By Charles David Mathieu-Poulin
(November 21, 2023) MALAGA, SPAIN – From the Swiss cow horns to the Czech drums and the orange garments of the Dutch, I have always been fascinated by the Davis Cup cheering sections. I always wondered how they came about, especially in the new Davis Cup format where teams, and therefore fans, must travel across the globe to participate in the event. On Tuesday, I was fortunate to join Team Canada to experience a pep rally firsthand, as the defending champions faced Finland in the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup Finals in Malaga.
The process started a few weeks back, when I received the first of a series of emails by Béatrice Cliche, Advisor, Field Marketing at Tennis Canada. Tennis Canada, a non-profit national sport association with a mission to lead the growth, development and promotion of tennis in Canada, was reaching out to whomever was going to Malaga and had showed interest in gearing up to cheer on their favorite Canadian players. I couldn’t pass on the opportunity pass and confirmed my presence.
When asked about the value of pep rallies, Tennis Canada is adamant: “The primary goal is to rally fans before matches and create a sense of belonging to Canada. We want to attract attention and show that Canada is not only a tennis nation on the court, but also off it. Athletes from both the men’s and women’s teams have repeatedly told us that it helps them enormously during matches.’’
A few days before the event, a formal invitation came in. The very thorough email included details on the pep rally gathering before the first match, a clear schedule for the day of Canada’s first tie, as well as instructions to join a private WhatsApp group. Attached were also two documents: an official letter of authorization to bring in instruments into the stadium (would a horn fit in my luggage?), as well as a list of cheers to learn (including my favorite: “Hey Milos you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind. Hey Milos, Hey Milos!’’ in the tune of Hey Mickey.)
On the day of the pep rally event, I headed to a local restaurant in downtown Malaga to meet with my fellow countrymen and women. I arrived to a festive atmosphere, with people of all ages and backgrounds having animated discussions around tapas and wine (both red and white of course, on par with the theme!). “The invitation to the Pep Rally is open to all Canadians and Team Canada supporters. We’re spreading the word via our social media channels and newsletter, as well as inviting donors, Tennis Canada board members, tournament volunteers and Tennis Canada employees, who get a great opportunity to share a memorable experience with colleagues from across Canada. The diversity of the participants reflects the breadth of our shared commitment to Canadian tennis’’, Cliche added.
After almost two hours, the crew left the restaurant to head to the closest subway station and make its way to the Palacio de Deportes José María Martín Carpena, located just outside of downtown Malaga. “The goal is to draw attention and make everyone know that Canada has arrived, and we mean business!’’ the email said. And it worked: the spirits were high, and chants, drums and Canada flags made sure that everybody knew that Team Canada was there and ready to cheer.
The chants continued all the way until the cheering squad arrived at its designated spot in the stadium, right behind the Team Canada bench. This energy, which I doubted could last for up to three full matches, just never let go, even as the fate of the Canadian team became clear late in the doubles match.
Indeed, the Canadian supporter crew sadly won’t get a chance to repeat the experience on Friday, as Canada was defeated 2-1 by Finland in the quarterfinals. The question is whether anybody, including yours truly, would have gotten their voice back by then anyway.