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T.O. soccer boom set to explode

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It’s an exciting time for soccer in Toronto and in Canada”

Entrepreneur Neil Jamieson

It’s pretty well official now. Soccer is booming in Toronto. Its abysmal past — the failed professional ventures and the widespread skepticism — has been obliterated, and the sport clearly has become all the rage in this city.

Heck, with sellouts of 20,000 commonplace at BMO Field, it’s almost impossible to buy tickets for Toronto FC home games — and we’re talking about an MLS expansion club that is wallowing just above the Eastern cellar at 3-6-1.

The success of Toronto FC, however, is merely the start of Toronto’s soccer frenzy this summer.

The under-20 World Cup — one of the most prestigious international competitions in existence — will kick off June 30 and its matches will attract jam-packed crowds in B.C., Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and, of course, Toronto. Five of the nine matches scheduled for T.O. already are sold out, including the July 22 final.

There’s more, though. Metro has learned that, on Aug. 1, a blockbuster deal will be closed in the west end of Toronto and construction of a 30-acre, state-of-the-art soccer complex will begin.

It’s a $25-million deal — about $10-million for the land and about $15-million for the complex — and the partners are Nike, Britain’s famed Manchester United Football Club and a group of investors led by Toronto entrepreneur Neil Jamieson.

“I won’t get into specifics yet, but let’s just say this will be the ultimate training and competitive ground in Canada — by far,” confirmed Jamieson, the project’s managing partner. “It’ll incorporate five to six FIFA-sized soccer fields — top-end, artificial-turf fields with stadium lighting. It’ll also feature a 180,000-square-foot indoor facility.”

There will be health-therapy centres, fitness studios, eating establishments and modern locker rooms — all modelled after ManU’s renowned training ground in Carrington, a 70-acre facility in the U.K., where the first team and academy teams train.

“It’s an exciting time for soccer in Toronto and in Canada,” Jamieson said, “and we intend to be a major part of it.”

Details of precisely how the complex will be used and when it will be completed won’t be publicized until a news conference but, in reality, Jamieson et al already are major contributors to Canadian soccer. They launched ManU Soccer Schools in Oakville in April and their individual programs were sold out, as were their team programs this month. They’re preparing now for long courses that will start July 2 (details at www.muss.ca) and they’re again anticipating maximum attendance.

Yep, soccer’s all the rage around here these days — and it wasn’t long ago when I thought I’d never be able to honestly say that.


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this is indeed very interesting and exciting news. It is kind of sad that foreign clubs have to come into Toronto to set up state of the art facilities.

Lets hope the other major soccer markets in the country get some top acadamies in the future. Lord knows that there are quality players all over the country who simply need the top quality training and development programs that are available in Europe. Maybe this will help keep our youngsters closer to home until they are truly ready to test themselves in the best leagues in the world.

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this is indeed very interesting and exciting news. It is kind of sad that foreign clubs have to come into Toronto to set up state of the art facilities.

Lets hope the other major soccer markets in the country get some top acadamies in the future. Lord knows that there are quality players all over the country who simply need the top quality training and development programs that are available in Europe. Maybe this will help keep our youngsters closer to home until they are truly ready to test themselves in the best leagues in the world.

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Marty York isn't the most credible reporter out there .... wonder what's happened to acareer when he's gone from being a Globe and Mail assistant sports editor to a Stringer for Sportsnet to a columnist in a giveaway newspaper.

But SLAM sports pretty much says the same thing in a couple of columns.

June 18, 2007

Success on the pitch

And in the stands too for Canada

By BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

Toronto FC's Danny Dichio and FC Dallas' Alex Yi battle during first half action at BMO Field on Sunday. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

Men with Brooms, chicks with sticks, the McKenzie Brothers, Slap Shot and the beaver.

And now, to add to the list of icons of Canadiana we present ... Guys in shorts. Yes. Soccer. It has come of age.

Canada's national soccer team is a win away from the Gold Cup final. Yesterday, Toronto FC diced Dallas 4-0 with an uncharacteristic display of offensive finish. Our under-20 youth team has beaten top-10 teams recently, including the U.S.

Soccer, after generations of trying and failing, seems finally to have put down more than grassroots in the Canadian tundra. There have been illusions of this throughout history. But, always, they were just that. Illusions. The NASL imploded and, locally, the ethnic communities never could put aside their differences and old allegiances.


Good intentions always fall victim to an over-abundance of infighting and a lack of money and talent. Less than five years ago, there was little hope for this sport on the pro horizon, no stadium in Toronto, no permanent home for the national team.

Today, it is the best sports show in town. Maybe, soon to be, in the country.

"I came to Canada when I was 12 years old and soccer wasn't taken too serious," Srdjan Djeckanovic, Toronto FC's goalie, said yesterday. "It's come so far just in three years. Before, there were some good players but there weren't a lot of places for kids to go once they started getting older. Now we have this team, in Vancouver the Whitecaps got a great youth program and Toronto FC is going to start one, too."

