Waking the Red hopes to be able to continue to share fan stories of how we came to love Toronto FC throughout the 2017 season. If you’d be interesting in telling yours, please feel free to email us at email@example.com or post it directly via the Fanposts section.
By Martin Omes
I feel like a skipped record here, having been asked to share my experience of being a Toronto FC supporter, when I thought it would be a piece of cake! Then I realized how much has happened over the years and how much the club has become a second home and family not only to myself but also my relatives.
My story is going to be a little different - I will be sharing a lot of my experiences of being a Toronto FC supporter outside of the actual game and match days.
It all began at the very beginning, when Toronto FC was formed. Being an avid fan of everything sports-related, I wanted to make sure I was part of the professional launch of the game that I have been playing my whole life.
I had an interesting life in the soccer world growing up and had the opportunity to play in Europe and against many past and current TFC players. I know in my head that I got to witness the growth of something amazing. However, in my playing career I wasn't so lucky and was injury prone as a goalkeeper, which has eventually led to me slowing down to the current day!
When TFC first started, everyone around me was very excited at not only having our own professional team, but also about the possibility that we might actually get noticed and be able to live out our dreams. I was a young kid at the time working my way up to playing with Toronto Croatia in the CSL when I was 15, seeing guys like Jonathan Osorio lead the league in scoring, Clint Irwin playing in goal against me in Brantford and those who got glimpses of the TFC life in Joey Melo and Andrea Lombardo.
It is a surreal feeling to this day to know that I played on the same pitch as them at one point in time. The arrival of Toronto FC really injected life into me and soccer in the GTA as a whole; local soccer clubs suddenly became much more interested with an achievable professional goal to reach.
When TFC’s inaugural season finally came around, I would take my brother and my mom to as many games as possible. Our seats were the second-highest row in section 220, where we spent the majority of games eating flies and trying to get our side of the stadium into a cheer of ‘west side stand up!’ to get some excitement going.
Although, the quality of the team wasn't the greatest at the time, I knew straight away that this was my team. At the time, I really struggled to find one sport and team to put all my support towards as my interest in hockey had faded during the NHL lockout. Toronto FC came into my life and created a new interest for the three of us to track and follow, and a way to spend afternoons and evenings as a family and enjoy every second of it.
I feel like when I go to games now that out of the three of us, I am the least recognizable now that I have grown up. I am no longer that loud teenager, but one of the members of the amazing group the Red Patch Boys. My brother is now stationed against the railing at 112 waving some form of a flag and doing his best to showcase his strength, being a little guy, to the rest of the crowd, always offering to take the biggest flags!
My mom is honestly the coolest mom ever and if you have met her at a game, I hope you agree! She knows every single chant and brings a bullhorn to project her voice as we are right next to drums. She will jump in on every chant, say hi to everyone and always offer her help if there is anything that is needed in the section. Her energy and excitement reminds me how lucky I am to have someone as amazing as her.
Whenever my brother Eric or I would pick up an interest into something (let's say gaming), instead of fighting it, my mom would always try to do some research and gain an understanding herself. Now, when we go to gaming events she comes with us and knows the majority of the games and players in attendance!
We didn't end up in 112 straight after 220; we spent the majority of our TFC years in the first official row of the supporters’ section in 110. This is where the true supporter came out in the three of us. Like any newcomers, we were joining in with the experience and still working on where and when to cheer. My brother, being around eight years old at the time, would stand on his seat so he could see the field and try to start chants himself, which got everyone around him extremely hyped!
The first question I was always asked from people who saw us in the supporters’ section or who heard of us going to the game was, ‘Are you sure it's safe? We have heard some rough language in that area, are you sure you should be having Eric hear that?’
Honestly, I couldn't think of a better way for my brother to learn what to say and not to say than at a TFC game. He heard everything in the book, laughed at majority of what was said and learned not to say it himself. Neither my brother nor I swear; it's a personal choice, but I feel like TFC helped us hear everything we would have thought of saying anyway.
