• The only crime is to be surprised



      “And they expect you to be happy
      And they expect you to be pleased
      That you’ve only got the symptoms
      You haven’t got the whole disease”
      -Elvis Costello: “Tramp the Dirt Down”

      Relationships are tricky, be they with your sweetie or your football team.

      In the beginning, you enjoy some of the giddiest and freest moments of your life. That warm, magical bliss – a high so brilliant and clear you could easily spend the rest of your life just trying to get there again.

      If you’re lucky, it lasts, grows, matures and settles in.

      If you’re a Toronto FC fan, that didn’t happen.

      ---

      And so it came to a cloudy, cool, swirling October Saturday. Ambling off the turf at Lamport Stadium, in the warehouse district north of BMO Field, members of the supporters’ group U-Sector had just wrapped up their weekly house league soccer matches.

      As you might expect with TFC mired in ultimate last place, no one was too excited about that afternoon’s upcoming game against D.C. United. Some said, sure, they’d go. Others weren’t sure. Most seemed resigned – the duty you’d feel to another day on a job that really isn’t working for you.

      A few of us settled in for food, drinks and drinks at the Red Patch Boys watering hole on King Street. Very few people there for a game day. Nothing you’d even optimistically call a buzz.

      ---

      Always, in relationships, stuff gets in the way. Childhood stuff, emotional stuff, things-you-can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-that-keep-mucking-stuff-up stuff. This stuff ends up ending most relationships, but it’s also manageable if there’s devotion both ways, and you’re willing to do a bit of honest self-learning and self-examination.

      And then there are those sad, stomach-dropping times, when you gradually realize the object of your affection has some very deep and serious problems.

      ---

      I watched the match in the north end, with a young couple I know from Peterborough, Ontario. They actually met as TFC fans. He was trudging home from the bar after yet another loss. She saw his TFC scarf across a park, and called out “Did we win?” Along with Danny Dichio’s famous first goal, they’re probably the best thing Toronto FC has ever put together.

      Her bright-eyed, curious six-year-old son was with us, more interested in red licorice Twizzlers than in the action on the pitch. Any why not, really? The Twizzlers delivered on their promise, and were good.

      TFC sagged and sogged, and to absolutely no one’s surprise they eventually hair-balled up the game, on a brutal 88th-minute goaltending gaffe from Milos Kocic, who’s tried his blessed heart out all season, with little or no help – from anybody.

      It didn’t even hurt that much, honestly. We were stunned by the magnitude of the mistake, but you can’t be surprised, can you?

      At this point, among Toronto FC fans, the only real crime is to be surprised.

      They went off to catch their train or maybe go to High Park, happily enjoying their day out. I went off to the post-game press conference, amused to discover – once I was undistracted and on my own – that I was getting really, really angry.

      ---

      Hey, we’ve all got problems, but sometimes all the figuring out and healing is being done only on one side. That’s when you begin to see that loving someone or something does not mean you’re getting loved in return.

      You notice it’s you that’s making all the sacrifices. You notice it’s you that’s paying all the bills.

      Occasionally, you speak up. You get shut down, frosted or ignored.

      And you start a slow, dark, smouldering burn.

      ---

      By the time I got to the cinderblock bunker that is the BMO Field pressroom, I was seething. I actually told TFC press guy Mike Masaro not to let me ask any questions.

      I’ve been trying to think of the right way to describe the way TFC coach/manager Paul Mariner enters a room after yet another bad loss. It’s a kind of float, oddly married to a slight jerky awkwardness. A bit Muppetish, really. (I mean no scorn by that. I love the Muppets.)

      The first question (Dan Girard of the Toronto Star): “Paul, is there anything left to say?”

      Mariner concedes that there really isn’t. He still praises his players, saying he asked them for hard work and commitment, and that he hadn’t seen them play that well in quite a while.

      Really!?

      I’m an inch away from thrusting up a hand, calling bullshit on Mariner, the team and the entire organization, and asking whether there’s anything at all the long-suffering fans of Toronto FC can actually look forward to for the coming season?

