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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Supporter apathy, not anger, the biggest threat to Toronto FC

"Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is."
- Rollo May
For the first few years of Toronto FC's existence, the club, so desperate for a positive spin, dined out on the media propelled designation that BMO Field had "the best fans in the league". Boisterous, loud and loyal, the supporters were the only thing worth putting on a billboard to promote a club so bereft of quality on the pitch. While TFC fans are still amongst the best in the league, loyal almost to a fault, the comments in the same media that held up local support as a beacon in MLS now wonder where the electricity has gone.
The knowledgeable and devoted support at TFC have been behind their club through thick and the very many thins. However, when things were obviously wrong in the past, there was palpable, vocal frustration often bordering on anger. The club-destroying reign of the MLSE-backed Mo Johnston, the carpet bagging pricing schemes over the Real Madrid friendly and often the general play on the field were met with passionate discourse. Five years on though, new sins are being met with deep sighs, a resigned shrug of the shoulders and most notably absence.
From our in-person vantage in the South Stand, the vaunted bastion of The Reds sometimes fiery support, we have the pleasure of being surrounded by a cross-section of fans. Older fans who have immigrated from nations where football is like breathing; younger fans who were seduced by Toronto FC's "real football" atmosphere; long-time Canadian fans thrilled to have big league football in town; and in the near distance, the club's established supporters groups. While the attitudes vary and some are still as happy to sing "The Dichio Song" as they were in 2008, a wide spectrum of these fans have seemed to stop feeling as passionate. They are indeed angry after five years of rebuilding a club that was never built in the first place, but the fire in them to kick up a fuss is dwindling. There is almost a feeling that any anger is almost futile against an ownership that wouldn't hear the loudest of yells.
Whether it is right or wrong, the sense that the ownership is only in this for a quick buck has seeped through the stands. TFC supporters have been so loyal while watching other teams enter the league and achieve success quickly while The Reds stay in neutral. The effect has been seen in the stands this season with many empty seats - despite the 19 or 20 thousand "announced" attendance at every match. The casual support is breaking away to other forms of entertainment that don't leave you quite as frustrated at the end of two hours. While we, along with many other dedicated supporters will stick with the club, BMO Field may soon start to resemble stadiums in Columbus, New England and Dallas with small pockets of hardcore support, heavily outnumbered by swaths of empty seats. These are the stadiums we used to look down upon as being... well... apathetic.
Excuses like bad weather, match schedules or UEFA Champions League matches never used to affect the attendance and buzz at BMO Field but that has changed. There is almost a boredom sometimes at matches which emanates from the toxic mixture of the currently poor football and the steps the club has taken to mute the supporter culture in the stands - the only thing the trophy-phobic club was built on. If MLSE/ TFC think that replacing true organic support and good football with thundersticks, cheerleaders and promises of "a bright future" will work, they are mistaken. Apathy may very well turn into something worse - the fans once used to promote the club, turning their backs on it for good.