Introducing the Leaders

By Daniel Pagan

Hooliganism is an ugly word, associated with crowd violence in British and South American football. It’s associated with fans’ passion for a team getting out of hand. Now the University of Calgary Dinos have their own hooligan, the Leaders.

Loved by the Dinos men’s basketball team and other Calgary fans, but hated by opposing teams, these 12 to 30 students have been showing up to Dinos’ basketball games, waving their red and black scarves while making enemies with their antics and drums since 2007. But are they a hooligan group or an enthusiastic fan club who get over-excited with too much booze?

The Leaders sprung from the dreams of four friends Jordan Smuszko, Andrej Brajić, Kalman Pinter and a fourth man who didn’t want to be named. He goes to games in a Spider-Man mask.

In their frosh year, the Leaders founders were shocked by the low turnout at Dinos games and decided to do something about it. Second-year finance student Kalman Pinter explained that the hooligan inspiration came after they watched several YouTube videos about football hooligans and the 2005 British movie, Green Street Hooligans, in which Elijah Wood’s character became involved in the Green Street Elite (a fictional gang based off the English Premier League club West Ham United team’s Inter City Firm). The movie shows how these hooligans form a firm, a British football hooligan group, to fight other hooligans for their team’s pride and respect.

“We have many Eastern European fans who enjoy a good fight and intimidation factors,” said Pinter. “It was the extreme pride the fans and firms showed in the movies that had really affected us. Pride and respect is really important to us, and it’s important to the Dinos teams too.”

Second-year humanities student Smuszko was blunt with his admission about the Leaders being a hooligan firm. He explained the name is there because they want to inspire students to come out and show strong support for the Dinos.

“Of course, we are hooligans, causing controversies and problems with other teams, but it is our goal as Leaders to change the Dinos’ atmosphere at school sporting events,” explained Smuszko. “We are leaders in the revolution. We’ll know when we’re successful when other teams dread the Jack Simpson because it is so hostile, when the Dinos get the reputation of the most feared fan base in Canada.”

Second-year environmental science student Andrej Brajić explained that one of their goals is to build up more school pride in Canadian Interuniversity Sport. He commented that college sports in America have more passionate fans, with more funding going to universities for their athletic departments. The Leaders co-founders agreed it’s too bad since CIS can be as good and, in some cases, better than its American counterpart.

“It’s a shame, really, when so many American schools have much history, like North Carolina and Michael Jordan, and Canadian schools just don’t focus on that,” said Brajić.

The Leaders exploded onto the CIS scene when they made a visit to the University of Lethbridge last November for a Dinos-Pronghorns game. With their drums and red and black scarves, they were popular with the locals. The opposition fans raised their voices against them, but 12 Leaders managed to outshout the whole gym, according to Smuszko.

“The others definitely raised their voices against the firm, but we never showed weakness and we outchanted the whole gym full of 800 other fans,” he said. “A few Pronghorns fans came up and [hit us with] their signs. We retaliated with [some force] and no one bothered us again after that.”

Their penchant for craziness came as no surprise to Dinos football offensive lineman Reed Alexander, who works as a Dinos event security guard. Alexander explained they bring a great atmosphere to the Jack Simpson Gym and he hopes to see more of it at the football games, but he added that the group steps over the line sometimes with their actions and words. He explained the U of C athletics department gave the Leaders a few rules to follow, such as staying in the bleachers and off the hardwood, and said guards are posted to ensure the Leaders follow them and to prevent physical contact between them and the opposing players.

“There was a kick out– one of them was too drunk and when the gym was really quiet, he shouted, ‘What the fuck,’ so naturally I kicked him out,” said Alexander. “Also, they got pretty beaky with the Trinity Western University players, saying some rancid stuff. And after one of the games, there was a minor fight. One of the girls that came with the Leaders said something to a player walking by; he turned and got suckered by a guy in the group. We got there to stop it after the guy punched the player. So it was a minor fight, but that’s about it.”

The Leaders’ presence has resulted in a few Dino football players working as security guards stationed between the Leaders and the opposition players’ benches. However, that didn’t prevent the Leaders from leaving their impact on the playoff games a few weeks ago against the University of Alberta Golden Bears. They brought a teddy bear lynched from a stick to freak out Bears players and an inflatable walking frame, to poke fun at the Alberta coach Don Horwood’s age.

The Leaders don’t stop there, however. They find embarrassing personal information about opposition players from Facebook and yell it at them, such as stories about their dates with an opposing player’s girlfriend or jokes about the player’s mother’s weight.

“We do that to get in their heads, to make sure the opponents can’t focus on their game,” said Brajić.

The Facebook jokes have resulted with a few opposing players shouting death threats at the Leaders, one of a few reasons there are permanent security guards at games.

“The officiating was terrible in [last years Canada West finals], do to this, the referees had their lives threatened by many of the Leaders as they came near our [section],” said Smuszko. “A few also sat outside waiting for the refs to come out, however they were being escorted by Dinos security. It’s all about intimidation.”

The Leaders have some people in the University of Calgary athletics department nervous, but the overall reaction has been positive, as there is lot of excitement about a fan group at Dinos games.

“As with any group of students that sits behind the visiting team’s bench and enjoys some [alcohol] , there are always a few issues we have to deal with, but they have been understanding and worked with us for the most part,” said U of C sports information director Ben Matchett. “And the visiting teams hate them, which is always good for us.”

Dinos men’s basketball head coach Dan Vanhooren said the Leaders have a big impact on the Dinos game and bring spirit and atmosphere to the Jack Simpson Gym. The cheering also boosts the Dinos’ confidence level against their opponents.

“It is nice to know you have support and you surely know it with them in the stands,” said Vanhooren. “Without them, we don’t have the same environment for our guys and crowds. The traditions that this group developed this year is fundamental to sustaining this kind of support for all our teams in the future. It is also very tough on opposing teams, something that we get when we are on the road.”

However, Vanhooren said the Leaders need to ensure tauntings against the opposition teams are done in an enjoyable manner without derogatory language. He compared the Leaders to another student supporter group, the Cameron Crazies, a fan group at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. They are known for painting their bodies blue and white, jumping on seats when the opposition team has the ball and humiliating opposite players on foul shots with their “air ball” chant (used for when players miss the basket completely with their shots).

Vanhooren explained how the Leaders group is growing and finding their own place like the Cameron Crazies, which used to be rowdy trouble-makers before becoming a famous well-organized fan group.

“Even the Cameron Crazies went through a growth spell in this manner, but has now developed into one of the most reputable, but effective student sections in North America,” said Vanhooren.

Hooligan is an ugly word and there is a line between showing support for a sport team and fighting for a team. The Leaders certainly behave like a hooligan firm with their chants that sometimes border on intimidation. On the other hand, the student turnout at Dinos games has been dismal over the years, despite free tickets for students. Traditionally, most spectators who came out to the game were family members and friends of the players who wanted to show their support. The Leaders fit the tradition of other passionate Dinos fans such as football fans who went up to Edmonton to kidnap the University of Alberta’s mascot, a live bear cub to bring to a playoff football game in 1964 or the rowdy fans who vandalized parts of the University of Alberta’s Butterdome stadium to celebrate a Dinos’ victory in 1988. In the end, the presence of the Leaders is a necessary shot in the arm for the other fans. Fourth-year forward Henry Bekkering agreed. He pointed out how Dinos players feel confident in their plays, due to their own fan group and the cheering boosts morale.

“They bring a certain excitement to university sports that hasn’t been felt on this campus for a long time.”

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