The opening weekend for the Victoria Highlanders FC was full of action for the team and fans, and we aren’t just talking on the pitch. Friday night started with a season ticket holders event. Saturday saw two supporters groups, Victoria’s Lake Side Buoys and Lane’s Red Aces, meet up for some pre-match mingling. And finally, Sunday saw the two teams and supporters groups facing off both on the field, and in the stands. With autographs happening after the match, there was plenty of opportunity to fans to shake hands with players as things kicked into gear for the 2017 season.

Highlanders Kit on display at STH event. Photo by Shawn Gray

Highlanders Kit on display at STH event. Photo by Shawn Gray

The season ticket holder event was held at the Sticky Wicket Pub. Most of the players were in attendance, as was Marvin Diercks, the General Manager for Victoria Highlanders. It was an excellent gathering, with many opportunities to rub shoulders with the players and ask them questions about their inspiration, what kind of player they may be, and even how they feel about the coming of the Canadian Premier League. With several Lake Side Buoys in attendance, as well as LSB TV and Chek News, there was a lot happening.

Although there was no surprise signing announcement during the event, we were able to learn a couple extremely important things that had yet to be announced. First, the team jersey would be available for sale starting next week through Team Sales. Orders will need to be made through the website, and all the kit will be printed in bulk, with pick-up happening at the match. Secondly, not only would we actually have craft beer at the matches, the whole stadium would be licensed this year. And thirdly, the matches would be streamed on YouTube, so if we’re out travelling and can’t make it to a home match, we can still watch the lads win. These mark 3 huge improvements from last year, and promise great things for spectators this season.

Lake Side Buoys and Red Aces social. Photo by Shawn Gray.

Lake Side Buoys and Red Aces social. Several guests joined later in the night. Photo by Shawn Gray.

Saturday night’s social between Lake Side Buoys, who are Victoria Highlanders’ supporters group, and the Red Aces, Lane United FC’s supporters, was at the Yates Street Taphouse. With fairly large area reserved for supporters of the two teams, a relatively large group was expected, and the evening did not disappoint. Many of the Red Aces had spent the previous night in Vancouver as Lane United FC visited TSS FC Rovers at Swangard for the first time in years. With the excitement of their recent draw on the road, combined with an eagerness for Lane & Victoria to meet the next day, both supporters groups spent the evening swapping stories, downing alcohol, and getting in a fair bit of good-natured ribbing. Supporters may be at odds in the stadium, but off the field everyone’s a friend who enjoys footy.

Finally, with a cool wind blowing and the sun riding high in the sky, Sunday brought a kick-off to Highlanders’ season at Centennial Stadium. 305 people made their way to the stadium, despite it being Mother’s Day, and spread out across both East & West stands. The Lake Side Buoys took up their place at one end, while the Red Aces positioned themselves firmly in Lane’s corner. The battle lines were drawn as the teams took their places on the field. With the FO promising some huge improvements on the field this year over last, we were swiftly reassured that it was not idle boasting. Gone were the comments at the beginning of 2016, where people in the stands expressed disappointment at the level of play, and instead we started off chanting & cheering.

Callum Montgomery's goal at 7:00 for Victoria Highlanders FC. Photo by Shawn Gray.

Callum Montgomery’s goal at 7:00 for Victoria Highlanders FC. Photo by Shawn Gray.

Callum Montgomery (D) started off the scoring in the 7th minute, as a free kick sailed over the wall and past Lane’s keeper, Ben Willis. Montgomery was Highlanders’ fan player of the year in 2016, and this early goal shows that he is aiming to be the 1st Highlander to ever obtain that title twice. Not to be outdone, less than 2 minutes later, Owen Pearce (M) take a pass from Andrew Ofoso (F) and would fight his way past a defender and put one through traffic into the far-side of the net. The first half would see Highlanders take another point in the 35th as Eva Batousol (M) would pop the ball to front-running Ofosu. Ofosu would swiftly outpace the defender, take a quick step toward the centre of the net, past Willis, and put the ball in the back of the net. By this point of the match, the Red Aces were trying to slide their cards back up their sleeves while Lake Side Buoys had plenty to cheer about.

The 2nd half would give Lane United FC an opportunity to get back in the match. Ismael Fernandez would take a pass near the box in the 68′ and shield the ball past not 1, not 2, but 3 Highlanders before beating the keeper and tucking it in on the near-side. It was a great play by Fernandez, and clearly demonstrates that Highlanders still have some training to do on dispossessing players while defending. Victoria¬†would return in the 81′ as a cross from Sho Goto (D) would find the feet of Highlanders’ veteran, Blair Sturrock (F), and sail past Willis to put the home team up 4-1.

It was an excellent showing for Highlanders in their debut match of the season. The team seemed to hold possession for most of the match, and have both a height and speed advantage on most of Lane’s players. That being said, there’s always room for improvement. Ofosu seemed to forget where he was at one point in the match, while play continued, and while he casually walked away from Lane’s net, the ball traveled to a perfect spot for him to put it in, if he had been facing the net instead. Whether Ofosu thought play had been called, or had fallen for some distraction by Lane’s players, I’m not entirely sure. Additionally, the team showed some defensive issues with some of Lane’s players dancing circles around a few defenders. This is all stuff to work on, and with 12 days until Highlanders’ next match, they’ve got the time to get it right.

As a post-match aside, I need to give huge credit to the organizers of the match. Many of you may recall my recent series on how to improve the fan experience at highlanders games. In one article, I spoke about the location of the concession tents and the problem with the flow of guests. Things were much better laid out this year, with the tents set closer to the stands along one edge, with a clear path for people to travel from getting their food/drinks tickets, to retrieving them. The buns were laid out ahead of the toppings, allowing guests to decorate prior everything before getting their burger as they exited the line at the end. It seemed to move a lot smoother, and despite a couple balls flying out over the corner of the field, it seemed a lot safer for everyone involved.

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