There’s so much credit, not just to, obviously, our performances on the field, but just to the supporters’ group and the front office and them trying to do everything they can to get the city involved and engaged.’— Malcolm Shaw, striker, Atlético Ottawa
A potential barrier to the establishment of a club identity has come from Atlético Ottawa’s sister-side Atlético Madrid in Spain, which determines how many and which players are loaned to the Canadian club. This — plus the still-developing status of the Canadian Premier League — has made it difficult to hold on to players year-to-year.
In the home opener against the Wanderers, eight of the 11 Atlético starters were making their Ottawa debut.
Shaw says this is inherent to the league, but he’s not worried about the effect it has on club identity.
“I think ultimately the identity is cemented from the top down, so from the staff and then whichever players are in (the lineup),” he said.
“We really implement that through our preseason, and everyone is expected to buy in and then from there we just develop a cohesiveness through that,” he added. “But I think our identity is that we don’t play games, we play finals. So again, the commitment, determination, hard work, talent, these are all things that cultivate in our identity as a club, as a team — those are like non-negotiables.”