It’s been an 18-month span defined by hardships and sacrifice as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and life for HFX Wanderers FC during that period has been no different.
Playing the duration of the 2020 season on Prince Edward Island and kickstarting the first month of this year’s campaign out west in Winnipeg, the HFX squad faced their fair share of challenges between the two bubbles — those who’ve been with the club since 2019 perhaps suffering that little bit more as they eagerly awaited their return to Wanderers Grounds in the mind of defender Peter Schaale.
“It was definitely difficult, a very strange time in football and in general in the world,” said Schaale of being away from Halifax for so long. “I think especially for the guys that have been here since the first year, knowing what it means to us playing at the Wanderers Grounds, what it means to the fans, to the city… it was maybe even more difficult.”
Those aforementioned difficulties were only heightened for the German centre back when he suffered an ankle injury in June during the second of seven matches in the bubble. The knock was serious enough to keep Schaale sidelined for the rest of his time in Winnipeg and unable to recover in time for the home opener back in Halifax in early August.
Not yet ready to play a part in the action himself, the 25-year-old Wittlich native wasn’t going to miss the chance to soak in the on-pitch energy ahead of his side hosting Atlético Ottawa back on August 2 — their first home fixture in 663 days.
“I wasn’t healthy quite yet but I took my boots and went for a little warmup just to take in a bit of the atmosphere before the game… I was just happy to see the people back in the stands and to be playing in front of our fans again and having that support.”
Slowly regaining match fitness and confidence with more minutes back home as August rolled on, the weight of a grueling injury rehab and the struggles of the past year and a half came off the broad shoulders of Schaale all with one towering header against Forge FC on September 3.
As the ball hit the back of the net, his initial reaction was one of reflection, looking back on what has been a difficult recent period for the former Cape Breton Caper: “It’s been a tough year for me so far with the injury and being out, it’s the first time in my career that I’ve been injured really… it was definitely tough to deal with mentally for a while for me.”
After that, elation took over as Schaale joined the supporters behind the Forge goal in celebration.
“I’m very happy that it happened right in front of the Kitchen of course, just… pure emotion man.”
Despite the reduced capacity at Wanderers Grounds for the first five home games to date in 2021, the return to their beloved venue has offered HFX players like Schaale a reunion with the supporters they’ve so dearly missed — all while introducing newcomers who’ve arrived since the inaugural season to the Halifax faithful.
With Nova Scotia set to enter Phase 5 on September 15, the Wanderers will be permitted to sell single-game tickets without capacity restrictions following that date.
How fitting it is that the next home match is set for September 22 with arguably the team’s most difficult test to date: A Canadian Championship tie against MLS outfit and defending champions CF Montreal.
The opposition for what is set to be a famous night for the club had those inside the Wanderers locker room motivated upon announcement of the fixture last month.
Add in the return of a full capacity crowd for a midweek cup match-up and the sentiment of the occasion only heightens for Schaale and the rest of the squad.
“Even just the excitement to play against an MLS team, everyone was buzzing about that… it’s a huge chance to prove ourselves… now it seems like the full capacity is going to be back by the time this game comes around so everyone is really looking forward to it.”
“I think it could be a really magical night at Wanderers Grounds.”
Prorated Memberships are still available for purchase for the remaining six matches of the season. Memberships come with an additional 20% off Wanderers retail, invites to exclusive events and more!