Why Couch Ultras Is One of the Most Creative Supporters Groups in North America
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For all its vibrance and pageantry, supporter culture in North America can sometimes feel, well, repetitive. The lines and boundaries between groups and cities can blur, the chants, the tifos, the marches, are all at risk of smushing together. But even amongst the most dynamic supporter culture environment, creativity still stands out.
One of the most creative supporters groups in North America is in a finished basement outside of Vancouver, known as the Couch Zone. It’s here that Couch Ultras, a small, official Vancouver Whitecaps supporters group is celebrating supporter culture on an elemental level, producing funny, witty creative content, from tifos that hang from a pulley system in the basement to bespoke attendance graphics.
The brainchild behind Couch Ultras is Spencer, a Vancouver Whitecaps and Canadian National team fan. Growing up outside of Vancouver, Spencer and his family attended a few Whitecaps matches each season, watching the rest from home. At the stadium, he was immediately drawn to the energy and excitement of the supporters section, wanting to be a part of it, but was often unable to convince his family to join him.
“As the years passed, I got [my family] a little more into it, and I got more into it, and then I decided, ‘OK, I want to replicate the atmosphere of the games at home,” he said.
After tinkering with his at-home match day experience for a few seasons, he officially launched Couch Ultras in 2017.
“I would say we go a bit above and beyond what the usual person does watching a game,” Spencer said. “ I don’t think people realize all the behind-the-scenes stuff that we do, because it takes a lot to set up and take everything down after the game.”
This includes lining the walls of the basement with homemade tifos, rigging up a larger tifo on the pulley system, preparing confetti for goal celebrations, and posting cheeky pre-game information including attendance updates and window status reports.
“It makes you feel like you’re at the game, because when I’m at the game, I’m chanting, waving a flag, singing,” he said. “But I want to do that at home too, and it’s nice to do that.”
The match day prep is detailed, and impressive. Couch Ultras (whose membership extends to Spencer’s family) gather to watch as many Whitecaps, and men’s and women’s Canadian national team matches, as possible. For each match, Spencer makes a tifo, either celebrating an individual player, or addressing the individual matchup. That tifo is hung from a homemade pulley system that Spencer designed himself, which, most importantly, does not leave a mark or a hole in the ceiling.
“It’s more of a hook thing, and it’s worked perfectly,” he said. “People like it too. They think it’s hilarious that I have a tifo pulley system in the basement.”
Spencer has connected with other Whitecaps supporters groups, and has a relationship with many members of the Voyaguers, the official Canadian National Team supporters group. The relationships have helped him navigate the supporter culture world.
“I know a bunch of the supporters now, so they’ve sort of helped me along the way to help get things going and give me advice,” he said.
Several Whitecaps players have also noticed his work, both their individual tifos, and the ones he brings to matches and displays with two poles.
“Quite a few players have followed us and let us know that they like our stuff,” Spencer said. “It’s nice to have the players appreciate it, not just the team, who also appreciate it, which is cool.”
After collaborating with the club several times, they approached him about becoming an officially-recognized club supporters group, an opportunity he took.
“For the Whitecaps, it’s nice to be a part of that group,” he said. “It’s like a badge a little bit. You're actually officially recognized by the team and you’re not just random people throwing confetti or posting stuff online.”
In the fall of 2020, when MLS resumed its pandemic-shortened season, the Whitecaps were unable to travel freely between the U.S. and Canada, so they set up shop in Utah, preventing Whitecaps fans from seeing their club in person. So Spencer asked several supporters around the U.S. to put up Couch Ultras stickers in their stadiums where Vancouver would play.
“I asked if they could bring the stickers to the games, since we couldn’t be there in person,” he said. “They did it. So other people said they wanted to help out and do it, so it sort of became a little trend. I think it’s sort of cool to see the logo everywhere, because I haven’t actually been to an away game.”
Couch Ultras is now on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram, and Spencer tailors his content to fit the platform.
“It’s a different audience on Twitter, compared to Instagram,” he said. “I’ll post more memes on Instagram, and on Twitter I’ll post more straightforward stuff.”
The best part? He’s got complete creative control.
“I think it’s sort of fun because we have creative freedom,” he said. “We don't’ have to talk to somebody to post something. I can paint whatever tifo I want to paint, which is fun, because I have lots of different ideas.”
Spencer and his family still try to attend as many Whitecaps matches in person as possible, but he’s also set on enjoying the group and the matchday atmosphere he’s created at home.
“I don’t think I could watch a game a different way, to be completely honest,” he said. “People will say, ‘Oh do you want to go to the bar to watch the game? Do you want to go to the viewing party?’ No, not really because it’s more exciting at home.”
What makes it even more fulfilling is that other supporters see and appreciate Couch Ultra’s vision.
“I’m shocked that people keep following us,” he said. “I guess what we’re doing, it’s always fun when people comment on our posts, because it means you’re doing a good job, and this is something people find unique.”