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  • Commitment from the clubs


    I wanted to wait a while before I wrote a post-mortem on the Canada v Ecuador game. In the weeks leading up to that game, Canadian Soccer News poured a lot of emotion and energy into raising awareness about the importance of Support Local Football and I didn't want any of that to cloud my final words on it.

    In the aftermath, a number of people asked me if I thought the game was a success. My answer was: in part, yes. It was the largest, organized support I've seen on display for a national team game. CSN played a small role in making that happen but mostly it was the local supporter groups and Voyageurs who got organized early and spread the word often, that made the south end what it was on that night.

    And while the support was tremendous (a half hearted, half hungover rendition at an afternoon club game just can't compare to the collective hearts singing O'Canada for their national team) because the stadium was still 3/4 full with an opposing crowd, it would be hard to justify hanging some Mission Accomplished banner.

    So, who is to blame for the shortcomings?


    In the days after, many were quick to level criticisms against the soccer fans of Toronto. Sportnet's Gerry Dobson most notably wrote:

    So where were you? No really, where were you? We missed you at BMO Field as Canada played Ecuador to a thrilling 2-2 draw in the most entertaining game you'll see in Toronto this year ... As for the rest of you who claim to be proud Canadian soccer fans, and who are always complaining that our Nats never play at home, again I ask, where were you?

    While the observation is valid, Toronto FC gets 20,000 fans out to most games and I'd say only around 5,000 Canadians were there in attendance that night, the larger point is missed. The fans that were there that night were the club supporters. They were the ones who organized the section, who got out and sold tickets on their own to their friends, they're the ones that shouted it from the rooftops that Canada was playing.

    They're also the same ones who shout it from the rooftops each week when their clubs are playing. They're not to blame and Dobson didn't.

    But what of the rest then? The soccer moms and dads who make up the masses who attend club games - where were they? At their own games? On a school night?

    Blissfully unaware would be my guess. A week before the game, a source at the CSA told me that collectively the youth clubs in Ontario had sold 150 tickets.

    150 freaking tickets! I nearly chucked my phone at the wall.

    I knew individuals who had sold twice that simply by getting their friends involved. How could those, that have mailing lists of thousands to draw on, not be able to move more tickets than that?

    After talking to people around the community and expressing my incredulity at their lack of interest, the message became clear: The reason they weren't selling tickets is because they weren't motivated. They weren't motivated either because of politics with the provincial body, the national body or simply because they saw no clear benefit to supporting the national team.

    To that, I have no answer. Politics are always going to be politics and if you can't see a connection between the kid you're teaching to play the game at your local club and the grown up kid that now plays for your national team, than nothing I'm ever going to say will sway you on that.

    But what also became clear from those conversations was that no amount of supporter organizing is ever going to fill a stadium. Maybe someday. But not today.

    Today, and more importantly this Fall when World Cup qualifying begins, if Canada is ever going to ensure home crowds for home teams, than they somehow have to get the local clubs involved. They are the gatekeepers to a generation of fans yet to find the game and the purse string holders to a community of families that could be filling those seats with Red instead of the yellow we saw last week.


    So, today I'm issuing a challenge to the biggest soccer club in North America to step up and be a leader in supporting the Canadian National team.

    Oakville Soccer Club: an organization like yours could fill half BMO Field on its own with your membership. There are a number of other clubs like you around the country but today I'm singling OSC out because you are a leader in this community - other clubs look to you for guidance and direction - and your technical director and former national team player, Jason DeVos, happens to be, perhaps, the biggest supporter of the national team in Canada. Case and point

    I'm aware some of your members did attend last week but today what I'm asking of you to commit to is threefold:

    1) Anytime the national team plays in your region, commit to not scheduling any games that day. Give your membership the opportunity to attend the game. You clearly have a commitment to developing the young talent in Canada, we're asking you to commit equally to supporting the fruits of that labor - our national team.

    2) Anytime the national team plays a World Cup qualifying game in the region, commit to selling tickets to at least 15% of your membership. That's a big ask. I know. But tickets were going for as little as $20 at the Canada v Ecuador game. It would be far from a financial burden on your members. However, if you need extra motivation getting your teams involved, then perhaps it's time for the CSA, Umbro and Nutrilite to look at setting up a rewards program wherein teams that sell the most tickets receive things like free gear or celebrity training sessions.

    3) Lastly, having done that, come on It's Called Football (10,000 subscribers) or agree to be interviewed by Canadian Soccer News or Metro News (both with huge reach) and let us sing your praises. You can be a leader in this community - beyond what you already are - by making a commitment such as this. The move will surely ripple through the region and across Canada but it will also send a message to the national team that the club community is behind them.

    The grassroots supporters movement is well underway. That became evident last week. It's now time for the clubs to climb on board.

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