What's wrong with Toronto FC? In a town where negativity sells, it's a writer's dream but as a supporter, it's my own personal nightmare. Something I imagine many of you are struggling with as well.
If you have been a part of TFC over its six years in the league, you know it to be true. You feel it with apathy in the stands. You see it in the form of empty seats. You express it on message boards. You may have expressed it with your wallet.
But deep down, you also know that if you care enough to read this article, a little piece inside you wants it back.
Not this new it, the despair, frustration, apathy and/or antipathy. The old it from the first few years.
You know what it is. If you've ever stood in the rain on a cold April day, you know what it is. If you've ever made the trek to join the hordes of travelling fans in Columbus or Montreal, or been one of a few at more far flung locations throughout Concacaf, you know what it is. If you've ever sang with complete strangers as if you've known them for years, you know what it is. It is something special and we all want it back.
It probably means different things to different people, fun, camaraderie, self respect, optimism and much more, but it comes down to one word. Pride.
Pride in being a TFC supporter, not in a defiant "I'm going to stick through the bad times, I'm no gloryhunter" way, but the genuine pride of supporting a team worth supporting, one that attracts envy, not pity or mockery from those on the outside. Pride in being a small part of an organisation that actually values the part you play, that appreciates your loyalty rather than exploits it.
The truth is, it is almost gone. I could (and have) point(ed) fingers at why this is the case. The reasons read like a multiple choice exam.
a) ticket prices
b) lack of direction in management
c) lack of direction in upper management
d) poor relations with the front office
e) the effort from the players
f) all of the above
In the end, the reasons really don't matter. It doesn't matter how we got here. We are here. While we don't excuse the past, being stuck in it keeps us from moving forward. And getting it back is the focus of the message that the Red Patch Boys, one of Toronto FC's largest Supporters Groups, is hoping to get across this coming weekend.
Make Us Proud Again.
Those four words spread across a 28 foot banner will be visible to cameras and fans throughout the stadium this weekend when TFC takes to the pitch against DC United. The efforts of a few dedicated individuals, motivated to make this club better. Motivated by more than just a desire to see improvement in the standings.
If there are constants in the world, taxes and fans pissed off at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment are two of the most reliable concepts known in these parts. After yet another season of disappointment, the pressure from fans to find an outlet and send a message was there. No one felt it more than Red Patch Boys President, Phil Tobin.
"Fans are upset, I'm upset", offered Tobin. "The challenge has been trying to find a common theme. Where do you start?"
The challenge for Tobin and the group was to find a way to unify the sentiment amongst the fan base and express a single message. "When there is no consensus, messages can get lost," he offered. "Some fans have specific concerns, others just want to do something, anything to express their feelings."
That's when the words "Make Us Proud Again" emerged as part of a message board discussion.
"We aren't looking for sympathy," said Tobin. "We don't want to be dismissed by the mainstream media as complainers who ultimately choose to follow a losing team. We know it's bad. We wanted it to be a call to action for all partners. To move on from the past and set things right. If anything, we are looking for empathy, not sympathy. Most importantly, we are looking to stakeholders to tell us what they are going to do to make us proud again."
When I first heard the words, I instantly connected with it and I believe many of my fellow fans will as well. It delivers one common message for each of the stakeholders in this club with a vision that can be tied to action.
Front Office, make us proud again.
You have gouged us all on ticket prices. Yes, fans have been treated unfairly. It wasn't always this way. Year one ticket prices were reasonable. There was a feeling of value and through various events a connection to the team was formed. That connection has withered and needs to be rebuilt. Similar to 2012 prices won't cut it. There is an opportunity to do the right thing. Seize it. Make us proud again.
Players, make us proud again.
A revolving door hasn't helped but it is concerning when a player like Richard Eckersley says "(players) should be giving everything, every single game. At the minute, I don't know if we're giving enough effort out there and it shows on the pitch." Players, you have a role in turning this around. Train hard. Win your battles. Play with pride. Even if you are playing for your next contract, play like you mean it. Make us proud again.
Managers, make us proud again.
Whether or not I believe that Mariner and/or Cochrane are the men for the job, I know that they are trying. If you are the men in charge for next season, give us the truth. Highlight what you are doing with scouting, with markets you are evaluating. Let me believe, with good honest to goodness facts, that you are doing everything in your power to turn this around. Leaving no stone unturned. Hiring all available resources. No excuses. Trust us, we know that not winning hurts. Stop talking and take action. Make us proud again.
Owners, make us proud again.
Rogers, Bell and Larry Tannenbaum, I am looking at you. You have bought into an empire that has a number of restless townsfolk. I get that TFC's total payroll is less than the annual salary of Phil Kessel. Treat each of your teams as if they were your most precious resources. For many of us, that is how we feel about this club. Have the courage to make tough decisions. If that means hiring a new President for TFC, to report to Tom Anselmi, and that means that we have to gut the front office, so be it. Get it right and act as if the club's future depended on it. It's been six years and we are miles from where we started. You do not have unlimited minutes to get it right. Make us proud again.
Lastly to the fans, make us proud again.
It hasn't been easy. Toronto FC's turmoil has resulted in divides amongst its supporters groups and general fan base. There's a lot of anger, worse than that, there's a lot of apathy. There are differences of opinion over how best to support the team. Through thick and thin or with the tough love approach of boycotts or protests to make concerns heard. Set aside all of that, whether you are a part of the Red Patch Boys, U-Sector, Tribal Rhythm Nation, the Original 109, the North End Elite, or not involved with any group. Whether you're a season ticket holder, a partial pack holder or simply a go when you can fan. If you have attended the World Cup Qualifiers with Canada, you know how powerful a unified voice can be. TFC support was once the envy of the league, it can be that way again.
Each of us is on their own path in this relationship. Some need to trust before they can forgive. Others find it easier to forgive and forget. All are doing what they think best to help the club. Wherever you fall, there (hopefully) will be a time in which this thing does turn around. At that point it is incumbent on us all to move on and ultimately, make us proud again.
If you're going to be at BMO Field on Saturday, cheer the team on and enjoy the game the best you can. If you want to do more than that, there's ways to get involved before, during or after the game.
- The Red Patch Boys are offering a tailgate breakfast starting at 10:00am on Saturday in the East Parking Lot. Set aside the negativity and celebrate that we are still here to do something about it. That and enjoy a sausage, breakfast burrito, coffee or hot chocolate
- Create and bring in your own "2-stick" message. Just be sure that you are in a section that approves the use of banners and follow TFC's guidelines
- Post game - fans are asked to assemble at Gate 4 and make their voices heard.
- Any time - let the Front Office know how you feel. While we tend to be critical, they are generally responsive and will return your calls
Like anything, items are subject to change so please check this thread on the Red Patch Boys message board for any and all updates to the above.