I Did Not See Any Black Bears While Camping – But I Did See A Couple Of Red Bulls
I missed only my second TFC home game ever last Saturday, as I had the chance to get out of town for a few days to go camping with a bunch of friends, old and new. And knowing that the campsite (a motorcycle club campsite in Welland actually ) had a clubhouse with a TV in it gave me the chance to see both the TFC game and the Champions League final as well, I said “what the heck…. Let’s go camping!”
While there I met a ton of new people, including a couple from New York City that are long time New York Red Bull supporters and are also active in the supporters groups scene. Of course they see me rocking some TFC gear and the conversation turns to all things footy quite quickly. We specifically chatted about the supporter’s culture around both clubs and how they are both similar in some aspects but very different in others. I also wanted to know how the new Red Bull Arena is changing things for the supporters other than just attendance.
Why I am talking about the Red Bulls on a TFC blog you might ask? The reason is because there are some lessons from their supporters experience that we as TFC supporters can learn from and perhaps benefit from going forward.
In the supporters section of Red Bull Arena there are steel boxes containing sand so that designated individuals can “responsibly” use smoke bombs to create atmosphere in the stadium and have a safe club approved means to dispose of them. I for one wish TFC would allow the same. Red Bulls purposely installed these boxes because they understand that when done correctly and responsibly, smoke can add a tremendous amount to the experience of all fans.
Like TFC does in the south end of BMO Field, there are Capo stands for the supporters groups in Red Bull Arena. Unlike TFC, where the capos generally coordinate chants and work well together, the Capos in New York are often apparently working against one another more often than not. In New York there is a lot of conflict between different supporters groups when it comes to chants. A number of chants are Spanish in origin or English of course. Different factions will not sing the chants of another linguistic group while some will. And some Capos apparently use the Capo stand to push agendas when it comes to language and ethnicity. This leads to a lot of infighting between individual groups.
I know that some supporters in Toronto are not fans of the “Capo” model. But I can speak from experience that there are no agendas here like there apparently are in New York. And the fan experience at BMO Field is the better for it. Supporters need to work to ensure that this is the way things remain.
Old vs. New
With Red Bull Arena being a 25 minute subway ride from Manhattan there are larger crowds and newer fans showing up all the time. Some of them are becoming interested in the supporters culture and are either starting new supporters groups or joining more established ones. This is leading to a lot of friction between the old guard who have been there since day one (like the couple I met) and the newer supporters showing up and wanting in to the party. The long time supporters are often feeling that these newcomers are either not true supporters or are not respecting the traditions that they have built since the old Metro Stars days. Integrating newcomers into established groups can be a challenging bit of business. Both in the New York and Toronto examples, finding a way to encourage newcomers to join in has to be tempered with making sure that you do not lose the “culture” that has already been established.
Lessons For Toronto
Toronto FC has a number of different supporters groups that choose somewhat different styles of support to embrace. I personally know individuals in just about all of these groups and count many of them as close friends. They choose their own “style” of support and gravitate towards groups with like minded individuals within them. This is as it should be. Some groups are more overt in their passion. Some groups are more structured or unstructured shall we say and the fact that there is diversity in approach makes it easier for a fan to find a place that suits them.
Sometimes these “styles” of support do not mesh. Sometimes these differences, while minor in reality, appear to be huge in perception. Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt and personality conflicts between individuals are blown out of proportion. Some people who called themselves friends and comrades in year one do not speak to one another in year four. And in my eyes that is a great shame.
At the end of the day we are all here for the same things, love of club, fun, camaraderie and a passion for the sport.
A lot of New York supporters are completely forgetting that there are far more important aspects to supporters culture than politics, agendas and conflict. The issues they are facing are much more intractable than anything TFC supporters groups are facing and they will be much more difficult to overcome. I hope that the situation in New York is a cautionary tale for Toronto. Yes there are differences between TFC supporters groups, but the differences are trivial in comparison to the issues in New York. Toronto FC is a stronger club, and BMO Field a tougher place for opponents to win in, if supporters groups are working closer together and are more united in purpose.
The “All For One” slogan on the back of TFC jerseys may have been created by a marketing person, but to me it truly has meaning and relevance.
We forget that at out peril.