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Thursday, May 23, 2013

"It's not us, it's you" - The fun has left BMO Field as TFC's only claim to fame fizzles

"Can you feel the passion? Umm...guys? Can you feel it?"

It was always going to be this way. As far back as the first home fixture in 2007, Toronto FC was based on a house of cards that was "the great atmosphere". It didn't help when the assembled North American football media got in line to stroke the club and its supporters’ egos for managing to introduce a "European match atmosphere" to MLS. The club, so wrapped up in this unexpected phenomenon, took a path that would see them bathe in their fans' "ultra" imagery and lean on this as the be all and end all of Toronto's re-born football scene. This golden calf invariably lead them to doing the one thing that would eventually slay this unexpected idol - they didn't bother to build a football club for it.
 
This is old news to 99% of you reading this. The many re-births, the conveyor belt of management and the eternal continuation of "Five-Year Plans" have become the stuff of local farce. Until recently however, the supporters who have graciously, and against all odds, continued to attend TFC matches met the club's lifelong struggles with gallows humour and a frustrated resilience. The once exalted atmosphere, while steadily decreasing, seemed strong enough to at least allow the ground's denizens a fun day out. For those of you who go to TFC matches regularly are likely aware, and as a note to those that do not, the fun has gone.
 
It is palpable in the air. Joviality towards our lovable bumbling squad has turned into hostility and - far worse - deafening apathy. There is not an ounce of blame available to put on a single supporter or group who still attends due to their genuine affection for TFC (or at least the sport) as most are all out of spirit. The club has beaten it out of their fans through a battle of below-mediocre attrition that few fans would be willing to endure. Yes there are fans of other clubs around the world who have suffered through worse but they likely support a club with history and past glories to lean on. In Toronto, supporters can only lean on paper-thin promises of better days ahead. A Herculean sales pitch that MLSE likely didn't expect to have to make.
 
The question thus becomes - how will the club sell a day out at a match? There is a palpable fear that the ownership will begin to panic soon. The original recipe for success was selling a football experience that was as close to "old world" sensibilities as you could find in North America. There was a refreshing lack of bottled Arena Football-esque bottled atmosphere. The near organic supporter culture papered over the rapidly exposed ills of a poorly managed team. But when this is gone, how will an ownership that has a PhD in "Sizzle over Steak" react?

The matchday experience for those of us who still attend is likely at a crossroads. While the plummeting trust in the new management regime's latest re-build plan will likely have the biggest effect on future attendance - whether or not those die-hards who remain are having "fun" could be the balance between TFC drifting into complete irrelevance. Will the club succumb to the blaring suburban dross that plagues many North American stadiums in a last-ditch attempt to re-invent matchdays as a "family event"? Or, will they preserve what remains to keep the long-suffering football fans hopeful while the club struggles to repair? If they are wondering, this is what fun to your football supporters is - and this is what is not:
 
FUN:
- Winning matches. Simple. Yes it is the least glamorous and definitely the most difficult (at least at TFC) but there is no comparison to the post-match spirit after victory.
- While the above is filed under "long-term" the meantime can be bandaged with a little "decent" football or at the very least - competitive. TFC fans are (obviously) a forgiving lot - a little effort will go a long way. Again, these are on-field things not matchday but the point is that there is no need for sizzle if this exists.
- Working with fans, not against them. While the club sometimes has a hard time walking the thin line between atmosphere and public safety, a better middle-ground needs to be met to nurture supporter culture. You can't try to promote the club with "ultra" supporters in clouds of smoke and fire then crack down on them when they actually attempt to do it for real.
- Feeling connected to the club in a real and organic way. Doing things at a grassroots level is still an area where TFC does pretty well. Having a community connection with players and staff can heal a few wounds as seen with player-supporter relations and even down to regular daily Twitter chats with the likes of excellent TFC employee Asif Hossain.
- Okay we’re wishing here - but a roof on the south stand would be a good time too.
- Basically feeling like you’re at the football… not at a Monster Truck Show.
 