      I’m tossing coins in my head (go/no-go; blurt/no-blurt), when John Molinaro of Sportsnet.ca saves me the trip:

      “Paul, are you seeing anything out there that gives you encouragement looking ahead to next season?”

      Again, Mariner praises the side, and says there’s nothing to be done about all the injuries. He talks about shape and strategy, even though he must know everyone in the room just saw TFC play yet another bland and largely shapeless game.

      The conference ends abruptly. Compared to normal, very little has been asked, very little answered.

      ---

      TFC’s principle investors, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, have made three – possibly four – crippling mistakes since the franchise was granted in 2006:

      - Hiring Mo Johnston to run the operation.
      - Rehiring Mo Johnston after the Jersey Swamp debacle flushed the 2009 playoff push.
      - Hiring Aron Winter to bring Total Football to BMO Field in 2011.

      Tom Anselmi, MLSE’s head suit, has been overlooking Toronto FC since the get-go. He is deeply implicated in all three of these hideous, horn-honking howlers.

      The possible fourth screech-job was the recent decision to bring Paul Mariner back for 2013.

      There are many strong opinions, back-and-forth, both ways on this one.

      Yes, the players responded well to Mariner initially, winning four games very quickly. But it’s also true they haven’t won any league matches since. Yes, the dressing room was much happier after Winter was ousted. No, it isn’t like that now.

      I’ve heard people I really trust say that if TFC sacked Mariner now, no manager worth his salt would even answer the phone. This is yet another symptom of how deep this chasm really is.

      But I’m having trouble seeing how they have any choice at all.

      Mariner’s job, when he took over, really wasn’t to make the playoffs. Even four quick wins only barely nudged them back into vague contention, and that didn’t last long.

      Mariner’s job was to get these guys playing together, and feeling like a team. It’s clearly evident now that he has totally failed to do this.

      Now maybe he’s being hampered by the chronic toxic MLSE workplace environment that drove A-list Canadian stars Dwayne de Rosario and Julian de Guzman out of town.

      Maybe he just doesn't have the wisdom and experience to run a pro soccer squad at this level.

      Or maybe his players are tired of being YELLED AT!

      ALL THE TIME!

      If there were a TV show called Soccer Team Rescue, the decision to keep Mariner on would be the moment when the hot-headed expert explodes, turning to Anselmi and screaming “What are you doing??? Are you freaking kidding???”

      ---

      Outside Gate 4, a small group of angry fans were holding a sign comparing Mariner and the MLSE braintrust to Muppets. (They do mean scorn by that. And they love the Muppets.)

      ---

      I finally blew up in the parking lot.

      Two friendly fellow scribes – whom I’ll decline to identify – were treated to a rough and colourful early draft of this very article. F-bombs were included at key moments.

      And I wandered off up Dufferin Street, still bitter, still snarly, thinking about contrast.

      Away from the pitch, while all this footy fantasy was going on, I truly came so far in six joyous years of positive thinking, building a lovely life – and a wonderful relationship! – forgiving and closing the door on old errors and anger.

      … And this freak-beating soccer team can undo it completely – even when I’m having a lovely afternoon eating Twizzlers with dear friends.

      ---

      In the end, there is a choice.

      Relationships end. Hearts move on.

      No one could fairly blame any of the thousands of Toronto FC fans who have decided they just don’t want to pay more and more money every year for less and less joy.

      The team they loved has a horrible, untreatable affliction – Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

      For those fans who remain, the danger is clear.

      By all means, give your heart, your time, your hopes, your cash. But be warned:

      The only hope to fix this battered, battering relationship is change. And the team you love hasn’t changed.

      And once again, the only crime is to be surprised.

      Onward!
      Comments 58 Comments
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Thank you Ben.

        Finally someone says it like it is. Finally someone gives voice to the fans. Finally, a piece where there is no agenda, but rather a sobering view on the sad state of this club.