This is sport unlike Toronto has ever seen.

Yesterday, steel drums mixed with the cacophony of bells and whistles. Flags waved and fans hurled streamers and insults.

"If you've ever seen when the World Cup is on, this city goes crazy. Now we're getting those people," midfielder Jim Brennan said. "We're surprising a lot of other sports how crazy and fanatic the fans are ... Canadians haven't had an opportunity to actually taste what it's like in Europe until now. I have a lot of my friends are hockey guys. They've come out and say they love the atmosphere."

The record crowd of 20,156 chanted, cheered, stomped on bleachers, set up rhythmic clapping and generally engaged in acts that would have scandalized an usher at the baseball park formerly known as the SkyDome.

And that was before the game even started.

In the 22nd minute, Danny Dichio is twice stopped at the goal line before Maurice Edu scores. Banners wave. Edu gets a yellow card -- probably for creating too much noise and waking up the fans at the Rogers Centre. Doesn't seem to be much other reason. Fan reaction seems to be that the refs sometimes call a penalty because they might have read about something not being allowed ... like, you know, when they call travelling in the NBA.

Andrea Lombardo, from North York, just misses making it 5-0. Late in the game, Milton's Joey Melo steps on the field.

"I think it's wonderful that they are home grown," Toronto FC coach Mo Johnston said. "It's nice with so many guys gone (to the national and under-20 Canadian teams) to get the young guys into the game. We're going to make them better soccer players."

Brennan, FC's captain, has 43 caps with Canada. He played in Woodbridge and Newmarket but had to go to overseas to fulfill his career ambitions. That's all changing now. TFC is more than the blip on the local sports scene that was the Blizzard.


"Now we've got something for the kids to look up to," Brennan said. "They can play professionally in our own town. I didn't have that. I had to go to Europe and for a lot of families that just isn't an option. Now they've got a chance to learn at home."

Like Melo. Like Lombardo, one of the players departing for the under-20 world tournament. Like David Guzman, another local kid.

"One day, soccer in this country will be as big as the NHL or the NBA," Djeckanovic said. "Maybe not by the next World Cup, but the one after.Instead of it being a surprise if we did qualify, it will be a disappointment if we don't."

June 17, 2007

Hogtown's soccer renaissance


Some of the most interesting pre-hockey game events at the Air Canada Centre are the performances of scalpers.

Say, an hour before a Maple Leafs-Pittsburgh Penguins game, players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin facing Mats Sundin, would encourage scalpers to ask for several hundred dollars per ducat.

A half hour later, the price of the ticket would drop by 50% and, if a customer shows up five minutes after the puck was dropped, the lucky person could pick up the ticket for its normal value.

All this came to mind yesterday when I tried to obtain two tickets for today's soccer match between Toronto FC and Dallas at BMO Field.

There were no tickets to be had. Not even one. And it isn't even the game in which David Beckham and his Los Angeles Galaxy team were facing the Toronto boys. That comes later this season.

One official of Toronto FC told me that in 15 years of being a sports executive, he had never seen such a demand for tickets. He figured that, perhaps, Father's Day had something to do with it.

Not being the type who gives up easily, I thought I'd contact my old friend Richard Peddie, who happens to be the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., the very organization that owns TFC. I figured that surely he'd find two tickets I could buy for a friend of mine. I was wrong.

"George," Richard said to me, "there isn't a ticket to be had for the game. We usually have about 200 single seats for a game, but all are gone. Even seats we keep for charitable cases are gone. I'm sorry, but there is nothing I can do for you."

Fortunately, we bought our season tickets and they include the visit of the England and Real Madrid star.

Obviously, MLSEL, with chief operating officer Tom Anselmi pushing for the Toronto franchise in spite of the $10-million franchise fee, knew what it was doing.

It sold 14,000 season tickets before Mo Johnston, the former Scottish star, took over the team as its head coach and general manager.

"We, obviously, did our research and we came to the conclusion that a pro soccer team in a new soccer stadium could be a good investment," Peddie said.

"We often get criticized in the media for what we are doing, or not doing. But the people in the sports world have a different opinion of us.

"The other day, we had a six-man group in from the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL who asked for our approach in acquiring a pro soccer franchise which they are planning to pursue. Two days later, we had a delegation from Pittsburgh who wanted to know everything about the ACC and how we accomplished it, all within budget. So, we must be doing something right."

As for the scalpers, they'll have to find another sucker.

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Well I had my discussion with one of my scalper buddies and in the beginning it was a disaster he said,quote stay away from soccer. Now he wished he had bought season tickets, can't get enough he said, Johnny he calls me,I should have listened to you.I asked him about his background and i am still in shock, this guy seems to be the king of scalpers and has his feel on every sporting event and gambling as well. i suggested to write a book. Anyway he said I made a big mistake,quote I thought soccer would never work in Toronto.

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