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Knight: Toronto as a soccer town


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Let the debates continue, Knight with some pointed points on our fave topic:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080514.WBsoccerblog20080514090505/WBStory/WBsoccerblog/

So … what to make of those 17,000-plus empty seats at BMO Field for the Canada-Argentina U-20 friendly this past weekend? How can Toronto fans, who pack the park from April to November to stomp and roar and clap and sing and chant for Toronto FC, not put out a better effort to get behind the national teams?

There is no simple answer to this question. Speculation in the pressbox has included media apathy, multiculturalism and poor event planning. Some have even suggested all those empty seats prove that TFC fans aren't really soccer fans.

So here are a lot of true things about Toronto and soccer, from which I invite you to draw your own conclusions:

- TFC fans are real soccer fans. They grew up watching the games on television. Most have favourite teams somewhere else in the world. Some have even made the pilgrimage, to Anfield, Ibrox, Old Trafford, the San Siro, the Americana, Loftus Road in West London (forza QPR!!). They love the game, they love their brand new hometown team and real new stadium. They are not the problem.

- A regular core of 20,000 TFC fans is not remotely enough to guarantee sell-outs for international games. Eighty per cent of these folks are season ticket holders, and that's already a significant commitment of time and resources. Some of them will always be there when Canada plays. A lot of them – for many reasons – will not.

- Toronto is perhaps, today, the most multi-cultural settlement in the history of humankind. Millions of people have come from everywhere else to settle in the city and its vast, sprawling suburbs. They have no common culture, or background or religion. But lots and lots of them – from everywhere – love soccer. But that doesn't make them Canada fans.

- Toronto is infamous, in national soccer circles, because the visiting team gets louder fan support than the locals. Several thousand Jamaican supporters took us all to school years ago at Varsity Stadium. A few ragged, wind-blown patches of hardy Argentines provided almost all the oomph at BMO this past weekend.

- The local media is not the reason Toronto FC has succeeded. Heck, the Toronto Star went out of its way to blast and discredit the stadium plan. It made – no difference. Bob McCown of the FAN 590, unquestionably the best radio sports host in the business up here, roundly and routinely loathes soccer – and isn't even taken seriously by his own co-hosts on his own program. TFC is a hit because enough people fell in love with the idea, the team and the experience that the stadium is sold out from now till November.

- TFC fans are not responsible for propping up badly planned Canada games. If CSA members want to blame the 2,500-strong swarm of red-wearing lunatics who descended on Columbus, Ohio, recently for not coming out to root for Canada, they might do well to look in the mirror, instead. Toronto's MLS organization has done a lot of things right. Effective, minimal advertising, reaching out to fan groups, keeping the tickets affordable – all of these have contributed to the amazing atmosphere at TFC games. The CSA has been frankly laughable in all these areas.

- The artificial turf, which is there because the governments that paid for BMO Field insisted on it, isn't helping anyone.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to this:

The number of Toronto fans who turn out to occasional, randomly scheduled Canada games is a function of how many fans there actually are. Toronto has lots, but most cheer for other countries, and expecting a 100 per cent turnout of TFC season ticket holders every time Canada occasionally shows up for a game is naïve to the point of being ridiculous. Even getting a quarter of them would be amazing, and it will take quite some time to create enough extra TFC fans to make that number mean something.

The CSA needs yet another big boot up the backside. I think it was Dwayne de Rosario (Canada, Houston Dynamo, one of this nation's very best and most exciting soccer stars) who wondered aloud a few months ago why his face wasn't on billboards up here? It wasn't ego. It was a canny observation that nothing is being done to make the public recognize our biggest soccer stars. TFC fans swarm the stadium because they have “a reason.” Canada fans, in this town, don't.

Also, people who care about soccer in Canada have to stop blaming – and punishing – Toronto for the passion and dedication of our foreign fans. Canada fans in the region should take it as a challenge – a call to mass up, and out-chant the enemy! This was done last summer, really rather well, when Costa Rica drifted in for the men's team's only appearance at BMO Field. That didn't stop one prominent columnist from saying – and recently repeating – that the Costa Ricans out-cheered the Canada fans that night. They didn't.

At this point, I've heard enough complaints from enough players, coaches and experts to finally be able to tell you that players hate the artificial surface at BMO Field, and do not want to play on it. That raises the very real danger that the park is Canada's “National Soccer Stadium” in name only.

Everyone's got a part to play in fixing this.

