By DUANE ROLLINS
It was a perfect storm of anger and frustration. Starting with a nasty 3-0 loss to Houston, shockingly continuing through a 2-0 loss in the Nutrilite Voyageurs’ Cup to USL-1 champion Vancouver and finally ending with a 2-1 spanking to the LA Galaxy, it was not the best week to be a Toronto FC fan. And many of the fans were quick to voice their displeasure with the team’s direction and form.
Seconds after the Voyageurs’ Cup loss I received a text message from one of the group’s leaders that simply read “Why do we put ourselves through this.”The feeling wasn’t isolated and quickly leaders from the three main groups started to discuss the possibility of holding some form of protest.
The youngest of the groups, The North End Elite, was the most vocal. It demanded a meeting with the TFC front office. Surprisingly the request was granted. The other two main groups, the Red Patch Boys and U-Sector, were also invited. The meeting was scheduled for Friday, allowing for two days of hyperbole on the various discussion forums.
The meeting wasn’t pretty.
With captain Jimmy Brennan and coach Chris Cummins in attendance (the groups said that they wanted the team to know that their anger was directed at management rather than the team on the pitch), North End Elite announced that they were walking out of the LA game. Red Patch Boys said they would not walk out, but would protest by not buying concessions and not wearing TFC merchandise in the stands. U-Sector, although sympathetic to the frustrations, did not support an in-stadium protest.
All three groups followed through with their promises. North End Elite arrived at the game with flags and banners, stayed for the national anthems and the kick-off, then, as advertised, left. The Red Patch Boys section was far less red than usual and U-Sector showed up as per usual (even going so far as thanking the Red Patch Boys for the shorter beer lines in the stadium!).
For those that have followed the domestic game in Canada it was an odd sort of (to be charitable) empowerment or (to be less chartable) self-involvement shown by the fans. For years the Canuck footy freak took what he or she could get and liked it. It would have been unheard of for them to demand more. But something happened back in the magical summer of 2007. Then, week after week a stunned football community looked on to see this mob of fun loving, unapologetic soccer fans. The sport had finally arrived. It had everyone’s attention.
So it was time to start airing long standing grievances. The first target was the CSA, which had been crippled by ineffective and amateur leadership for years. When Costa Rica came to Toronto to play a friendly in September 2007 the fans mobilized. They filled the south end of BMO Field wearing black t-shirts that read “Sack the CSA.” The action was reported throughout Canada and around the world. More importantly, it got the attention of the CSA and although change is not happening as fast as some would like, there is little doubt that the organization is far more professional and far more focused on winning now than it was prior to “Black Wednesday.”
Now TFC’s management is the target. And, although it can be fairly argued that last week’s protests may have been premature, there is little doubt that the fan has become an important player in Canadian soccer.
Sure, to use a cliché, the inmates are kind of running the asylum. Thing is, it’s a step up from some of the leadership we’ve seen in Canada in the past.