NOT FUN:
- The never-ending and seemingly increasing corporate promotions that permeate every potentially free moment before, after and during a match, This includes being yelled at on the video screen by a promotional rep conducting a usually inane halftime contest aka shameless corporate blather.
- Anything with the words "Bud" or "Zone" in it. While we are very aware of the needs of corporate sponsorship to modern day football clubs, the intrusive north end cacophony is growing way too close to some of our southern brethren who have a stage in one end of the ground as opposed to stands.
- "Faux-Ultra' pyrotechnics. You can't re-create what you don't allow your fans to do. If you don't want supporters using flares and smoke - don't try to emulate Croatia with four road flares on a stick and daytime fireworks after a shot on goal. It's false and it actually looks really poor.
- One for the on-field management. Stop trying to appease the beaten fanbase with constant "rumours" of 5-6 new players, DP's "you have heard of" and whatever other promopologies you imagine will mop our angry brow. Just fix it - and don't tell those who may know a little less about the game that success is just round the corner. It’s false and will bite you on the ass in the long run.
- The bird garbage. Please. We look like Bargain Harold's Benfica. Please stop the anti-climactic and cringe-worthy "presentation" of Bitchy. If she doesn't try to escape, she ends up hanging upside down on her ring-perch. Then again... sort of appropriate.
- Basically, stop moving too close to a Monster Truck Show.
 
You can feel it in the air at BMO Field. The one last bastion of attendance - hanging out with like-minded folks to support the local team and have an often sarcastic laugh - isn't enough anymore. The sturdiest folks are tired of being stuck in traffic or drowning their sorrows after a match with an empty feeling. Only hard-work towards the on-field product will re-energize the TFC base. That’s not the sexy solution – it’s the truth. If the ownership thinks that making the matchday experience louder, flashier, more pyrotechnikky (?), swaggier and Hawkish (bird not political) is the way forward then they will be making the same mistake they made in 2007... Choosing sizzle over steak.

13 comments:

  1. Your gut feel for bleak prospects leading to tacky crowd pleasing hoopla has merit. We have all had hints of that nightmare over the years, but we have avoided the kiss cam so far.
    On the field I would say that it would only take one game. Perhaps Danny K makes Laba look like the right ingredient we hope he is. I still think the fans are kindling waiting for the spark.
    As for your other points, yes Bitchy seems to be a ceremony without direction and Rachel the happy host seems all the more jarring when the team is floundering.

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  2. So sick of winers and complainers. What do you want? And Benfica is way better than TFC, you don't even know about soccer do you?

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    1. Clap! clap! clap!

      I can only assume this is a pretend troll, in which case well done, magnificent stuff.

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    2. So sick of people who can't search properly. What do you want? And Benfica is spelled way different than TFC, you don't even know about spelling, search engines or the differences between the two football clubs, do you?

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  3. But wait! Aren't TFC fans "the greatest sawker fans in the league?" Haha loser-city. #CrackMayor

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  4. Thanks for this. Glad I'm not feeling alone anymore. Devoted TFC fan who hasn't had fun at BMO in too long. And please if anyone from TFC reads this - cut down on the promo noise - it makes me want to buy product X even less.

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  5. Halftime shilling for sofa seats at north end ..I want a sofa , i'll stay home ..

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  6. Agreed with most of the article above, especially the damn bird! The commute in used to be a no brainer, the excitement and the atmosphere made it worth while. Now...not so much.

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  7. croatia? flare masters?
    I think youre confusing flares with neonazis signs... you can find many of them remembering the good old days of WW2 when they and the germans ruled the roost.

    For solid flare work, the greeks, polish and turkish walls of fire are legendary.

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  8. I feel sad for TFC fans, you're organization needs to develop it's own players and it is going to take a good manager probably 3-5 years before you can really compete again.

    From outside I see all the managerial changes and I know that means TFC will never have enough time to actually build a system or style of play and therefore will not be able to develop players into an actual "team." I'm curious if it is the fans that over react to managers and demand them be fired so frequently or is it the front office that is trigger happy and it catches the fans by surprise?

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    1. I meant to say, great article as well.

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