On May 2-6, the CFL Players Association had their annual meetings to discuss matters relating to the players & the league. Electing a new PA president by a council of the teams’ player representatives was among the notable events to come from these meetings.
Once those meetings were done, the CFLPA hosted the first annual FANtasy Camp, where 2 lucky fans from each CFL team were paired up with player reps to compete and socialize over several days in sunny Barbados.
I was lucky enough to be chosen to represent for the Montreal Alouettes along with my partner Nathalie. We were packed & ready to go but foggy weather delayed our arrival to the Caribbean, so sadly we missed the connecting flight and were forced to wait a day in Toronto.
Once we arrived, WOW!! Words cannot describe the warm sun on your skin, the breeze of the tropics and the excitement of knowing you’re about to spend the next few days hanging out with CFL players & fans who are as passionate about the game as you are.
We got checked into the Turtle Beach Resort and was immediately greeted with a glass of rum punch, the official beverage of Barbados. And let me tell you, they do not skimp on the rum! A few glasses of this and your troubles/anxieties simply melt away!
We arrived in the afternoon, so we missed the first event: a golf competition that involved a lot of trash-talking. I think that’s what bothered me more than anything; I’m an okay enough golfer but as anyone who’s watched football live with me has learned, I can and will talk smack with the best of them. And apparently, no holds were barred. We tempered that disappointment with a dip in the pool and meeting the fellow fans.
The BC Lions fans, Monique and Jeff, were among the most concerned as to why we weren’t on the initial flight to Barbados. As we stated multiple times, no one was to blame other than Mother Nature. Saskatchewan fans Kelsey & Mark were happy to meet us as well despite our respective teams not always seeing eye-to-eye.
We also learned from Calgary fans Tony & Judy that at the social mixer the night previous, new CFLPA president Mike Morreale had announced that the fans who had the most points at the end of the entire camp competition will be returning next year, all expenses paid!! That just stoked the competitive fire inside me…I had only been here a couple hours and was loving it, but a chance to come back AGAIN next year?? Game on!
Dinner that evening allowed us to finally meet up with our Alouettes player teammates, Etienne Boulay & Kerry Carter. We’ve met both several times, so it felt more like a great family reunion than a dream meeting of players. That’s part of what makes the CFL so unique; the players are so accessible and fans are as much a part of them as the game itself.
That night we all went to Bert’s Bar with the players. For those who don’t know, Bert’s is owned by Eugene Melnyk, the owner of the Ottawa Senators. Bert’s has become the de facto bar for all things Canadian. Barbados does have a big Canadian presence on the island (imagine my shock to see Scotiabank and CIBC banks there!) and for those who make the island home, this is the place to go to see some hockey and experience a little taste of Canadiana.
A lot of the players that were in attendance were only in Barbados for the meetings itself, such as Anthony Calvillo. But he did come socialize with us at Bert’s, which was a treat in and of itself. Alouettes fans, I am happy to tell you all he was relaxed but is chomping at the bit to get the season started. After winning 2 Grey Cups, last year’s playoff loss was a let down for him. He’s excited to get it going and is still looking in incredible shape, despite his 40th birthday coming up.
Day 2 of the camp consisted of us heading to the Barbados Defense Force base for an obstacle course. The army folks decided to have some fun with us, getting on the bus and yelling at us like we were military grunts. We marched to the field and were presented with the course that the military must complete on a daily basis.
Replete with rope swings, monkey bars, barbed wire & tunnels to crawl through, this course is designed to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Teams were paired off to CFL rivalries, so it was MTL vs. SSK. Much like the first game of the 2010 season, Team Roughriders bested Team Alouettes. Despite me getting in much better shape to compete, the course bested us on this day and our team posted the worst overall time.
The mornings of each day were for the competition, but the afternoons were ours to spend as we so pleased. So we either spent it at the pool or beach or exploring the island itself. In just a few short days, we got to see quite a bit and soak in the culture. The Barbados Travel Authority was one of the trip’s sponsors and they did a great job helping us in enjoying the culture.
