It's finally upon us!
In exactly a week, Major League Soccer (MLS) will be kicking-off yet another season.
In Toronto, much is still a mystery until a ball is kicked. Though the team has completed preseason and returned home, fans are only cautiously optimistic as to what this season can bring. The front office has worked tirelessly to bring in the vital missing pieces, but supporters know better than to have preconceived notions about this team.
However, the purpose of this article is not to discuss players, coaches, or even expectations. The idea is to convey a feeling about how the Toronto FC culture has developed leading into the club's tenth season.
It's a sunny Saturday morning in Toronto.
TFC supporters from all across the Greater Toronto Area wake up with a sense of anticipation that only football can bring. Many will meet later at pubs near the stadium and see familiar faces from seasons past. There is a sense of family and belonging with the people you see every weekend for the past ten seasons.
They become your family away from family. You've experienced a wide range of emotions with these people. Heartbreak, elation, and other feelings you can't describe. You've traveled to distant places together. It's all for the same cause, it's all for Toronto FC.
The club itself, now in its tenth season, knows how to cater to the fans. There is something available for any type of supporter. There are the quieter sections of the ground that provide great sight-lines for those wanting to enjoy the football. There are raucous supporter sections offering some of the best atmosphere in the league. These sections are home to Toronto FC's biggest supporter groups, Inebriatti, U-Sector, Kings in the North, and the Red Patch Boys.
Each group ensures that a proper game day atmosphere exists within BMO Field's walls. The matchday hospitality crew takes care of those lucky enough to attend the match in one of the stadium's corporate lounges. The experience will be that much better when the roof is completed over the stadium.
Watching high above the ground is Bitchy the Hawk. Apart from being the mascot of Toronto FC, Bitchy keeps seagulls away from the BMO Field pitch (Editor's note: in theory). She will forever go down in Toronto FC folklore. The stadium is also equipped with a Wall of Honour. Currently, only Jim Brennan and Danny Dichio adorn the wall. No doubt, others will be added in due time.
As kick-off approaches, fans start to march together to the stadium. There is singing in the streets and a sense of renewed hope that each game is a blank slate where anything can happen. One of the liveliest moments of the entire matchday experience is walking underneath the GO Station tracks with hundreds of other supporters. The chants echo in this little tunnel separating Liberty Village from the Exhibition Grounds, on which BMO Field is situated.
Finally, tickets are scanned, at the gate, and supporters make their way into the stands. The players walk onto the pitch for the warm-up, as the atmosphere picks up around the stadium. The Red Patch Boys are there with a massive drum beating away in section 112. The other supporters groups have raised their voices to cheer on the boys.
During the game, Capos lead the chanting and singing in the supporters end. They do an amazing job during each and every game. Not many people realize how hard and difficult it is to get hundreds of people to sing together. The Capos should be thanked for the effort they put into every match.
There is bedlam in the stands when TFC score. The entire stadium joins in on celebrating and starts to chant "TFC TFC TFC". Red smoke starts to go up in the supporters section. The club and supporters have worked together to ensure that smoke-bombs are dispatched in a controlled manner and do not compromise the safety of any fan.
The atmosphere inside the stadium is a sight to behold when TFC are leading in a match. If TFC win, the stadium will erupt and roar their approval at the final whistle. However, regardless of the result, the players will always come over to thank fans after the match. They realize that football without fans is nothing.
Heading out of the stadium after the match is great if Toronto FC wins. There is usually chanting and jumping outside of the gates, as supporters celebrate what has transpired inside. The walk back to the pubs is increasingly more fun as well. The Go Station tunnel is even louder after the match. Supporters will enjoy their Saturday night and share moments with their fellow compatriots.
The matchday experience in Toronto has developed from talk on message boards in 2006 to full-blown supporter's culture in 2016. In the ten short years, that the club has existed, much work has been undertaken by individuals to shape the culture around Toronto FC.
Whether that is people in supporters groups or writers that volunteer to write on blogs such as this one, each member of the Toronto FC supporter family has been vital in giving this club an identity. There will be many more things that the club and its supporters will adopt over the coming years. After all, this is the first generation that has followed TFC and there will undoubtedly be more that will follow when future generations grow up with this club. For now, however, everyone has given this club pillars on which to build.