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The Frostbite Cup

Celia Spenard-Ko is a Montreal-based photographer with a background in film and writing. Celia first became interested in football photography when she attended her first match outside Canada, Queens Park Rangers v Middlesbrough at Loftus Road in 2013. Following this Celia began her Finding Football project, focusing on fan culture and identity. She continues to visit matches around the world and has been published in Mundial and Victoire Magazine. Celia told us about her photos of Ringleaders FC and the annual Frostbite Cup, and her hopes for the future of Canadian women’s football.

The Frostbite Cup

Celia Spenard-Ko is a Montreal-based photographer with a background in film and writing. Celia first became interested in football photography when she attended her first match outside Canada, Queens Park Rangers v Middlesbrough at Loftus Road in 2013. Following this Celia began her Finding Football project, focusing on fan culture and identity. She continues to visit matches around the world and has been published in Mundial and Victoire Magazine. Celia (@ceeesk) told us about her photos of Ringleaders FC and the annual Frostbite Cup, and her hopes for the future of Canadian women’s football.

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Who is in the photos?

Ringleaders FC was created by Angelo Destounis in 2006 and, in short, can be described as part-football club, part-brand, and part-community, held together by a group of like-minded individuals. As more women began joining the team, Angelo wanted to create an all women’s squad and managed to round up enough women to form one in 2018. They play in the third division Quebec Super League, but these photos were taken during the first women’s Frostbite Cup, an annual tournament held in winter where teammates play against each other in the snow. 

Where were the photos taken?

The tournament was held in College de Montreal, a private high school. The team plays pick-up there during the warmer months, but naturally during the long hard winters they are forced indoors. The Frostbite Cup has become a yearly tradition of combatting the elements through football. 

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What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?

I wanted to capture the light-heartedness of the players. Some of these women had never played football until joining the squad late last year. Others have been playing their whole lives. But none of that matters, because it’s all about having fun and creating bonds through the sport. Skill has never been a criteria to be a part of Ringleaders FC, it’s more about being on the same wavelength.

Playing in the snow always gets people excited, there’s always more laughs, more spills, more camaraderie. This day was about simply being together, outside, doing what they love with the people they care about - and that’s what I wanted to show. As for a wider meaning, I think it has to do with not taking yourself too seriously and letting go. That’s when you get to experience the really good moments.  

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Are there any good stories connected with the people or teams you photographed?

The pre-tournament prep is always a laugh. Seeing how the players modify their gear for snow play. Many of the girls found that taping plastic bags over their socks helps keep them dry. For example, Montreal is quite renowned for its bagels and they come in these long narrow bags. One of the girls found these to be quite ideal for feet as well. In the past, I’ve seen someone duct tape a space blanket around themselves and wear their bib overtop. There have been people who played in shorts, but due to a thin layer of ice over the snow, ended the tournament with some very bloody knees. 

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What are the opportunities for female footballers in Canada?

The opportunities are getting better for female footballers. Young upcoming female footballers are inspired by Canadian players like Christine Sinclair (the GOAT, who plays in Portland) and players who are in high profile European leagues such as Kadeisha Buchanan (Olympique Lyonnais), Janine Beckie (Manchester City), Ashley Lawrence (PSG), and Adriana Leon (West Ham). They feel a kinship towards these players and a motivation that their goals can be achieved. The national team’s success in the Olympics and Canada being host to the World Cup in 2015 have played an important role in increasing interest, and increased interest is always good. 

Even just having the opportunity to play for fun in leagues like the QSL makes a difference in people’s lives. The RFC women range from early twenties to mid thirties in age, they all have jobs, a lot of them in creative fields, so there’s a lot of positive influencing happening off the pitch as well as on it. Football gives them an opportunity to step away from their day-to-day and link up with their squad to blow off steam. 

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Why is football so important for Canada and Canadian people?

Ice hockey has always held the title of Canada’s number one sport, it’s often one of the things associated with Canadian identity alongside poutine and Céline Dion. That said, football is the world’s game and Canada is a country made up of people from all over. With every passing World Cup, the interest in football here seems to grow exponentially. When France won last year, if you happened to be in Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood outside L'Barouf, you could have easily thought you were suddenly in France. The high was infectious and people wanted to be a part of it. I think football in Canada is a thread that has the ability of connecting people who may otherwise not have that much in common. That deep-rooted attachment to the game cancels everything else out. 

What role does football play in Canada and Canadian society?

Hopefully football’s role in Canada will grow in importance. For now, it’s a source of entertainment, a bridge between cultures, a source of inspiration for the young creative scene; it’s a lot of different thing to a lot of different people. Almost like we’re still trying to figure out how to make it our own here, but it’s happening. This year will mark the start of the Canadian Premier League and that should really push things forward. 

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What does football mean to you?

When I was visiting Beijing with my father, we went to Beijing Guoan vs Guangzhou R&F at the Worker’s Stadium. I had told our Airbnb host about my project and he hooked us up with the ultras. They got us into their section during the match and told us everything about the team, the chants, the food they eat at matches, everything. They even took us out for dinner afterwards.

I unfortunately don’t speak Chinese, so my dad had to translate everything we said, but I had never felt more welcomed and accepted by people of my own race. I’m half-Chinese, half-Canadian and growing up as the only mixed kid in my family was a struggle. So this was a very long story just to say that football gave me something I’d been low-key craving my whole life without really knowing it -straight up acceptance. That day, I wasn’t half-Chinese, I was a full Beijing Guoan FC supporter. The ultras were stoked to have me there and I was beside myself with gratitude. I owe some of my most cherished friendships to football and some of my favourite memories - it’s an identity thing, it’s me.

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What is the future for Canadian women's football?

Hopefully this upcoming Women’s World Cup will break all the viewing records and get more people talking about the women’s game. Hopefully that will push more young Canadian girls to take to their local pitch. And with the pros really pushing for this to be a viable career option for the young women that follow them, without having to work side gigs or live with their parents, I’d say the future seems hopeful.

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