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The story of Al Classico: The Canadian Premier League’s original rivalry created by fans

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FC Edmonton fan and YEG4CPL co-founder Dallas Walker explains the origins of the Al Classico (the rivalry between Cavalry FC and FC Edmonton) and sets the record straight on a few other things as a guest-writer for Total Soccer Project.

Story by Dallas Walker

Two guys walk into a pub. Normally, this would be a beginning of a joke. But this is something much different. Two guys walk into a pub and had a brilliant idea as the pints kept flowing.

This is how the Al Classico began and how it unexpectedly took off.

June of 2016, I decided to make a visit to Calgary like I normally do every few months. And of course, I can’t leave without having pints with some fellow football fans. I met up with Sean Clarke, one of the founders of Foot Soldiers Supporters Group. The Foot Soldiers were originally created for the Calgary Foothills FC, of the USL League Two, and are now supporting Cavalry FC. I was one of the head people of the now defunct Edmonton Supporters Group (ESG) for FC Edmonton (FCE) of the NASL.

This was about a month after FC Edmonton Academy came to Calgary to have a friendly against Foothills FC. ESG came down in decent numbers for that match and shared chants and banter. Later, we went to go party together which led to us getting kicked out of the first pub we went to. We all had a great time.

Back to June. With the whole match day still fresh in our memories, we began to talk about how great it would be to do this every year. Sadly, with our clubs playing in entirely different leagues, this would be a difficult thing to do. After a few pints, we called it an evening.

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Dallas Walker

We said that we would talk to the coaches of both our clubs and see if they could set something up, because we were all desperate to have a soccer rivalry that had much potential. So, we brought it up to them via email conversation. Both Tommy Wheeldon Jr., then coach for the Calgary Foothills FC and current Cavalry FC head coach, and Jeff Paulus, then coach for the FC Edmonton academy and current FC Edmonton head coach, were 100 per cent on board.

Scheduling was the toughest part as the FCE academy had some major out of town matches that had to be played which made it difficult to fit the Foothills FC schedule. So sadly, it didn’t really take off right away for the rest of 2016 and 2017.

However, the idea of an Alberta rivalry was still being discussed. There was talk of having our own cup much like the Cascadia Cup, an informal competition between MLS clubs Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, because bragging rights is not enough. We wanted something to show for it.

Al Classico is born

Fun ideas for a name were being thrown around. One of them being Al Classico, an idea from Tobias Oliva. For us it was a fun copy of the existing name El Clasico, which is given to matches between La Liga’s Barcelona and Real Madrid. We just replaced El with Al, short for Alberta. The name was something we just had fun with and was never meant to be an officially title. It took off and the hashtag #AlClassico began. (With two S’s for some odd reason)

While this was all happening, the Canadian Premier League was just a rumour. But in 2017, this rumour really began to heat up, slowly becoming a reality. With the teams still uncertain and not sure if FC Edmonton would play in this league or stay in the NASL, we kept it fresh in our minds because, you never know, we could both be in it.

2018 comes along and the Canadian Premier League became a reality but both our clubs were still uncertain. However, there was an opportunity to have an Al Classico. Both Tommy Wheeldon Jr. and Jeff Paulus jumped on that opportunity. The 1st leg was Foothills FC against a mix of FCE’s academy/alumni in April 29, 2018, which drew over 3,000+ people on a cold, windy spring day Edmonton. The 2nd leg was held a week later in Calgary. Members of both supporter groups made the back and forth trip.

Al Classico moves to Canadian Premier League

And of course, the second set of Al Classico matches took place in September and October of 2018 between the prospects squads of Cavalry FC and FC Edmonton.  By this time, both Calgary and Edmonton had confirmed CPL clubs. Both matches were a huge success and showed the league that there was already an existing rivalry this league needed.

With both clubs set in stone, it was now time to get serious with discussions. What will determine the winner, what will we be presenting to the winner, etc.

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A small handful of supporters from each group met up in September 2018 in Red Deer, a city located halfway between Calgary and Edmonton, to discuss just that over, you guessed it, pints of beer.

Everything was decided, and both agreed to pitch in 50/50 for a cup special for this rivalry. The winner of the trophy will be the team that ends the season with the most points in the head-to-head matches during the season. There will be tie breakers if points finish even.

Calgary vs Edmonton rivalries already exist but the Al Classico is special

Now, the dream of us having a real footy rivalry will finally come true. Even though the Calgary/Edmonton rivalry in any sport is always certain, this one will be much different. And why is that? The Al Classico was driven by fans. We spoke up about it, they listened and made it all happen.

And now not just the league, but everyone who’s been following the league now know about the Al Classico and how not only will it be the original rivalry of the Canadian Premier League, but also older than the Canadian Premier League itself. And that is something us in Alberta can be proud of.

Calgary and Edmonton fans at a Calgary pub following the Foothills FC vs FC Edmonton Academy match May 2018. Photo courtesy Dallas Walker

Since then, the league has decided to trademark the term Al Classico. This led to some being unhappy about the decision on social media.

After receiving a call from the league, they said to me that it was to recognize the small history and authenticity on how this all began. After speaking to those who have been heavily involved in this, we all agreed that there is no real issue with their decision to trademark it. After all, we never planned to officially use it ourselves. The name was just a bit of fun that accidentally went viral – a fun accident. But we’re glad it turned into a real thing and that the league recognizes it for what it is.

It began with two guys in a pub

To those who were not aware of the Al Classico before the league made it the official name, I hope this article helps you understand the actual story behind it.

It’s hard to believe that one evening in 2016 two guys discussing soccer over a couple pints would eventually lead to all this.

We’re not going to take full credit by saying we made this all happen. It wouldn’t have happened without Tommy Wheeldon Jr., Jeff Paulus, Jay Ball, FC Edmonton general manager, the players and staff from Calgary Foothills FC, Cavalry FC  and FC Edmonton. Credit should also go to all the members from the Foot Soldiers and ESG/River Valley Vanguard supporters groups, all the fans that came out to these matches and, of course, the Canadian Premier League who will continue this history with us.

Like what Tommy Wheeldon Jr. recently said on Twitter. “Al Classico – created by the fans, embraced by the coaches, competed by the players, trademarked by the league. And what’s possibly the best thing of all… it began totally tongue in cheek!!”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest writer. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Total Soccer Project or its staff.

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