No team yet, no league yet, but they’re already cheering
So, are they the Red Patch Boys or more the Box J Boys?
“I’d say we’re a combination of the two,” says James Hutton, the 25-year-old president of the Barton Street Battalion, a fan group dedicated to the Hamilton soccer franchise in the pending, but as yet unannounced, Canadian Premier League. “When I’m explaining the Battalion to a lot of Hamiltonians, if they don’t understand what Toronto FC is and what the Red Patch Boys (the TFC’s team’s wildly active supporter group) are, we say ‘We’re essentially going to be the Box J Boys of soccer.’ Which speaks to the passion we’ve got and the passion we’re going to be bringing to games. On top of that, there’s a bit of a different culture to soccer. We’ll be having our flags, and our drums, our smoke and our confetti, all the things which make soccer a different atmosphere.”
Supporter groups for pro sports franchises, like the Box J Boys, are common and, like the Battalion, are not officially connected to the club. But Hutton thinks the Barton Street Battalion “is the first supporters group in the world to be formed before the league actually exists.”
Hutton and a few friends who follow TFC closely had read Spectator stories about the potential new league and the Tiger-Cats’ heavy involvement in it. They were meeting in Hamilton pubs to watch Toronto FC away games, “when at a certain point we said, ‘Would we support a Hamilton team over Toronto?’ And the pretty much unanimous answer was ‘yes.’ ”
So the first booster meeting took place last February at the Anchor Bar, with about a dozen supporters. Kevin Matchett, the Ticats’ director of new stadium development, came along and remains the liaison between the Ticats and the Battalion. “That gave us that validation, that push to go forward,” Hutton says. “As a group we talked a lot about what we wanted to be. We came up with the name, created a logo, created a website and got some press inside the soccer world.”
The name combines an identifiable neighbourhood reference with the military feel of ‘Battalion,’ suggesting banding together for a common, larger, purpose.
“Three words that sum us up, and maybe sum up Hamilton are, ‘Impatience, passion and ambition,’” Hutton says.
“We’re super passionate about soccer and about Hamilton,” Hutton added.
“We couldn’t wait for this to start, so we started a year early.”
Battalion scarves are black and gold and feature ‘The Ambitious City’ on one side, and ‘Barton St. Battalion’ on the other. When Hutton got the first 50 scarves in June, he sold them out in four days, and about 160 have been sold since then.
Between 20 and 30 fans meet semiregularly, and on Saturday at the Pheasant Plucker they’ll celebrate Hamilton’s Melissa Tancredi while watching the broadcast of the final match of her brilliant career.
Prospective Battalion members are welcome, and scarves (20 bucks per) will be on sale.
One of the Battalion’s hottest topics of discussion is the potential nickname for the Hamilton franchise. At least two, United and Steelers, have been registered for patents.
Many of the group prefer the Steelers, the name of a previous pro team here, but Hutton’s view is that, “steel is a part of our history and it’s part of what Hamilton represents now but it’s a part that’s getting smaller. It has less effect than it did in the ’80s, and I think it’ll have less effect in 2020 and 2030.”
And what effect will the Barton Street Battalion have?
“The Box J Boys have woven themselves into the identity of the Ticats. If you’re a CFL fan anywhere in the country, you know about the Box J Boys,” Hutton said.
“I think that’s an amazing identity to have for your passion for your city, and your passion for the team,” Hutton added.
“We don’t want to be a group that identifies with the hooliganism in soccer, but I’m not claiming we’re going to be choir boys.”
James Hutton, second from right, president of the Barton Street Battalion, is joined by some of the heavy hitters in Hamilton soccer. From left: Kevin Matchett, Hamilton Tiger-Cats; Paul Beirne, project manager Canadian Premier League; John McGrane, soccer businessman and Hall of Fame player; Nick Bontis, Canadian Soccer Association director; Hutton; John Gibson, Hamilton and District Soccer Association president.