Winnipeg soccer supporters eager to cheer in stands as Valour FC welcomes fully vaccinated fans


Nicky Cottee says it'll be a late start when Valour FC finally plays in front of home fans on Wednesday.

But after not seeing her team in action for almost two years, Cottee isn't going to be picky about a 9 p.m. kickoff. 

"I'm an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of person, but … I don't care if that game was at midnight, I'd be there."

The next professional soccer game in Winnipeg will mark a significant milestone in Manitoba's gradual return to normal from a punishing pandemic. The match represents the province's first sporting event with paying fans in the stands since COVID-19 arrived in March 2020.

Only 2,000 fans — who must have been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks — will be permitted inside IG Field for Wednesday's match.

Cottee rushed to find an earlier second-dose vaccine appointment to ensure her place among the boisterous fans chanting in the group of seats known as The Trench. 

"To not have been able to do that for a year and a half now, it's tough for supporters. I mean, we live for that," said Cottee, president of the Red River Rising supporters group. "We absolutely cannot wait."

Soccer bubble in Winnipeg

After last year's tournament in Prince Edward Island was played without fans in the crowd due to the pandemic, the Canadian Premier League returned in late June for several weeks of play exclusively in Winnipeg. The plan is for each team to return to their respective cities after for the remainder of the season.

So far, the bubble format is working for Valour FC, who have won three straight games. 

No fans were in the stands for those games, but that didn't stop Cottee, and a couple other hardy supporters, from chanting all game outside the stadium while peering through the gates.

"We're so connected with this team and we miss being down there with them, cheering and chanting and spurring them on when they're winning, when they're losing," Cottee said.

Valour FC head coach and general manager Rob Gale said he's looking forward to seeing the crowd.

"The beauty of this game for me is just that maybe there's light at the end of the tunnel" from this pandemic.

"I don't want to underplay the huge losses of lives and … the things we've gone through all together, but maybe it's just a sign of a break from that and sign of more positive times to come."

The beat radiating from Tim Cottee's drum is unmistakable for anyone who has attended a Valour FC home match.

But he actually isn't a big soccer fanatic, like his wife, Nicky.

He feeds off the energy he helps foster with his drumming. He keeps his back turned to the action as he motivates the crowd.

"I never really caught the bug [for soccer] and I still don't have the bug, but I'm around somebody that's so passionate about it, and I made a lot of friends that are so passionate about it that it's kind of infectious."