The evening featured a sumptuous Italian dinner and a beach party where both players and fans danced the night away. It had rained throughout the obstacle course and afternoon, but the night sky was clear and everyone partied like a rock star into the wee hours.
Day 3 was the final day of competition, which featured a cornucopia of events: a limbo contest, tug-of-war on the beach, dodgeball & a football-based relay race into the ocean. Team Alouettes had some serious ground to make up after less than stellar performances in golf and the obstacle course.
We limbo-ed, we tugged and we dodged our way through the morning’s events. Tug of War took its toll on both the players and the fans as our arms ached for days afterwards. The stage was set for the relay race into the ocean and once again, it was MTL vs. SSK.
The goal was simple; each team member had to run with a football to various buoys in the ocean, touch it and run/swim back with the football to hand off to the next team member. It was neck & neck when myself and George Hudson of the Roughriders took off. We got to our buoy at the same time and Hudson then tried to knock my ball from my hands, but I was having none of that! I channeled my inner RB and deftly spun away from him.
A wave hit us both from behind and it knocked Hudson’s ball loose and myself forward, giving Team Alouettes the lead that was never relinquished. We finished strong thanks to the great off-season conditioning of both Etienne & Kerry. After being humbled in the obstacle course we won the football relay race, ensuring that the Montreal/Saskatchewan rivalry isn’t ending anytime soon.
That final night in paradise featured the awards dinner, where we learned the final results of the competition:
Sadly for us, Hamilton’s fans proved to have the winning formula and were the victors, punching their ticket to return to Barbados next year! However, despite missing the golf competition & finishing dead last in the obstacle course, Team Alouettes never gave up and we finished in 5th place! As I said to Etienne when the results were announced, I guess Montreal just have to be content in winning the Grey Cup this year!
The final morning of our trip involved last minute shopping, suntanning and the last chance to enjoy some Bajan cuisine, which was absolutely incredible.
As I wandered the coast that final day, imagine my shock as I saw this on the beach about 3 miles from our resort:
Unbelievable. And this wasn’t brought down by our fellow FANtasy Camp fans…this was the handiwork of one of the locals! Don’t worry my new Bajan friends; next time I come to visit I’ll bring you a REAL flag to fly
There was a feeling of heavy hearts as we loaded up the bus to head back to the airport, but overall we all had an event to remember. We all came together, represented our respective teams and cities with pride and gave the locals an experience like no other. I doubt they’ll soon forget those great Canadian football fans & players.
In speaking with the CFLPA people there, this trip was a complete success; far exceeding their expectations. The idea came about a few years ago and this trip was the fait accompli. But the plan is to expand it even more and really expand on the fans’ relationship with the players and vice-versa. CFL fans should be really excited for what the future holds for this incredible event.
I can’t thank the CFLPA enough for choosing me to join in this FANtasy camp and represent the Montreal Alouettes. It was an experience that will not be soon forgotten and the memories that were made will last a lifetime. And if I wasn’t already excited for the start of the upcoming football season, this trip just cranked it up to another level!
It was great to meet players from other teams as well; guys like Henry Burris, Juwan Simpson, Chris Cvetkovic & Marwan Hage could not have been more accessible and fun to spend time with. Don’t kid yourself; when these guys take the field against the Alouettes, there will be no love lost.
But once the game’s over, it will be a whole different story. Getting to know these other players on a personal level was a real treat and just backs up what the CFL promises: a deeper relationship than any other league between the teams and its fans.
The next FANtasy Camp will be in May 2013. Tune into CFLPA.com for more info as the 2012 season progresses.
I’ll be back with more articles to get ready for June 3′s Alouettes training camp, back in Sherbrooke again for the 3rd straight year.
GO ALS GO!!!
About the Author
Written by Clifford Pine
Montreal born & bred, lover of sports. Passionate about the Montreal Alouettes. Also a great cook & not too bad a dancer.