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Team loyalties split in northern Manitoba

Of all the nerve... a majority of Flin Flonians cheer for Riders

Free Press sports reporter Jeff Hamilton chronicles the cherished chalice's trip to Churchill and stops in-between. By: Jeff Hamilton
Posted: 10/20/2015 3:00 AM | Comments:

Fans of the CFL turned out in droves to see the Grey Cup in Creighton and Flin Flon.

JEFF HAMILTON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Fans of the CFL turned out in droves to see the Grey Cup in Creighton and Flin Flon.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/10/2015 (1432 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WHENEVER the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders meet, the games are among the most exciting of the CFL season. For fans of each team, it's more than just a game.

It's the chance to flex their territorial muscle, and the difference between a win and a loss, simply put, is extreme joy or unbearable heartache. The rivalry has grown so fierce over the years, even wearing green on any given day in Winnipeg during the football season can create tension among the most loyal of Bombers fans, or at the very least evoke a stern reminder of where your allegiance should lie, whether it be game day or not.

It's one of the few things the city truly rallies around. It's the kind of commitment that drives many, both literally and figuratively, to venture to Regina each year to take in the annual Labour Day Classic. The same goes for Riders fans, who return the favour the next weekend when a sea of green invades Winnipeg for the Banjo Bowl, ensuring a raucous crowd and at least one sold-out game at Investors Group Field each year.

The rules around the cross-border clash are pretty cut and dry, at least for those born within city limits: if you grew up in Winnipeg, you love the Bombers, and, by association, have a healthy hatred for the Riders. And vice-versa. It's just the cost of living in one of the two most passionate fan bases in the CFL.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/10/2015 (1432 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WHENEVER the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders meet, the games are among the most exciting of the CFL season. For fans of each team, it's more than just a game.

It's the chance to flex their territorial muscle, and the difference between a win and a loss, simply put, is extreme joy or unbearable heartache. The rivalry has grown so fierce over the years, even wearing green on any given day in Winnipeg during the football season can create tension among the most loyal of Bombers fans, or at the very least evoke a stern reminder of where your allegiance should lie, whether it be game day or not.

It's one of the few things the city truly rallies around. It's the kind of commitment that drives many, both literally and figuratively, to venture to Regina each year to take in the annual Labour Day Classic. The same goes for Riders fans, who return the favour the next weekend when a sea of green invades Winnipeg for the Banjo Bowl, ensuring a raucous crowd and at least one sold-out game at Investors Group Field each year.

The rules around the cross-border clash are pretty cut and dry, at least for those born within city limits: if you grew up in Winnipeg, you love the Bombers, and, by association, have a healthy hatred for the Riders. And vice-versa. It's just the cost of living in one of the two most passionate fan bases in the CFL.

But what if it wasn't so black and white, or in this case blue and green? What if where you lived didn't automatically determine where your heart was, at least when it comes to supporting the local professional football team?

It's the kind of dilemma foreign to many in Manitoba, but not for those living in the more northern parts, places much further from the cheers at Investors Group Field, whose borders flirt dangerously close to the enemy.

"Here, it's a real Blue Bombers base," said The Pas Mayor Jim Scott Monday morning, following a visit from the Grey Cup in what was the first stop on an eight-day tour through northern Manitoba with the CFL's holy grail.

Then came a warning. Not once, but twice.

"Get a little bit further north, and you get into Flin Flon, you'll find out they're kind of Saskatchewan fans, so keep an eye out," he said. "They seem to be more loyal to them, so keep an eye out."

It wasn't easy to spot an obvious trend of green in Flin Flon, the next stop on the tour and a town just a stone's throw from Riders' territory. A five-minute drive west into Saskatchewan, there is a town of about 1,500 called Creighton, and the optics are much different.

It wasn't hard to see the split right away. With the Cup shining in the autumn sun, fans clamoured for their chance to see it up close. As people approached, there looked to be an even number of sweaters bearing Bombers' Blue and Gold and Riders' green. In the background the local football team, the Creighton Kodiaks, had set the record straight. Decked out in green and white, they provided a true indication of what the home colours really are.

"I think it's a fun rivalry," said Ryan Karakochuk, head coach of the Kodiaks and a native of Wynward, Sask. "I think Winnipeg and Saskatchewan fans really do like each other. I think it's just more of a poke at each other. I'm a diehard Rider fan, so when I moved up here I was wondering if it was all Manitoba. I was surprised there's a lot of Riders fans up here, so it's great to see."

But among the many faithful to the Riders, so too was a group rallying around the Bombers, proudly flashing Blue and Gold. One was Kelly Fidler, wife of Creighton Mayor Bruce Fidler. As her husband delivered the welcoming address, she had already scooped up an autograph from former Bombers Doug Brown and Brett MacNeil, both of whom are travelling with the Cup this week,

"Technically I'm a Riders fan, but this is my husband's jacket," she said, like a trained politician herself, slyly passing the blame. "But it's a real mix here and if they aren't playing each other, then I will cheer for Winnipeg. That's the same for here and Flin Flon."

Others, such as Tijana Clarke, are a little more obvious with whom they cheer for, even if it does draw the odd stare.

"Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Blue Bombers fan my whole life," said Clarke, who travels the eight hours to Winnipeg a couple times every season to catch the Bombers live. "It's the colours, it's the team. It's the spirit."

It's in Winnipeg, however, where she's given the most trouble, though it's clearly a case of mistaken identity more than anything else. The last time she travelled to the city for a Bombers game, she returned to the parking lot following the game to discover someone had urinated on her truck.

"Saskatchewan plates," she said with a shrug.

It was a lesson learned the hard way. But instead of losing faith, Clarke went the opposite route, taking her frustrations to the Bombers store and buying two "W" decals for her car.

"When we're in Winnipeg, we need to let them know that we follow the Bombers," she said.

"But when our son had an appointment in Regina, he had to take them off."

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb,ca Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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