        I see your Costello, and I give you this:

        That's me in the corner
        That's me in the spotlight, I'm
        Losing my religion
        Trying to keep up with you
        And I don't know if I can do it
      1. Bobo_Brazil's Avatar
        Bobo_Brazil -
        Bobo has tear in eye.
        Bobo think you are best writer of TFC. I follow you since you start in USector.
        You so correct.
        Bobo make decision on DC United game, Saturdauy. Bobo not renew after 6 years. Bobo sit in Section 122 behind bench.
        Bobo never in life see coach yell at fans and ask to fight outside gate. Bobo no like. Bobo pay much money and put heart to team and watch fane who sit every game 6 years get yelled at. Bobo not approve.
        Bobo no like Marriner. Bobo no like MLSE.
        Bobo always wanted TFC to be team in Toronto, like when Bobo young boy in Brazil. Bobo never be fooled again.
        Please write more Ben. Bobo always read and agree. You see like no other see.
        Bobo always respect as parent taught me but Bobo sad that Marriner not respect players or fans.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Truth is...I've never been so depressed after reading an article. Ben, you hit the nail on the head with this one. Soccer in Toronto is actually dead and the murderers are the same people that brought it here. MLSE killed soccer in Toronto and has made me hate the only hometown team I actually supported. I will be there next year, but the hope and enthusiasm that I had when my first ever season ticket package arrived last year is gone. All we can do is hope and dream of better days...but history has taught us to just expect more of the same. Thanks for the piece Ben. TFC till I die.
      1. adrenaline11's Avatar
        adrenaline11 -
        I think I'm going to have a nice cry now.
      1. Soccerpro's Avatar
        Soccerpro -
        Way to go Ben. You told it like it is. Finally, nice to hear from the press.
      1. Marek's Avatar
        Marek -
        A completely appropriate and accurate article. I have missed your articles on CSN.

        Ben, keep up your work on Canadian Soccer. I have really appreciated your articles on governance reform.
      1. Fhurion's Avatar
        Fhurion -
        Thanks Ben. As others have said, a sad, sobering, truly honest piece. And what a shame it is.

        Quote Originally Posted by Bobo_Brazil View Post
        Bobo never in life see coach yell at fans and ask to fight outside gate....Bobo sad that Marriner not respect players or fans.
        Me like Bobo's comments, but can somebody confirm this? If so, this alone should be grounds for him to be turfed if he literally got in the face of paying customers and threats were exchanged.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Great Job Ben! Finally someone who tells it how it is!
      1. Registrado's Avatar
        Registrado -
        Thanks for sharing Ben. You've expressed how most of us feel. Was that so hard to do, to admit how the situation in 2012 has gone from bad to worse and we are battered and bruised?

        Now please my friend, go win the lottery and buy the franchise from MLSE.
      1. mowe's Avatar
        mowe -
        Thank you Ben. You've put into words the feelings of all TFC supporters, or at least my own. This should be required reading for everyone who needs a crash course on this club starting with all management and front office staff.

        It's so sad really. How can something that started off so well and with so much potential completely and utterly disintegrate in 6 years? It takes a special kind of incompetence to fuck things up so badly. Luckily for us there is a never-ending well of ineptitude at MLSE.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Thanks Ben. Your the voice of reason. Now-why can you see this and other bloggers cant?
        Ben-maybe you can be the one to shine the spotlight on Mariner and company. The idea of stability associated with keeping Mariner on is only prolonging the inevitable-he is incompetent in all respects and he will be fired so why wait. The man cant leave fast enough and until he does the healing cant begin. A new president and a vision and a coach who can coach, man manage and has the support of the fans. They should have promoted Winter and gotten rid of Mariner. TFC is a cycle of never ending bad decisions because we do not have soccer people running this.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Bring back that lovin' feeling,
        Whoa, that lovin' feeling
        Bring back that lovin' feeling,
        'Cause it's gone...gone...gone,
        and I can't go on,
        noooo...

