Hello, and welcome to American Tifo, a weekly newsletter for, and about, North American soccer supporters. Thank you for being here. If you haven’t already, subscribe! If you’re a member of a supporters group, please consider sharing this with the rest of your SG and encouraging them to subscribe as well.
You couldn’t miss it.
The shield, basked in brilliant blue, lines of black running up from the bottom until it’s bisected by the name: Impact Montréal. An off-white fleur-de-lis fills the left hand side, and four silver stars, representing the four founding communities of the city, dot the right side, all under a banner of text at the top: TOUS POUR GAGNER. All to win.
Dominique Ritchot would see it two or three times a week as she biked past Saputo Stadium on the way to work.
The Montréal Impact crest displayed on the side of the stadium, representing her club, her city. It was beautiful.
But on January 14th, things changed. That was when the Montréal Impact announced its rebirth as Club de Foot Montréal, along with a new crest that differed wildly from the one formerly displayed at Saputo Stadium.
In the weeks since that announcement, supporters have voiced their displeasure, coming together in a rare show of unity among all Montreal supporters groups to push back against what they’re calling, an erasure of their club’s history.
They’re hurt They’re angry. They want their club back.
Before we go any further, it’s important to understand that the relationship between the city of Montreal and the Impact is rare in North American soccer.
A team called the Impact first took the field in Montreal in 1992, spending the next 19 years playing in a range of now-defunct leagues, from APSL, the A-League, USL 1 and the NASL, even dabbling as an indoor team from 1997-2000. They joined MLS in 2012 where they’ve been ever since. So, between 1993 and 2020, the Montreal Impact took the field every single year, without fail.
“It was a full generation, almost 30 years, of kids hearing ‘Impact’. I have three boys, and my boys have been a part of the Impact since they were born, it’s in their DNA. So it’s just crazy to me that you would erase that and take that away,” said Ali Shay, a co-founder of the 1642 MTL supporters group.
Over all those years, supporter culture has grown, developed and thrived.
Ultras Montréal 2002 was formed in 2002, adapting the philosophy and principles of the ultras movement of Europe to North America. A second group, 127 Montréal came to life in 2011, bringing a lively atmosphere to the stands, and 1642 MTL was formed in 2015, introducing the now-iconic North Star Bell to the east side of the stadium. Smaller SGs have also formed, including Front Commun Montréal, a group devoted to fighting against Modern Football ideals, and Bolos Crew Mtl, tailored towards Canadien-Latino supporters.
It’s a level of authenticity, of natural evolution, and tradition that you don’t see in North America, save for some very select pockets.
Which is why whispers of an identity overhaul at the end of 2020 made no sense to fans.
“There was never any mention of rebranding. Never,” said Ritchot, a member of 127 Montréal. “So, when the news came, on December 14th that the club would have a new name, we were taken totally by surprise. We had never heard of anything like this. That the logo would change? There was never a sign of it. So we were taken aback.”
This revelation was especially bruising because the lines of communication are open between the club and many SGs.
“On top of the same emotions shared by all supporters, we felt particularly betrayed as we have regular meetings through ASUP (supporters association) with the club's management, including Kevin Gilmore,” said Garry White, a spokesperson for Ultras Montréal 2002. “This rebranding topic has not been brought up once in the last two years so there was a clear intent to hide this from the supporters and season ticket holders.”
Over the next few weeks, designs started to leak. Designs so different, so much of a departure from the current logo, the name, the identity, that it HAD to be a first draft. An iteration. An option. Certainly, this could not be the final decision.
“It starts to leak, and me personally, I was like, ‘Nah, man, this can't be it.’ Like, they're not going to do this, you know? And then slowly, it just became reality. It feels like a bad dream,” said Shay.
“When the first images of the new logo started leaking in January, the general opinion was that this was some kind of test run but no one thought that the actual snowflake logo and the new name were credible,” said Philippe, of Front Comun Montréal. “So it was a shock when the club announced officially in a surreal press conference that they were going forward with this very bad idea.”
“It was a shock for everyone,” said White. “A large majority of supporters felt betrayed by this sudden change and by the lack of consultation for such an important aspect of our club.”
But on January 14th, the club made it official. It was now Club de Foot Montréal, accompanied with a new logo, a circular badge channeling the delicate lines of a snowflake.
