Continuing to build our Toronto football fan's Christmas wishlist, today Partially Obstructed View's James Grossi adds this: Dear Santa, I want an Increased Sense of Community.
Following continuing revolutions at the CSA and Toronto FC, new beginnings for Vancouver and Montreal, the growth of Edmonton and Victoria, and the potential for a domestic league on the horizon, it is a brave new world for the Canadian soccer community.
The CSA, though changing slowly, looks set to transform itself into a functional body with the best interests of the game at heart. Toronto FC finally has a stable - and impressive - management core and can focus on developing the academy and fielding a winning team. Vancouver - with their first trying season behind them - are set to kick off a second at the big dance, while Montreal will finally make their long overdue appearance at the top level of the game in North America. Edmonton and Victoria, shining lights for what investment in the sport can do, even in those considered smaller markets.
Though the job is not done there is cause to celebrate; that is what I want for Christmas: an increased sense of community; some positivity and some pride.
I recently spent some time in England and one of the things that struck me most - especially at the lower levels - was how important the act of coming together as a community was to the football experience. At the big clubs it was marked by the pilgrimage to the match, the acknowledgement of fellow fans encountered on the way, the time spent in the pub - both before and after - and the proliferation of fanzines - the cult manual of being a member of something bigger than an individual. At the smaller ones, it was about families and friends, meeting up at the local ground to support their team, despite bigger, fancier, more successful options down the road.
There was something genuine about the camaraderie that in these cynical times should be sought out and cherished. The English national team - though overhyped and subsequently ridiculed - are a symbol for their nation; a rallying point, a conversation starter, for better or worse.
We've done a good job of building a community of our own here. The club supporter's groups have come together and grown with time; the crowds for national team matches have grown - in number and in partisanship; the Voyageurs across the country setting up viewing parties in each and every city - the bigger ones at least - have fostered a culture around the game. I had the pleasure of attending U-Sector's Xmas get together the other night, and despite not knowing anyone, I was welcomed into the fold. If there is one fault, it's that there is only a small swath of the population that falls into these groups.
What needs to happen now is to take that collective passion and extend it further; to reach out to the uninitiated. Organize your own viewing party; head out to catch your local team - Support Local Football; help coach a youth side, even if all you can offer is a love of the game - though if that be the case limit yourself to the youngest age groups to spread the passion without constricting development; engage fans of European Football who have not gotten behind the sport in this country - challenge them to attend a live game or a group viewing and not be entertained; spark debate, understand the shortcomings and obstacles, but maintain and desire; hope for the best.
The Tartan Army is famous for their good-hearted nature, and the charity work they perform while abroad. Maybe that is something we as fans should be doing more often - in fairness I know the supporter's groups do this already, but there's always room for more. If you're heading down to Cuba in numbers, find a worthy cause to contribute some time towards.
For a domestic division II to have any chance at success that sense of community must be engaged even further; local and national pride can be a driving force for sporting success.
Sport has long been a defining aspect of this country, the Summit Series, the Olympics, the World Juniors; these are times when we come together as a nation, events that help define the nebulous Canadian - well that and a failure to properly enunciate the variations in the phrase "I will be merry, when marry Mary.", all three sound the same, don't they. Despite our relative youth as a nation we have some of the oldest competitions - the Grey and Stanley Cups - as well as some of the most storied clubs in sport - the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadians.
The pride we feel as a nation supporting our athletes in red is one of the few times we set aside our humble ways and are proud of this great country; something we should do more often. And it only makes sense that as this nation continues to grow we embrace the world's game in a way never seen before.
We all have a part to play in this, to share our love of the game with those around us. Bring your parent to a match, your child, your relative or friend. Make the game bigger than just a game; a force for good.
In Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski considered Canada one of the worst underperforming soccer nations in the world, hopefully the next few decades will see that ignominy rectified. That is the challenge, to pull ourselves up to where we should be. Get on it.
With that in mind, those of your in Toronto consider yourself invited to Xmas drinks with Mr. Fletcher and myself on Wednesday at the Duke of Gloucester. First match kicks off at 2:40 pm; details can be found here.
Merry Christmas - or if you prefer, Happy Holidays - and a Happy New Year, All the Best,
James Grossi partiallyobstructeview.com