We gained our first feeling of becoming a family due to one person in that section. If you have a seat in 110 I am sure you know of Nelson, who is one of the most die-hard TFC and soccer fans I have ever met. He creates a fun atmosphere around himself, jokes around with people in the seats around him and constantly makes sure that everyone is having a great time. He would adopt Eric as his TFC son for the game and have him stand next to him and join in with him as the game went on.
The moment I know my brother enjoyed the most was near the end of the game, when Nelson would break into what was called “Portuguese commentary time”. I honestly have no idea what he would say, but he would speak very fast and become extremely passionate. Every single time, it brought my brother and everyone around us into laughing fits, and it created a tradition in our section.
From another member in our section coming up with one of our most memorable chants in (coarse language warning) ‘Beat the Impact’ to jeering the other team's goalie on a goal kick, our little group in 110 had something going that was unlike even the south end.
So thank you, Nelson, I hope you read this - you were a big deal for us growing up and we still look for you at every single game. I feel like it gave us a great growth into the TFC fan experience and allowed us to slowly work ourselves up into the crazy supporters we are today, right in the thick of things.
Through the rough years of Nick Garcia and Freddy Hall, people who had seats around us sold them and the family became a little different in that we would plainly have new people at every game, and the traditions that we had weren't exactly there anymore. It was time for us to move to 112.
Right away, we ran into Pete and Chris, who took us under their wing and helped us to get involved in the experience. I really don't think there is a family like us in our section. I love spending time with my brother and mom and nothing beats going to a TFC game with them. In 112 with the Red Patch, I would start to get into the pre-game Shoeless Joe’s experience and just sit and chat with other RPB members.
Guys like Pete always made me feel like home. He does that for all supporters - he will go around introducing himself and get others involved and help to bring in more people. He has helped me get involved with the TFC fan experience in many ways that only he knows how, and with leaders like him on the scene it gives me inspiration that in the future Eric and myself can play that role of helping to bring new people to TFC games.
As Max - who posted about his experience earlier - spoke about, I now play on the TFC supporters’ makeshift team called Hell's Satans FC after someone I met a while a back gave me an opportunity to continue to do something I love.
While I was injured at university and hating being on the bench, though, I had the opportunity to start calling the play-by-play for the team. I was a goalie who never stayed quiet in net, so why not just put a mic in front of me?
It worked out wonderfully, and gave me an opportunity to stay involved in the game I love. When I came back to Ontario after finishing my undergrad, Cal - a teammate - told me about League 1 Ontario and helped me get set up casting games for them. For that, I am not sure if he knows, I owe him great thanks. Calling the games of players that I was once in the same position as, I understand what goes through their heads as they look to try and get from the younger squads to the big clubs.
Who knows - in a few years some of these players I'm calling for TFC lll may end up becoming future stars in MLS, and I will have seen that player grow right in front of me. Hopefully in the future I can continue to grow, too, to where maybe I will get the chance to call a first-team game.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the story, I really wanted to highlight a couple of events that happened away from a match day that really helped us get involved in the TFC.
The first one was the RPB Indoor League. I am betting most people didn't even know we had one but back in 2010, for one indoor season we had our own league out in Burlington. I was just a 16-year-old kid reading the forums, and the league needed one more captain to help pick teams for the league. So I figured why not, this would be a great way to meet fellow supporters.
I really don't think they knew what to expect between the time when I volunteered online to when they actually met me and saw that I was a short young kid, ready with my pen and paper to scout! We held a ‘tryout’ where everyone who wanted to participate got picked in a draft format for the league to have the closest we could get to even teams. Having also got my coaching license at 16, I felt as though I was getting used to being the young one. It lit a fire in me to prove that I could do it and that age was just a number.
I had a blast with my team, made a ton of friends and my older sister, who came with me to play, was clearly the MVP of the league! If anybody who is still here remembers that league, you did not want to mess with her! To this day, as a goalie there has never been a greater defender I have enjoyed playing with than her. Although off the field we may have difficulties getting along with the usual sibling fights and such, on the field we worked together as a perfect team. This league not only brought me closer to TFC, but brought me closer to her.
