Free kick Posted May 18, 2005 Share Posted May 18, 2005 I don't ever recall some many media articles on the Lynx in the past . ________________________________ Lynx fight against the odds Nicole and Bruno Hartrell have spent a small fortune keeping pro soccer alive in Toronto But the spectre of an MLS franchise landing here has them feeling betrayed ALLAN RYAN SPORTS REPORTER "It's still the same old story, A fight for love and glory, A case of do or die. The world will always welcome loversAs time goes by." He was born in Naples in 1950, an Italian mother, a Polish father. She, both parents Italian, was born a couple of months earlier, on the other coast, in a tiny town called Civita. He came to Toronto as an infant, grew up in the Spadina/Dundas area, now has his own accounting firm downtown. Her parents emigrated when she was 7, settled in the Bloor/Ossington area, later Dufferin and Eglinton. After 25 years teaching, she's now retired. But only from teaching. They met in '74 ("I picked him up at Attila's Cave, a bar on the airport strip," she recalled); married a year later, had a couple of kids and now share a home in the middle of Etobicoke's Thorncliffe Village. Some 10 years back, an unexpected third party came into their lives. In the beginning, this new relationship was innocent enough, fun even. In time, though, passions took their inevitable hold. Both he and she braced themselves for potential betrayal. Running a pro soccer team — in Toronto, yet — will sometimes set you up for that. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bruno and Nicole Hartrell, among many other things, are the chief financial and chief operating officers — and, for now, pretty much sole bankrollers — for the Toronto Lynx. A distant sixth in the hierarchy of Toronto's pro sports franchises (Leafs, Raptors, Jays, Argos, Rock), the Lynx are now seven games into their ninth season in the United Soccer Leagues' First Division, formerly known as the A-League, the highest level of the game in this country. But change is in the works. For one thing, the Marlies will be reborn here come hockey season. That could well drop the Lynx to seventh. For another, the Lynx have endured an entire spring's worth of talk — and worry — that the flashier, bigger-budgeted Major League Soccer was on its way to Toronto as the latest endeavour of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Last week's demise of the planned 20,000-seat soccer/football stadium at York University may have thwarted those plans, but the MLS scenario, and the aggressive support of it by the Canadian Soccer Association, have the Lynx feeling more than a little hard done by these days. "How about stabbed in the back?" asked Bruno, meaning by the CSA. "As if soccer was doing so really well in Toronto that we didn't need one team, we needed two." Yesterday, he admitted to mixed feelings about the situation at York, which would have provided the Lynx with a much-needed, albeit shared, home. "We're happy that there's no MLS ... but we're not happy there's no stadium at all," said Hartrell, who nonetheless remains certain a new stadium suitable for soccer will one day get built in the GTA. As for the spectre of the MLS, that may still be hovering over the Lynx's head. Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports, said yesterday that while the stadium collapse at York was a "curveball," the parrot (an MLS team) ain't dead yet. "It's only been a couple of days," said Peddie. "It's not good (news), but we're going to keep working at it." -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The unexpected third party in the Hartrells' relationship was simply the game of soccer itself. For sure, they never saw it coming. Before the Lynx, Nicole was, at best, a soccer mom, ushering sons Gregory and Daniel to and fro. Bruno played a little recreationally but as a downtown kind of guy and a sports lover in general, soccer was well down his early list. Decades later, in 1996, one of Bruno's accounting clients was ga-ga for the game and enthused that a USL expansion franchise could be had. As he occasionally does with clients' various initiatives, Bruno bit. "It was supposed to be six guys, 50 grand a year, lose $300,000 a year for five years and, by then, we might break even," said Bruno. "But then.. ." Since the Lynx first took the field for 1997, losses to date stand at approximately $4.5 million — $2.5 million the first three years, when Bruno was one of three partners, about $2 million more in the five years since, when there was, basically, only Bruno and Nicole. "I just thought it would be lots of fun to own a sports team in Toronto," he explained. "My role was simply to be an investor. I kind of liked the job of being an owner, which means I go to the game, sit in the owner's box, then go home. And that's it! "Fortunately for me, some of my clients have more stable businesses and the money I've put with them makes enough to cover my soccer losses." The Lynx are more than just the men's pro team, off to an 0-5-2 start after playing their first six on the road. Under the Lynx umbrella are five boys' and two girls' age-group teams in the USL's massive Super-Y League, plus, new this season, the Lady Lynx, an expansion entry in the USL's 34-team strong W-League, a 3-0 winner in their Sunday inaugural. "That's the part that kind of bothers me," said Bruno. "The money I'm sinking in to keep this portion alive (the Lynx), I could take somewhere down the system and do a lot better in terms of who could benefit ... in terms of the kids and things like that. That's part of the ambition of the Lynx ... to generate enough funds that we can support something below us that helps the community. That's missing right now. We can't do much, you know, if we can hardly breathe." To hear the Hartrells tell it, the Lynx and their growing organization can be/have been of some significance to the CSA — along with the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact, the A-League's other two Canadian franchises — when they're the only game in town. They feel they become decidedly smaller potatoes, however, when the CSA senses bigger fish in the water. Like an MLS team — or, perhaps, more importantly, the money from Maple Leaf Sports that might back it. The killer was the CSA announcing — as early as in its 2002 annual report — that the future of pro soccer in Canada, tied to an eventual new stadium, would now include pursuit of an MLS expansion team. The Lynx? Why, of course, sure they can tag along. "They're a valued member of the CSA and we've told the Lynx they'd be more than welcome to play in (a new soccer) stadium as well," assured Kevan Pipe, chief operating officer for the CSA. "... There'll be plenty of opportunity for the Lynx to carve out their niche." Responded Bruno: "They (the CSA) say they're behind us but, at the same time, were trying to plant serious competition in our market. "If successful, an MLS team would've very definitely put us out of business. ... That's really what this is all about, okay — a total disrespect for the people who have backed the game in Toronto for 10 years." Dick Howard, a goalkeeper in the long-gone North American Soccer League and a veteran soccer commentator in Canada, agrees that the Lynx have been "virtually ignored" by the CSA. "A husband and wife team, nine years and millions of dollars trying to make it work, in a substandard facility — it's remarkable what they've achieved, really," says Howard, one-time technical director for the CSA and now a special consultant for the Lynx. "But it's also like they're small shop-owners and Wal-mart comes along and just takes over the business." -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- "It's not about business anymore; it's become a crusade," said Bruno. "... That's why we're not going to abandon it. We think we can make a success and it's just a question of how long. Everybody in soccer for the last 40 years has said that ... soccer's coming, it's coming. Sooner or later somebody's gonna be right. "The Lynx may be a jinx," added Bruno, laughing, which he does a lot, "because, every time it seems to show some promise, something gets in the way that holds us back. It's like a fickle lover, right? It shows signs ... it gets all hot, then ..." It's still the same old story. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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