- The governments who paid the bills need to be lobbied effectively before the turf can be replaced with grass. The CSA needs to schedule more games in Toronto, at days and times when people can actually come.

- BMO Field at 7 PM on a weeknight is almost impossible to get to. Bringing in the Under-20s on Mother's Day doesn't help much, either.

- Celebrate the visiting fans, people – and then go out-number and out-noise them.

- Stop blaming everyone else. Just do your own part, as a fan, player, promoter, CSA board member, and quit yer whining!

Toronto is not – yet – a great soccer town. But we've come an enormous distance in a very short time, and I refuse to believe we aren't going to go a healthy, happy and huge distance farther.

Onward!

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Before the finger pointing starts here, it needs to be put in a proper context. This was an exhibition game between two Under 20 teams.

I've spent a fair bit of time in Sao Paulo, Brazil over the past five years and it would be my guess that a similar game in Sao Paulo between that Argentina team and the Brazil U-19 team coming to Canada at the end of May would draw no more attendance.

Two further questions:

1. How many spectators would attend if this game was in Buenos Aires, Argentina instead of Toronto?

2. How many Canadians would attend an junior exhibition hockey game between Canada and say Russia with similar ticket prices if it was held at the ACC?

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Guest Jeffery S.

A match like that in Spain would have gone automatically to a town and stadium where they had not seen a national team game for a while. Like a team in 2nd division or one lower down but with a tradition -Albacete, Elche, Gijon, Pontevedra, Badajoz. It is a second to third tier game and it would be considered as such. And being a youth team they would have sold tix to school kids, at something like 5 Euros a shot.

You could have gotten 7 to 10 thousand depending who was called into the squad, if you had name players the numbers would have gone up.

I find the article a bit hyperbolic, sorry to say. What exactly is the argument being made? And do we really care?

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I think it would have been the CBF's approach as well in Brazil. And also the KNVB's in the Netherlands.

quote:Originally posted by Jeffrey S.

A match like that in Spain would have gone automatically to a town and stadium where they had not seen a national team game for a while. Like a team in 2nd division or one lower down but with a tradition -Albacete, Elche, Gijon, Pontevedra, Badajoz. It is a second to third tier game and it would be considered as such. And being a youth team they would have sold tix to school kids, at something like 5 Euros a shot.

You could have gotten 7 to 10 thousand depending who was called into the squad, if you had name players the numbers would have gone up.

I find the article a bit hyperbolic, sorry to say. What exactly is the argument being made? And do we really care?

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Woops, did someone say something bad about Toronto?

The city of Toronto can handle a little questions, especially when they so eagerly dish it out.

Jefrey brings up a great point though. Why couldn't this game have gone to Winnipeg, St. John's, Victoria, or any number of cities that haven't had games for years?

And a question for Ben: since when did writing opinions that everyone has and shares count as journalism? Or did you just feel like patting everyone on the back?

TFC has great fans. We all know that, and love that. And the CSA sucks. We know that too.

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quote:Originally posted by RJB

Jefrey brings up a great point though. Why couldn't this game have gone to Winnipeg, St. John's, Victoria, or any number of cities that haven't had games for years?

I'll say it probably has to do with the CSA guaranteeing 6 national team games a year, when the senior men don't want to play on it.

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This game was put on my some Russian third party wasn't it? So you can't blame to CSA for not putting it somewhere else. I have also been told that a night club promoter is putting on the Brazil-Canada Game. The sounders aren't even involved. Pretty crazy stuff.

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quote:Originally posted by piltdownman

This game was put on my some Russian third party wasn't it? So you can't blame to CSA for not putting it somewhere else. I have also been told that a night club promoter is putting on the Brazil-Canada Game. The sounders aren't even involved. Pretty crazy stuff.

Yes, the match was put on by a company called Gepka. As I understand it, they are the outfit that bought the right from the AFA to put on all Argentine friendlies. that's why the Argentine NT never plays friendlies at home anymore (which, I'm told, has been a source of major frustration for fans back in Argentina).

I assume Gepka decided the venue but it's possible that the CSA dictated BMO to fulfill their annual obligation. that's info we'll never get our hands on.

The same promotor is organizing a match between Brazil's U20s and Wisla Krackow of Poland next weekend at BMO. What do you think the odds are that 10,000+ fans will show up, mostly Polish-Canadians itching to see their home country's biggest club team? I am pretty sure this one will be far more successful.

and yes, the Brazil-Canada match in Seattle is being organized by some promotor with no affiliation to the Sounders.

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