        fantastic article ben. clap, clap, clap.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Wow a non Groupthink TFC blogger.
      1. Starter's Avatar
        Starter -
        Quote Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post
        Thanks Ben. Your the voice of reason. Now-why can you see this and other bloggers cant?
        Ben-maybe you can be the one to shine the spotlight on Mariner and company. The idea of stability associated with keeping Mariner on is only prolonging the inevitable-he is incompetent in all respects and he will be fired so why wait. The man cant leave fast enough and until he does the healing cant begin. A new president and a vision and a coach who can coach, man manage and has the support of the fans. They should have promoted Winter and gotten rid of Mariner. TFC is a cycle of never ending bad decisions because we do not have soccer people running this.
        Not sure about promoting Winter after the bad start of the MLS season, optics would not be right. But, Mariner should not have been hired to 'help' Winter, we all know how well he scouted for Aron. Perhaps Winter could have been placed upstairs from the start, with BDK coaching the team. Right now team is bleeding under the useless manager, a progressive coach should be engaged here ASAP.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Quote Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post
        They should have promoted Winter and gotten rid of Mariner.
        They should not have Mariner in the management team to start with, but promoting Winter??? Wasn't he the guy in charge already?? And you think he should have been promoted after a league record 0 for 27 points (including a season crippling 0 for 15 points at home) that ended almost any hopes of a first ever playoff spot even before the season reached June?

        Mariner's proved to be a backroom political wheeler dealer (along with Earl Cockring) who's usurped power and yet is a total incompetent on the job. But Winter lost his job quite rightfully for his role...as should Mariner.

        Back to square one. Thanks, Jurgen, for the consulting!
      1. MadZap's Avatar
        MadZap -
        Quote Originally Posted by Bobo_Brazil View Post
        Bobo has tear in eye.
        Bobo never in life see coach yell at fans and ask to fight outside gate. Bobo no like. Bobo pay much money and put heart to team and watch fane who sit every game 6 years get yelled at. Bobo not approve.
        Between the threat at the fans to meet them at the gate and telling the fans "What's Avila going to do?" within and earshot of the player, the clown known as Paul Mariner has to go after Saturday's outburst. He is a relic and has a worse record than he had a Plymouth Argyle and worse even than the man he replaced. The supporter in 123 & 122 should all bring clown noses on the 20th and pelt him with them.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Quote Originally Posted by MadZap View Post
        Between the threat at the fans to meet them at the gate and telling the fans "What's Avila going to do?" within and earshot of the player, the clown known as Paul Mariner has to go after Saturday's outburst. He is a relic and has a worse record than he had a Plymouth Argyle and worse even than the man he replaced. The supporter in 123 & 122 should all bring clown noses on the 20th and pelt him with them.
        TFC.MLSE has sunken to a new low. If the club has an ounce of professionalism Mariner would be investigated immediately. No other professional sports organization would allow such a thing. How low can they go? ...they keep finding new ways on their race to the bottom. TFC/MLSE ...a disgrace to the game. Mariner is the clown face of this pathetic organization. They have not a stitch of credibility or professionalism -how can anyone take these jokers seriously?
        think you've seen it all..keep watching, and as Ben rightly points out-dont be surprised when the bumbling fools outdo themselves yet again w/ their laughable incompetence.
      1. Poor Service's Avatar
        Poor Service -
        Ben Knight = The People's Champ

        Thanks for writing this - the print and TV guys won't say it, at least you did.
      1. Unregistered's Avatar
        Unregistered -
        Does anybody forget that Paul Beirne was a mistake? I wonder how cocky he is now with the mass threat of season renewal declines quickly on the horizon.

        But the piece was nice and is a fresh take that accurately represents the continued and growing frustrations and anguish that fans in this city are going through.
      1. Cashcleaner's Avatar
        Cashcleaner -
        Good article, Ben. It's a real shame that things have gotten to this point. I have never been as frustrated with a team as I am with TFC. I think what bothers me the most is not just the amount of losses and the mistakes we seem to make, but the fact that it takes so long to learn from them and address them.
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