Nick Wells1 Comment


Nick Wells1 Comment

There's a certain irony to being banned from one country, due to your place of birth, and being unwelcome in your place of birth because you left.

But that's a situation that plagues Anna Namshirin's family as two football loving siblings absorb the damages of U.S. President Donald Trump's ban on travellers from several Muslim-majority countries and a supporters group takes a moral stand.

Namshirin arrived in Canada at the age of four after her family fled Iran, with her parents wanting a better life than the one that possibly faced them if they had stayed. Her mother took the three children first to Turkey, before gaining passage to Canada in 1989. Namshirin’s father was able to join them later, having spent his time in Iran worried sick about the plight of his family, only able to stay in contact through phone calls.

She has been back twice, once when she was 14 and the second when she was 20. Her two brothers haven't. If they return to Iran, they face conscription and mandatory military service.
"Neither of my brothers have been able to visit," she said, "The fact they can't go to America, because they're from Iran, but they can't go to Iran because they left is crazy."

Despite Iran being listed as her birthplace, the Vancouver resident firmly identifies as a Canadian, having spent her formative years in the western democracy.

"I find it hard to identify as anything other than Canadian, this is my whole life. But you are a little different. You were born somewhere else. There is a line on your passport that says you're a little different, It's never mattered before, but the whole travel ban made it all potentially matter," she said in a recent interview.

The ban has come to hit home as it now affects one of her passions: supporting the Vancouver Whitecaps.

She was introduced to the Whitecaps by her older brother in 2011 – during the club's inaugural MLS season – and together they found the sport offered a bonding opportunity. They organised yearly trips south of the border, where they could follow the Whitecaps and get to hang out as siblings.

"We went to San Jose together, we went to Seattle together, we went to Portland together, it’s our thing," she said.

Namshirin is a member of the Southsiders, a supporters group in Vancouver, Canada, which supports the Whitecaps and numbers roughly 700 paid members. The name is derived from the area the most outgoing of fans stood during the team's run at Swangard Stadium, starting in the late 1990s.

She joined the group in 2013 having been swayed by both the acceptance of new fans and the atmosphere the group provides in the stadium.

But the travel ban suddenly had her worried about her crossings with the group.

"That Friday [when the first ban came through] was really dark for me," she. "Under that haze of confusion, I had no idea what it meant for my family."

Namshirin says she fully understands that a person may not always be allowed to cross the border as the U.S. does have the right to turn people away, but to ban someone because of their country of origin struck her as wrong.

With the travel ban signed by the U.S. president, the supporters club has found itself in a unique situation. Vancouver itself is a multicultural city, with backgrounds and cultures ranging from European to Asian to African. That multiculturalism is reflected in the Whitecaps' supporters groups.

John Knox, the vice-president of the group, said leadership began hearing murmurs of concern from members about their travels across the border. Last season, the group sent three buses down to Seattle and two to Portland, cities that are home to what they consider their fiercest rivals.

"Those matches in Seattle and Portland are like Christmas for us. When that schedule comes out those are the days we circle in on the calendar. They frame the whole season for us," said Knox.

This season? Nothing.

After holding an anonymous forum for Southsiders members to air their concerns about the travel ban, the group became the first – and to date only – supporters group to stop their organised trips to clubs in the U.S.

"As word got out of this ban, I could sense from within our membership – by viewing comments on Facebook and Twitter – that people were concerned. Some were very, very scared by how they might be impacted," said Knox.

Knox says he believes the Southsiders are one of the fan groups to bring the most number of away fans to away games, with roughly 1,500 to 2,000 travelling to watch the Whitecaps take on their Cascadian rivals.

He stresses it wasn't just a matter of landed immigrants who felt uncomfortable with the prospect of travelling to games. Fans in the LGBTQ community also reached out to Southsiders leaders, noting that they had faced increased scrutiny when crossing the border.

"It's become an increasingly unpleasant experience [to cross]," Knox said.

The group maintains they're not taking a political stance, simply one that looks at both human decency and practicality. If, for example, one of the buses the Southsiders' sent to the U.S. was stopped because of one passenger and their birthplace, what does that mean for the rest of the fans on that bus? Would it be right to simply leave that hypothetical fan behind?

"Formally, as a group, we're not going to organize something that our members who have been with us, stood with us, sang with us, drank beers with us, we're not going to go organize something and say 'you know what, you guys can't go' or 'sorry, we're going to go have fun, see you guys later,'" Knox said. "If they want to go watch a match, we feel they're doing that as a Whitecaps supporter, not as a Southsider. Right now, the Southsiders, as a whole, can't cross.”

There has been one hiccup. The group has worked hard for ticket allocations since the Whitecaps entered the league and requested to maintain their allocations for the upcoming season after fighting hard for their tickets.

While the Southsiders maintain their decision has less to do with politics and more to do with supporting their fellow members, MLS fans in the U.S. have been increasingly making political statements during the fledgeling days of the Trump presidency.

The Timbers Army, Portland's main supporters group, displayed a banner with an Arabic proverb: When danger approaches, sing to it.

The proverb, which was displayed in English, references standing tall in the face of danger or fear. It was followed by a banner written in Arabic saying "spread the love," an obvious reference to inclusion in the face of the Muslim ban.

A group of Real Salt Lake supporters have made a scarf, which reads "Refugees Welcome," of which all sale proceeds will go towards the International Rescue Committee's Salt Lake City chapter. The organisation works to resettle refugees across the United States.

It hasn't been limited to supportive messages for Muslims and refugees.

The Southsiders – and other MLS supporters groups – have consistently waved rainbow flags, and held celebrations for members of the LGBTQ community.

By Nick Wells, IBWM Senior writer. Photo credit goes fully to Duncan Nicol, photographer for the Vancouver Southsiders.