Will there be a “World Cup Bump” for Toronto FC?
Toronto FC has come very far in four years, but in these past couple of weeks I have seen that the club still has a long way to go in order to become truly accepted by the vast numbers of soccer fans there appear to be in Toronto. More will come around eventually, and some never will. It is just going to take a long long time. And as fan of both the Canadian and English national teams, and of course Toronto FC, if there is anything I am – it is definitely patient… at least when it comes to soccer. TFC is not truly yet fully a part of the soccer consciousness of what is at times a soccer mad city… but it can be, and I think I know how.
For those of you loyal readers who do not live in “The Big Smoke” (no that is not a G20 pun!), downtown Toronto is a pretty colourful place during the World Cup. Every four years the city embraces the beautiful game in a way that is perhaps unique around the world. In my part of the city for example Portuguese and Brazilian flags adorn many shops and homes. A few blocks to the east South Korean flags abound. Up the street is St. Clair West, the pulsing heart of Little Italy. A fifteen minute ride on the subway gets me to the Danforth, one of the largest ex-pat Greek communities that there is on earth – and that street is always decked out in blue and white from head to toe when the Greek national team is in a tournament like this. And thrown in for good measure there is the occasional English, Dutch, Nigerian or Spanish flag on display everywhere you look. Vehicles all over Metropolitan Toronto have been festooned with those little car flags for weeks now.
And everybody gets along. Watching my English crash out of the tournament at one of the most popular English Pubs in the city on Sunday past (props to the Duke of Gloucester!!) there were even some fans supporting Germany that were there in the midst of rabid English supporters. And guess what? We all got along pretty well. For that matter it is this “getting along” mixed with the multicultural reality of the city and the common love of the sport that make this such a great place to be during this tournament.
Toronto’s multicultural jumble embraces the sport of soccer during the World Cup but as of yet this mass of citizens has truly yet to embrace Toronto FC to the degree one might expect. I have gone out of my way during the World Cup to talk to Torontonians that I work with and whom I interact with on the street about their knowledge and/or interest about Toronto FC. I even try and evangelize a little when I get a chance about how great the soccer experience that TFC is and that it is definitely worth a look. Yet frankly I have been surprised with the lack of knowledge/interest that I have encountered about all things TFC.
There is snobbery there to a degree (at least in some cases). “’Canadian’ or ‘North American’ footy can’t be good can it?” “The level of play is not as good as the Portuguese Liga or the Dutch Eredivisie so it must suck!” “I support Juventus / Arsenal / Barcelona /England / Argentina / Ghana etc. and anything else is crap!” I hate this type of argument almost as much as I hate Landycakes and The Columbus Crew. Snobs will be snobs. I am not going to worry about that segment of the populace.
As well there is emotional attachment to country/club that is hard to break into. Part of what makes footy fandom so special in my eyes is the utter loyalty individuals display for the chosen club/country they support through feast and famine. Yet it is not uncommon seeing TFC fans at BMO Field wearing both TFC gear and gear from another overseas club/country at the same time. Some are obviously comfortable ceding part of their soccer hearts to Toronto FC and some are not. And it will take many many years for that to change to a more significant degree.
Lack of knowledge is definitely there as well if you can believe it. Four years in and the club is still unknown in some circles in Toronto. For example, going to the Kansas City game on June 5thas I was getting off the bus to go to our pre-game watering hole I passed by a couple wearing a Brazil and Portugal jersey respectively. The lady in the Brazilian strip asked me what Toronto FC actually was as she had seen a lot of people heading towards Liberty Village wearing the same jerseys that afternoon and was curious at to what was going on. I then proceeded to try in the seconds I had (I was “thirsty”) to tell her that Toronto now had a professional soccer team playing in a good league in a soccer specific stadium… and it was just over there, as I pointed towards BMO…I know this is anecdotal but I think that in certain communities within Toronto this is regrettably still the case. And only time and success for TFC on the pitch I feel will open the eyes of those not familiar with what has been happening.
And perhaps the biggest question to ask is truly how much do the fans that come out of the background to cheer during the World Cup care about the sport in the same fashion as the committed TFC fan does? With due respect to all, I think a large segment of the fans that cheer so hard during the World Cup in Toronto care more about their heritage, pride in where they come from, sharing experiences with friends and family of the same background and feeling connected to their ancestral homes then they do about the sport of soccer per se. And that is perfectly fine in and of itself. Frankly that to me is one of the most wonderful things about the sport in general and the World Cup in particular, especially how it manifests itself in Toronto. However when July 12th comes around the car flags come down, the flags get folded and put away and these people get on with their lives without the distraction of a local football team.
Will the hundreds of thousands of fans of the sport of soccer in Toronto ever embrace TFC the way they embrace the national sides like Italy and Brazil? I do not think for a moment they ever will in equivalent numbers, not in my lifetime at least. I think it is going to take one single event to get Toronto FC into the consciousness of the Torontonians not yet fans of Toronto FC…. Canada needs to qualify for the World Cup and Toronto FC players need to be front and centre in the effort to get there. If Canada draws Italy or England or Brazil in the 2014 World Cup and starting centre half Nana Attakora for example plays in the match that one single moment will do more for the visibility of TFC in Toronto than any billboard, any commercial, any conversation or any trophy will do between now and then.
If you truly want TFC to break through into the sporting mainstream in Toronto then get behind Team Canada!