UM02 celebrated their tenth year of supporting the Montreal Impact on Sunday and Goal.com spoke with Eric Chenoix, one of the group’s prominent members, to discuss its success.
On Aug. 5, 2001, a small group of Toronto Lynx fans made the trip to Montreal to support the side against the Impact in North America’s second division, what was then called the A-League. The Impact didn’t have a fan group of its own at the time, and the Toronto fans sang and chanted at Claude Robillard uncontested.
Despite Montreal winning the game 3-0, having to listen to the away fans sing for 90 minutes made for an embarrassing evening. Eric Chenoix explained to Goal.com that that was the day the idea of forming a Montreal Impact supporters group first came about.
“They [the Lynx fans] had no opposition,” said Chenoix. “The cofounder of our group, Daniel, was in the crowd that day. He felt we couldn't let anybody come in our stadium and make their team feel at home. He eventually found a few people who felt the same.”
Current team president Joey Saputo, who was then only an administrator of the club, wasn’t at all happy about the game either and met with some fans in a public practice a few days later to discuss the creation of an Impact fan group.
On May 26, 2002, the Lynx were back in town, but this time, a group was formed and ready to stand up, sing, and support its team through thick and thin. The group would be called the ‘Ultras’.
When the Columbus Crew came to Montreal last week to take on the Impact at Saputo Stadium, the Ultras celebrated their tenth year of supporting the club.
Today, several hundred fans fill up the Impact’s supporter section in the West side of the stadium. Not all of these fans are part of the Ultras, as some other groups have been formed and some fans come independently, but as Chenoix explained, joining the Ultras is a year round commitment.
“Being an ultra is not about showing up in the section with a beer in your hand and quietly going home afterwards to wait for the next home game to come,” said Chenoix. “Being an ultra is a year round thing. It's about working on banners, designing scarves, organizing trips, meeting the club for discussions during the season and the off-season, and giving your opinion so the group can take decisions on what comes next and so on.
"It is a lot of work. And of course, in the stands, it is about giving your all for 90 minutes and more, and having a bad voice the next morning, and the day after.”
There are many other Ultras fan groups around the world as well, and some are even in close contact with the Impact Ultras. Ultras fan groups are notorious for their outspoken, and usually extreme, political positions, which often find a way into the stadium through chants and banners. Chenoix insisted that the Impact Ultras’ only agenda is to support the club.
“We are apolitical,” said Chenoix. “We avoid mixing politics and football. We don't even use the Québec flag, to avoid any association with separatism or anything like that, although we do use it on the road sometimes. We just want to support the Impact.”
Ultras Montreal don’t have a leader, don’t advertise, nor do they hand out membership cards. Everything has happened naturally.
“We don't necessarily want to have 3,000 ultras in our ranks,” said Chenoix. “We want to do our thing and let the group grow naturally like it always has done in the past. We're not about to hand out full color printed postcards to "join our forces" like they do elsewhere in MLS. Those who want to be a part of the Ultras must not fear to invest time in the group.”
The growth of the Ultras and of the supporters section at Saputo Stadium has been one of the major highlights of the Impact’s expansion season in MLS. The Ultras have brought a genuine soccer atmosphere to Montreal, and any newcomer to the Saputo Stadium cannot be, in some way, unaffected by the relentless passion that the group exhibits.
Despite the Impact's difficult and challenging first season in MLS, Chenoix and his companions are certainly enjoying the ride.
"Are we having fun? Absolutely. Could we do better? Absolutely. But for a first season, we have a great show on the field,” he concluded. “Let's see how things turn as we get closer to the playoffs. Hopefully we can have a fun playoff push with [Alessandro] Nesta and [Marco] Di Vaio on board. And if we miss the playoffs, well, we are an expansion team, aren't we? There's always next year.
"But we're having fun, that's for sure. A lot of fun. You can only feel sorry for all those who decide to ignore the Impact because it's not Barcelona or Manchester United”.
Nick Sabetti covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com Canada.