By day, Nicky Cottee is a mild-mannered University of Winnipeg employee.
Away from her regular, workaday world, the 44-year-old morphs into one of the city's biggest soccer fans, which means she enjoys the game with a little more intensity than the average ticket-buyer.
Three years ago, she was a member of the Canadian Voyageurs fan group that travelled to Mexico City to witness Canada's loss to the powerful Mexicans in a World Cup qualifier at Azteca Stadium.
Last Saturday, she travelled to Hamilton to witness the first game in the history of the Canadian Premier League between the hometown Forge FC and visiting York 9 FC from Toronto.
And tonight, she'll be at Westhills Stadium in Victoria to take in Valour FC's inaugural game against Pacific FC.
"When we started to hear the rumours around 2015 that this league was going to happen, we were all excited because we know how much it means for Canadian soccer development," says Cottee, an admissions co-ordinator at the U of W's Professional, Applied and Continuing Education program. "There’s a group of us who have travelled around the country to see Canada games. But now we’re all members of these supporters groups across the country.
"It’s this weird thing where we’re building this thing together but eventually we’re going to have to be sort of enemies."
Cottee's fandom has reached a new level as the president of Red River Rising, Valour's largest local supporters group.
Red River Rising, which has grown to approximately 600 members since its inception in January of 2017 and is the largest of three local supporters groups, is independent of the CPL franchise but plans to maintain a feverish support of the club. Group members will occupy all the 276 seats in Section 144 at Investors Group Field.
And Cottee, husband Tim and fellow Rising member Christopher Raposo will be in the front row.
Rising members have been meeting regularly at Nicolino's Restaurant since before the franchise was officially unveiled and have been writing songs and painting flags and banners in preparation for Saturday's home debut.
"Honestly, we didn’t really know what to expect," says Cottee. "We knew the league was happening at this point. We had no idea what cities and we didn’t necessarily think Winnipeg would be one of the first cities. But we met a few times and and started to get excited about what this would mean — got our scarves, designed our logo."
Expect the fan experience to be a dramatic departure from what you might be used to at Blue Bombers games; Rising members will march en masse from Nicolino's to the stadium before Saturday's match.
"I'm not a huge gridiron football fan but I’ve been to a couple Bomber games," says Cottee. "The experience there is pretty cool, all the stuff they have going on, but they have to generate a lot of that with all the smoke and music and stuff. For soccer, it’s more like we do that, right? It’s getting them used to that... we’re going to bring the noise, you don’t have to direct it so much."
A vast library of songs, most of them written by transplanted Englishman Ian Smith, will be available on the club's Instagram page for perusal during games.
Raposo, a 42-year-old who attended Winnipeg Fury games as a youth in the '80s and '90s, has been eagerly anticipating Valour's home-opener for months.
"I would say most of the people we hang out with in the group are still fans of all other sports, pretty much," says Raposo, who works in marketing at Bell MTS. "Most of them are big, either Bombers or Jets fans, for sure, because it's mostly Winnipeggers. A lot of them grew up watching the Bombers or have been big fans of the Jets since they've come back.
"The 'Go Jets Go' chant, that's the only time we'll have problems if people start that. It's an unwritten rule that we're not allowed to do that, to the point where (Valour head coach) Rob Gale says he'll search us out if he hears anyone doing that."
Members of Red River Rising aim to make IGF a special place to watch a match.
"We’re really excited to get down to making this happen," says Cottee. "We really want to show the city what the experience of supporting soccer in a stadium is going to be like, and for me the city has a pretty unique sort of sports supporter. You see that with the Whiteout and the Jets. The whole city, even if you’re not into hockey, gets into the Whiteout. I think when people come to the stadium and hear the singing and flag-waving, I think they’re going to get really engaged with that.
"It’s definitely something we’ve thought a lot about. We’ve got a code of conduct (on the website). We feel very strongly about no racism, no homophobia, no sexism, no violence. So how do we police that? It is a little scary but I think we’ve got a good sense of the people that are in our group.
Valour midfielder Dylan Sacramento, a native Winnipegger with Portuguese heritage, welcomes the love he's already experienced from local fans, especially after 650 supporters turned out for the club's kit unveiling on April 4.
"In any sort of thing, people have a passion, and when you’re passionate about something you just express yourself," says Sacramento, who adds attending a friendly between Benfica and AC Milan at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon was his favourite fan experience.
"It’s an outlet for some people to be wild and goofy and have a great time without being judged."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at 9:27 PM CDT: Adds photo