I still share stories about the one guy who doubted her and called her a Barbie one game. Let's just say it had a funny ending! We won the whole league, and it really gave me a huge help in my own coaching to be able to refer back to this memory and remind myself that anything is possible.
The following winter we were hosting the MLS Cup, and at Lamport Stadium we were hosting a Supporters’ Cup. I was invited to play on the Red Patch Boys’ team for the tournament and we didn't know what to expect coming in. We were just a bunch of guys thrown together to go against teams like K-W United, Tribal Rhythm Nation and so on, who were on another level from us. We had an absolute blast despite losing majority of our games and one memory stands out for me in that tournament.
We were losing to K-W United pretty handily - it was a team of semi-pros - and as they were continuing to score, I got fed up in net. I told Colman (one of the defenders on the RPB squad) to let the next player go by, and told Cal (who I play with on the Hell’s Satans squad) to get his gloves on. I think everyone at that tournament recalls me hip-checking the next player and somehow only getting a yellow card from the ref, who seemed to understand our position. Despite the results, it was really a bonding experience for our team and to this day we still laugh about that one tournament we played together.
I promise you, only couple more to go! Promise to make them short! Trust me, if you are reading this and are hopefully laughing along and were thinking of getting involved of being a supporter, please do!
One of the players from the RPB team in the Supporters’ Cup decided to get group tickets to a Raptors game and get a whole bunch of RPB to go, to get our voices warmed up for the upcoming TFC season. This was when the Raptors were struggling and seats were easier to get. I just recall being in the far corner of the arena, and I honestly couldn't tell you anything about the game on the court. All I remember was three rows of us waving scarves and flags at the top of the ACC, yelling out our chants as loud as possible. The ACC stopped playing music during intermissions because we were providing our own soundtrack!
It's a small experience but to this day, I hope to do the same at a Blue Jays game. I feel like it demonstrated how much we can amplify the in-game experience as supporters and how much of an effect we can help to provide for the home team. In a Blue Jays game with twice the amount of people, I feel like we can do it... so if anyone reads this and wants to try, let's go!
There have been so many great TFC experiences, as well, that I have been able to go to, such as the iconic supporters’ dinner with Tim Leiweke and Ryan Nelsen at Real Sports. What most people might not realize is that Leiweke really cared about what the supporters had to say and really gave our thoughts a true listen through. Unfortunately, it did lead to leaks because of some of the discussions had, such as him letting us know they tried to go for Frank Lampard but were led on to another player (Jermain Defoe), got out.
This was at a time where town halls were a common thing for TFC fans and everyone became frustrated with them because of the team's performance, so I think he lightened the mood and helped to slowly steer us in a better direction (though poor Kevin Payne sort of found out he was being let go at this get-together).
Lastly, this experience is more of a recent one and it correlates with everything that I have talked about so far. Growing up as a TFC supporter, this was the pinnacle for me! Finding out that the Red Patch Boys were going to be recording the chants to help foster new fans and give everyone some time to learn them was the most amazing experience.
First of all, I never thought I would ever be in a recording studio, but it really helped us to hear how all of our chants came together and how much our individual voices come into each chant and give them a little bit of flair (Ken in 111, you always make me chuckle when you add the extra shouts!). At this moment, I knew I was a true Red Patch Boys and TFC supporter and that this is not only a fling, but a full-on marriage!
Thank you to everyone who took the time to give this a read, and managed to get to the end. The TL;DR of this story is: don't be afraid to put yourself out there. You will enjoy new experiences you never expected and improve your overall well-being. I am happy I took a chance when I was younger to get involved and to have got to where I am today, I have watched my family go through the same experiences and realization of how much TFC has impacted them.
If you ever see me on the railing or next to the drum at 112, say hi, or come and join in. I get how it feels to be the new person and how nervous you might be, but come, let go of whatever else is going on in your life and enjoy the beautiful game!