Why Friendlies Matter – Toronto FC v Bolton Wanderers
Tomorrow evening I, and thousands of other TFC fans will be going to BMO Field to see our Reds play English premiership side Bolton Wanderers. In anticipation of this game I got to thinking about my father, who recently passed away, and why these games are still worth doing.
Roy Drodge, passed away last November at the age of eighty. Being from Newfoundland where the economy has never been as strong as the people living there deserved it to be, Dad (a Boilermaker by trade) often had to leave for extended periods when I was a kid and go away to places like BC, Alberta or Labrador for work to support his family. Those absences only made the reunions when they took place that much more special. After university I moved to Toronto back in the early nineties and between us, myself and my parents always found the time to get together at least twice or three times every year. In his later years Dad and Mom would come to Toronto and spend the summer with my sister and myself enjoying the city and time with two of their three kids.
Back home in his retirement he fished… a lot…. And the trout always seemed larger in the telling then they did in the eating. He finally got his basement completed to his satisfaction. He cooked breakfast for his two granddaughters almost every day. He sang in the church choir and perhaps most importantly he spent every day loving my Mom, whom he married way back in 1957. Suffice it to say, Dad was in my eyes one of the finest human beings I have ever known. I miss him and think about him every single day. And in his last years he became an avid Toronto FC fan. And it all was because of a friendly.
You see back in 2007 my parents were spending the summer here in Toronto and I finally got the chance to get an extra ticket for a TFC game, in this case the friendly against Aston Villa. Of course I told Dad that he was coming with me. On game day I kitted him out in my TFC hat, jersey and scarf and we took the subway downtown. We got to the ground and we went to our seats in the south end. Dad’s money was no good that night. He was my guest. I bought the beer. I bought the hot dogs. I bought him his own TFC scarf. It was a beautiful warm evening, and as the game was starting I told Dad that we would be standing, as was the custom, for the entire game. “No problem” Dad said. As the game progressed I starting to lead my section in a couple of chants like “…Come On You Reds…” and when hundreds yelled back in reply to my chanting he was laughing like I never saw him laugh before. And when Andrea Lombardo (yes that Andrea Lombardo) scored that beautiful tic-tac-toe goal he cheered. When Todd Dunivant did his Lambeau leap Dad cheered. And when the ref missed the offsides Dad cursed just like his son usually does.
Toronto went on to lose that game 4-2. But that of course did not matter one single bit. I knew as an avid fan myself that the game in and of itself meant nothing in the greater scheme of things. I was already a season ticket holder at that point and went to every game. I was as committed a fan then as I am now. I was actually pissed off that an important player for us at the time (Ronnie O’Brien) picked up an injury in what at the time I thought was a meaningless game that precluded him from having any impact in the league for the rest of the season.
But that game was not for me, the committed fan. It was for my father. Dad left the stadium that evening a true Toronto FC supporter. He never missed a single game on TV back home after that day. Dad was never a soccer fan of any kind before that sunny evening in section 113 but after sharing the experience with his son and with hundreds of his son’s friends and fellow supporters he truly understood what soccer was all about and why TFC was something special. Dad eventually got to one more game before he died, a Voyageurs Cup game on Canada Day.
So for those fans that are griping about the friendly I say this. If you don’t want to go then don’t go. Give your tickets to friends or family members that have never been to a game before. Take a friend or family member yourself if you can and share the experience with them. Just remember that the game is a friendly. It is not for us. It’s for the Roy Drodge’s of the world.