Habs fans Bell Centre Montreal Canadiens protests

Protesting the Habs? Not as ridiculous as you’d think

If a fraction of the energy witnessed outside the Bell Centre during the playoffs was put towards protesting, changes in management are not as far-fetched as you’d think.

I’ve been laughed at for suggesting there should be protests over the Habs.

When I once tweeted (and later deleted) that holding a demonstration outside the Bell Centre to protest the team’s mismanagement and ownership, I got publicly mocked and humiliated in a quote tweet by a Habs Twitter account with a big following, who blocked me before I could even respond. Another similarly renowned Habs Twitter personality liked that quote tweet and then unfollowed me, and several others blocked me as well.

Seriously, guys?! Is it really that deep? Not only is that not a blockable offence, but protesting over sports happens all the time.

Or at least, it does in jolly old England.

Mobilizing for the love of the team

U.K. England Manchester United soccer football fans protest protests protesting
United fans vs. the Glazers

For years now, fans of Manchester United — my Premier League team of choice — have staged protests against their controversial ownership by the Glazer family (their American owners who also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers), demanding they sell the club. The Glazers’ reign over one of the world’s most valuable football clubs has been one marred by mediocre results, having won little silverware following manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

Most controversially, however, the Glazers have put the club into hundreds of millions of pounds in debt, all while making £494.1-million (about $833-million CAD) in revenue this past year despite the pandemic. Back in 2006, the club’s revenue was only around £173-million.

A sports team making hundreds of millions in revenue yearly, all while being another hundreds of millions in the hole and with only moderate success on the pitch? No wonder fans are pissed.

The club’s stadium, Old Trafford, has also been in desperate need of a facelift for years, which the Glazers hadn’t fixed for a long time before finally investing at least £20-million for the renovations earlier this year after talking with a group of United supporters before committing to their investment.

When the late Glazer family patriarch, Malcolm, took ownership of the club in 2005, fans protested back then, too — death threats and all. (Malcolm Glazer died in 2014. To be clear, I absolutely DO NOT condone those tactics for a Habs protest.) A quick Twitter search also indicates United fans won’t stop protesting until the Glazers officially sell the club.

One of the more recent Old Trafford protests went down in May. Manchester United’s match that day against Liverpool wound up being postponed after fans breached security and stormed the stadium, with players not even being able to leave their hotel rooms.

Super League protests
European Super League protests

This was in protest against Manchester United’s planned participation in the ill-fated European Super League. Demonstrations also took place involving fans of other “big six” Premier League clubs (each of whom had joined the Super League), namely Arsenal and Chelsea. Following these protests, and while under mounting pressure, most of the Super League’s member clubs backed out.

Fast forward to now: although the Glazers remain owners, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been sacked after losing five of United’s previous seven Premier League matches, leaving them eighth in the table. His interim replacement? Ralf Rangnick, an innovative football mind with a glowing resumé in Germany and Austria.

These protests aren’t specific to Manchester United, either: in 2017, Arsenal fans took to the streets to call for longtime manager Arsene Wenger’s sacking. Earlier this year, Gunners fans protested their ownership — led by another American billionaire in Stan Kroenke — before their match against Spanish club Villarreal. Wenger has even admitted that these protests drove him to resign as the club’s manager.

Back in 2016, Liverpool fans staged a walkout protest during the 77th minute of the match when the most expensive price for tickets increased to £77 (close to $130 CAD today, on par with many ticket prices for Habs games). Outside the big six, thousands of West Ham United supporters protested against the club’s ownership in February 2020, and many are continuing to do so. Mixing football with protest also isn’t simply English; fans in Germany also know a thing or two about it.

Our Montreal Canadiens

Now, back to the Habs.

They are in one fucking sad state, just a few months after going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in a generation. The issue isn’t simply coaching, the players or our insipid power play and penalty kill. The rot starts from the top down, and primarily between owner Geoff Molson and GM Marc Bergevin. I’m a bit shocked similar demonstrations haven’t happened before — after all, us Montrealers love protesting things we don’t like.

Molson has been silent throughout the team’s disastrous season to date, leading some fans to believe he’s content with mediocrity so long as the cash keeps flowing.

Marc Bergevin Montreal Canadiens Habs
Marc Bergevin, still General Manager for the Montreal Canadiens

Bergevin has built a roster that, despite reaching last year’s Final, is a poorly constructed one that has seen a great deal of offseason turnover, and has lacked a clear identity for much of Bergevin’s decade-long tenure in charge. He also put this squad together to compete for the Cup, not to chase Shane Wright (who, frankly, is way more appealing than playoffs at this point). 

With this being the final year of his contract, it’s hard to think of reasons to hang onto Bergevin going forward.

Assistant GM/longtime Habs draft guru Trevor Timmins has hit on numerous picks since being hired back in 2002, but has also missed remarkably on others. However, the Canadiens’ biggest Achilles’ heel has been development, and it’s high time for new ideas on that front — just ask Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Michael McNiven or Zach Fucale’s dad.

Dominique Ducharme Habs Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens and head coach Dominique Ducharme during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Head coach Dominique Ducharme is also under extreme pressure, particularly after being given a three-year extension. On paper, his roster isn’t a bottom-tier one, even without Carey Price and Shea Weber. But Ducharme must take his share of blame for our horrendous special teams, our -29 goal differential, our 14 regulation losses in 21 games (many of them blowouts), and his favouring seniority over pure skill — most egregiously by him not putting Cole Caufield on the first power play wave.

There’s plenty for fans to be up in arms about, and wholesale changes are painfully necessary.

This hockey club seemingly prefers to reminisce on the halcyon days of decades past, where the Habs were an undisputed powerhouse. Such nostalgia trips are immortalized thanks to the mural that was recently unveiled near the Bell Centre. A nice piece of art, no doubt, but it also feels like a feeble attempt at distracting from the catastrophe that is this season.

The problem is, the organization constantly feeding us stories about the “good old days” got stale ages ago. I, for one, no longer want to hear about Stanley Cup wins I wasn’t even alive for. In fact, I’d only just turned two years old when they won in ‘93. I want success and Stanley Cups to celebrate right here, right now.

Montreal Canadiens protest
2012 protest over hiring of unilingual Randy Cunneyworth as Montreal Canadiens interim head coach

Demonstrating outside the Bell Centre isn’t that far-fetched an idea. Shit, a bunch of Quebec nationalists had no problem doing so in 2012 when the Habs hired unilingual anglo Randy Cunneyworth as interim head coach — an incident that likely spooked Molson into prioritizing French-speaking head coaches and GMs from then on out. But that can of worms is a different column for a different day.

Regardless, it’s important that fans make sure the Canadiens organization knows they’ve had enough of this team’s years of on-ice sterility, old-school approaches and poor youth development. Refusing to buy merchandise and/or tickets for games will hit Molson — whose family boasts a net worth of close to $2-billion — where it hurts, but fans publicly making their voices heard in front of the arena could grab the club’s attention more directly.

I’m not saying a demonstration needs to happen — not at all. But footy fans overseas have shown that protesting over sports isn’t unprecedented. At minimum, we should consider it. As long as nobody gets hurt, criminal behaviour doesn’t get involved (not a guarantee given Montreal’s track record for sports riots) and the message is sent loud and clear while still being peaceful, it’s worth a shot. ■

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