By Matthew Gourlie
If the people of Edmonton want a Canadian Premier League team, the ball is in their court.
Wednesday FC Edmonton launched a campaign to get 1,000 season ticket commitments for the 2019 CPL season in 40 days. One hundred season seats were sold with a $40 deposit in the first 90 minutes.
“The Can PL wants Edmonton and the fans want FC Edmonton in the Can PL. But it has to be sustainable. I’ve said that from the beginning if we’re not sustainable, there’s no future,” said FC Edmonton co-owner Tom Fath at a gathering at a packed Duggans Irish Pub on Wednesday.
Each deposit is good for one FC Edmonton membership and one season seat subscription for 2019 and is refundable.
After seven seasons in the North American Soccer League, the Fath brothers announced they were pulling the plug on the Eddies on Nov. 24, 2017. FC Edmonton head coach Colin Miller and his technical staff were released along with their players 10 days later.
With FC Edmonton’s future decidedly murky, but with the CPL building towards a March, 2019 start date, a group of Edmonton supporters formed YEG for CPL to try to get grassroots support for the return of the team.
“It started with a couple of fans, me and Nathan (Terlesky), just after FC Edmonton announced that they were pulling out of the North American Soccer League,” said Dallas Walker. “What Tom (Fath) was saying that he wanted the club to be sustainable because there wasn’t enough fans. We thought it was up to us to rally together and build a community and the fan base, get people together and rally to get a team back in the Canadian Premier League.”
FC Edmonton drew an average of 3,408 fans — an all-time high — last season, but Tom and Dave Fath have said that drawing in the 3-4,000 range just doesn’t work in the long term.
The CPL is aspiring to see their clubs double those figures from the outset. That would go a long way to allaying the Faths’ fears and making a team in Edmonton solvent, but would also necessitate additions and renovations to the 5,000-seat Clarke Stadium.
While the 1,000 season tickets would be a strong kick-start to reviving FC Edmonton, that was where the team’s season ticket base was a year ago and surely the Faths are looking for a more significant sign of interest.
“At least we know (the Faths) are exploring the CPL as an option,” Walker said. “I know that they’ve been keeping a close eye on everything we’ve been doing. We’re happy that they’re not entirely pulling out.
“It’s giving us an opportunity to put our money where our mouths are, right?”
YEG for CPL has launched a web site to promote the cause. Named after Eddie the rally rabbit, a Northern Prairie Jackalope that ran onto the pitch shortly before FC Edmonton turned around a 3-0 deficit to beat the Montreal Impact. The rally rabbit has become an unofficial mascot for the club — even appearing on their kits — and seemed like the perfect symbol to rally Edmonton supporters regardless of the odds.
YEG for CPL has events planned throughout March, starting with the launch of their own co-branded beer in association with Sea Change Brewing on March 2.
“We’re doing everything that we can online and we’re pretty sure that there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes that we’re not aware of,” Walker said. “With the response we had last night, we’re feeling pretty confident that we can reach that goal.”
Tom Fath; FC Edmonton general manager Jay Ball; Jeff Paulus, the technical director of FC Edmonton academy; and local player Allan Zebie all spoke at the rally. Zebie moved to Edmonton at 15, progressed through the FCE academy and went on to make 54 first-team appearances with the Eddies.
“I truly believe that if it wasn’t for FC Edmonton I wouldn’t be a professional soccer player,” Zebie said.
The YEG for CPL movement will need to overcome some of the cynicism that comes with Edmonton’s checkered past with professional soccer. The city has had seven teams play in different indoor and outdoor leagues in less than 40 years.
While noted for some great support for national team matches and tournaments, it has been a struggle to make professional soccer work consistently in the City of Champions.
Still, confidence is high as the organization and their supporters close in on their target of 1,000 SSS by March 31.
“We want to meet back here at the very end of March and celebrate in a very big way. Between now and then there’s a great deal of work that needs to be done. You have the ability to bring back this club,” Ball said.