“We just fell off our chair,” said Ritchot. “We just couldn’t believe that they would abandon the official colors, the logo, everything that makes it special.”
The reasoning given by the club, to grow beyond their limits, to become a worldwide club, was illogical to Impact supporters who had proudly worn their clubs crest to cities around the world, who had answered the phone calls from international friends asking about the latest global superstar, Didier Drogba, Marco Di Vaio, Ignacio Piatti, Thierry Henry, who had just chosen Montreal as their next step. This was the club that faced Mexican side Santos Laguna in front of 55,000 at the Olympic Stadium, all the way back in 2009, the same club that made a magical CCL run in 2015. They didn’t need to switch colors or names to become globally known. The Montréal Impact was already global.
“How much more international can you be?” said Ritchot. “You have the best players of their generation playing for us in my stadium, wearing my jersey and my colors. We won 10 Voyageurs Cups, three league championships. We’ve been to a continental final. Our name resounded.”
“We travelled many cities and countries wearing the Impact Montréal crest and colors with pride,” said Edward, of Bolos Crew Mtl. “ The name itself makes us different and we like it. We got into MLS and got a new stadium with the Impact. We feel like the history of the club was taken away from us, without any form of consultation from their loyal supporters.”
In the fallout of the club’s announcement, social media reaction was swift and negative. A petition lobbying the club to revert back to the Impact name, crest and colors, was launched and quickly racked up more than 5800 signatures.
As each supporter group reeled, they knew they needed to do something drastic.
Anyone even remotely close to supporter culture understands the huge gulfs of differences that sometimes separate one club’s supporters groups, making it difficult to agree on, well, pretty much anything. The color of smoke, the route of a march, the chants. Montreal’s SGs are not particularly close. There are open lines of communication between certain groups and a Supporters Association that facilitates charity work, but unified is NOT a good word to describe them collectively.
But this was different.
“There's a certain mutual respect between all groups and we decided to come together for the greater good of our club,” said White.
On February 11th, all 8 supporters groups released a joint communique condemning the rebrand, with part of it reading:
“We have chosen to put above all else, our love for soccer and our club, the Impact De Montreal, to tell you in a unified voice that we are firmly opposed to the identity change that was announced on January 14th, 2020.”
All 8 groups put their names on it, a display of unity almost unheard of.
“To the exception of chants, it is the first time that all the groups of the Stadium (sometimes standing on opposing ends,) have come together for a common cause,” said Philippe.
“We felt the need to make a joint statement that went beyond any differences between those groups,” said White. “We had several discussions and exchanges but once everyone agreed on doing it, the message we wanted to push was very clear: all SG's are asking the front office to backtrack and return to the club's rightful name, Impact de Montréal.”
“It took a lot of negotiation to make sure that the wording and everything was on point, that everybody would be okay with it,” said Shay. “We hope that the front office realizes that even though groups are polar opposites, they came together to let them know that this is not acceptable. You could change your branding, no problem, it’s your business, do what you want. But you can’t take Impact away when it’s a part of us. We have members of our group that have the Montréal Impact tattooed on themselves.”
It has been more than three weeks since the supporters released their statement. The vitriol has stayed consistent on social media, and supporters are being vocal as they cancel their season tickets.
Many supporters are hopeful that Club de Foot Montréal will take a page out of Louisville City and the Chicago Fire who walked back rebrands that were received poorly by supporters.
“We demand and deserve more respect, and believe it’s still possible to find a solution, like it has been the case with other franchises in recent times around the league,” said Edward.
While the unity among the groups may not last into the new season, they are all still united in wanting the same outcome, no matter how they get there.
“We've always been the group that has found ways to get things done so we're going to approach this in the same way,” said Shay. “We're going to convince them that it's a good idea for them, for the team, for the players and for the supporters and for the city that they should bring the Impact back.”
“For us it's not really a question of "if" they will reconsider but "when" will it happen,” said White. “Our only hope is that it happens sooner rather than later and that the damage to the core base of supporters is limited. The administration, players, coaches, owners and even supporters are all temporary. They all leave their mark on a club, which eventually lives on through its name and history. We are ready to continue fighting for our club's name and its history through different actions, for as long as it takes.”