Halifax artist captures Wanderers fan culture in drawing series

James Janssen says his drawings are a way to ‘give back’ to the fans

The Halifax Wanderers have a lot to celebrate.

The team won the Halifax Chamber of Commerce’s New Business of the Year Award Thursday night, and they drew thousands of cheering fans to their stadium at the base of Citadel Hill in their first season playing in the Canadian Premier League.

But one Halifax Wanderers supporter is drawing fans in a different way.

James Janssen, a Halifax-based artist, is drawing Wanderers fans one by one. He believes they have just as much to do with the Wanderers experience as the stars on the field.

“Everyone has their own unique vibe they bring to the game,” said Janssen in an interview. “I feel like the fans, and the fan culture, is really what makes the atmosphere at the games as incredible as it is.”

 

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WANDERERS FANS

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Getting into the game

His drawings started out as a way to give back to the fan community he’s come to treasure.

“When I started really getting into the Wanderers, I wanted to incorporate my art into the fan culture,” Janssen said.

Janssen, who works as a web marketing analyst in downtown Halifax, became an avid fan as the team hit the field for their first season of play in April 2019.

Throughout the season, he became invested in the Wanderers’ wins and losses, along with the more than 6,000 fans who crowd the stadium and others who watch matches at their homes and in local pubs.

At first, he sketched the Wanderers’ superhero dog mascot Rover dominating other Canadian Premier League team mascots in a wrestling ring.

 

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I started doing a thing where I make fan art of the @cplsoccer mascots. @hfxwanderersfc

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As the Wanderers’ first season progressed, Janssen said the community of fans became the backbone of his love for the team.

Since the season ended, he’s drawn 17 fans of the team, and he plans to keep going.

“It really is a thrilling feeling to see yourself depicted as a part of the fan culture,” said Denton Froese, a Wanderers fan who’s actively involved in the supporter’s community. Froese publishes The Cookbook, an unofficial fan magazine for the team where Janssen has contributed drawings.

Janssen drew Froese in his favourite game outfit — royal blue pirate attire with a swooping hat perched above his roguish eyepatch.

Janssen’s drawing of Denton Froese (left) shows him selling his fan magazine, The Cookbook.   James Janssen (left) / Sam Gillett (right)

Janssen draws each character in the outfits they wear to matches. He drew soccer fan Denton Froese (right) in his signature pirate outfit.

Janssen posts the images on his Instagram account, which has a fitting name: Those Who Wander. So far, his work has been popular with the people he’s drawn.

Each drawing takes around two hours of sketching. Many start out as pencil sketches before he renders them on his computer, forming each person with an outline and then colouring them in.

In Janssen’s pocket-sized sketchbook, he has rough sketches of many of the characters he’s drawn   Sam Gillett

Janssen said this is his way of honouring fans from every part of the stadium, not only those in the rowdier supporters’ sections like the Block 108 Ultras or the well-known Privateers 1882.

“I enjoy giving back and highlighting people who maybe don’t get the chance to be seen as a major part of the supporters’ community,” said Janssen.

One day, said Janssen, he’d like to draw the team’s staff and players too. He’d even be open to working with the club in an official capacity.

But he said it’s the fans who need the exposure.

“You need to understand who it is that’s making that game day experience so great,” he said.

A thriving fan culture

Many of the fans Janssen draws spend Wanderers games in the supporters section of the field where the crowd signs, chants and waves flags.   Sam Gillett

Despite their thriving fan community, the Wanderers’ first season was uninspired. They finished last in the league without netting goals in many of their games. But as the team restructures for their second season, there’s still optimism in the stands and at the team’s office.

For the upcoming season, they’ve signed promising players like Cory Bent and Daniel Kinumbe.

In a news release from the team, Mateo Restrepo, a Canadian defender who just signed on to the Wanderers from California, said the team has “by far the best atmosphere in the Canadian Premier League.”

“It seems like the entire community is behind the team and I think that’s great and it attracted me to the team,” he said.

Matt Fegan, vice-president of operations for the team, said the growing community of Wanderers fans has been integral to the team’s success — and Janssen’s drawings capture that.

“The people he’s drawing aren’t just a bunch of ultra-fans. They’re all sorts of different people that are here because the city is proud of Halifax’s team,” Fegan said in an interview.

“The culture we’ve created is all-encompassing, it attracts so many different people from different walks of life.”

Fans like Janssen and Froese say they feel that community come together in the stands, where, if you look closely, you can see the people Janssen’s drawn scattered around the stadium.

Rover, the team’s mascot, wanders the grounds during matches, often meeting fans for selfies.   Sam Gillett

Some hold cups of local beer by the stadium’s grassy patio while some wave blue flags and set off celebratory smoke-bombs. Others munch on popcorn with their families.

“It’s such a welcoming community at the games,” said Janssen. “Everyone high-fiving everyone, everyone singing for like 90 minutes.”

But for now, Janssen’s put his project on hold, spending the sparse drawing time he has on a 15-person portrait of fans from another team: Hamilton’s Forge FC.

He expects to be back at the Wanderers stadium soon. Before that, if time allows, he’ll be sketching its atmosphere and community, fan by fan.

Sam Gillett

Sam Gillett

Sam calls Orillia, Ontario home. When he's not chasing Signal stories, he can be found sketching in cafes, watching soccer or following news about professional motocross.

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