Monday, March 31, 2008

Doomed to Forget: The Legacy of Professional Football in Toronto


What do football legends Danny Blanchflower, Sir Stanley Matthews, Jimmy Hill, and Eusebio all have in common? They all played at one time for a professional club in Toronto. The fact that these and many more skilled pros came to the Big Smoke to play for crowds in the mere thousands back in the 60s and 70s is difficult to believe if one takes seriously Jim Brennan's defense of Mo Johnston's slow player acquisition, that getting players to play here is 'hard' and we should be patient.

Times have certainly changed in professional football, especially with the Bosman ruling in Europe which opened the door to outrageously inflated transfer fees for talented players in their prime. Yet Toronto's pro soccer pioneers knew the importance in acquiring foreign stars to complement our domestic professional leagues, luring them with the prospect of a new and grateful fan base and a comfortable home, if not bags and bags of Canadian cash.

Danny Dichio's success in Toronto after his humiliating fall out of favour at Preston North End should be a model of how to court impact players overseas, where bad press can mean the end of a career often well short of a player's footballing potential. After all, Sir Stanley played for Toronto City at the age of 46, and a year later won English Footballer of the Year for helping Stoke win the Second Division. Even with the quickened pace of the Premier League, those in the English press sounding the death knell on Beckham's career might want to crack a history book now and again.

So should Trader Mo. Youth development is important, and John Carver has the right idea in regard to his long term plans for a football academy in the heart of Canada's largest city. But for the club to build a trust among its hard-core supporters, Toronto FC needs to be more adventurous with its allocation money. Foreign players have always been a huge draw in Toronto, well before curiosity-seekers went in the tens of thousands to watch Pele play for the New York Cosmos in the late 70s. Tours of foreign clubs in Canada beginning in the 1950s, especially from England and Scotland, would often travel through Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver, stopping perhaps once on the way back in the Big Apple before returning home. Toronto's papers had full-page spreads of the English and Italian league results dating back to the 1920s and continuing well into the 80s with the decline of English club football. Varsity stadium would sell out to crowds cheering clubs like Juventus, Dinamo Zagreb, Benfica and Rangers play against whichever hapless local side was on display.

The bottom line is Canadians take the game seriously at the highest level. Most are saavy enough to know our chances as a Canadian club in the MLS in a highly competitive transfer market, and therefore most know there at least one or two marquee names that could stand to be added to the side. Unfortunately, the MLSE do not in any way resemble those adventurous weirdos in the great Canadian landscape of yore who were willing to put dollars and reputations on the line to bring the best the soccer world had to offer to a city that didn't ever seem to appreciate it. We are now, and now's the time to act.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Boring Boring Man United

Another day, another huge Villa loss to the great Manchester United, another step closer to the competitive irrelevance of the Premier League. How many top flight trophies is that now? Fifteen? I've lost count. The English league is starting to look like a broken record, with Ferguson's men making mincemeat out of teams propped up by a feeble UK press as worthy of a title challenge but turn out to be in the crucial stages, like Arsenal against Chelsea last weekend, not up to the task.

What is the point of a competitive league if its financial resources lay predictably at the top so as to make actual competition near impossible? The Premiership resembles a playground see-saw with one forlorn looking obese child straddling the low end, waiting for a playmate to come over and help him balance it out. With the league structure set-up the way it is now he'll be splayed down there for quite some time.

Disagree? Let's assume there is some sort of competitive parity in the league despite the overwhelming financial inequality between big clubs and small, and Manchester United are just that good. If this is truly 'The Best League in the World" and teams are on some basic equal footing, than English clubs should be dominating Europe and the Red Devils should be leading the charge. United have won the European Cup just twice in the past fifty years. The vast majority of their league titles have come since the advent of the Premier League. The only other club to have won in European competition since 1992 is Liverpool, who have never won the Premiership. If there is competitive parity in the league, surely more clubs would be represented in European competition. And if Manchester United were really that good, surely they should have collected more than a European Cup in 1999.

A second question: what pleasure does it bring to win the league almost every year when the league is clearly rigged in your favour? If I supported Manchester United with the domestic league in the shape it is today, I might go see Arsenal away and perhaps a few games in the latter stages of the Champions League in the hope of a rare breakthrough. Outside of that, there's not much point. I suspect that some Mancunians might feel the same way, having long settled to support the less gargantuan by now equally immoral club (thanks Thailand!) with the blue shirts. Others show up at Old Trafford to watch the Red Devils much in the way fans showed up in droves to see the Harlem Globetrotters; you always knew the outcome, but man could they ever play.

The ominous final question: what is the point exactly of following a league in which usually one of three likely clubs win it every year? The managers behind the Premier League with its Darwinian television rights scheme and it's emphasis on developing the big clubs as if they were global brands like Nike and Reebok (companies that have effectively joined forces with their footballing counterparts in search of idle cash), seem to have forgotten that at the end of all the flash and kitsch of the commercial enterprise there is a game to be played.

It may not be too long yet that supporters of other long-standing English clubs will feel that the jig is up and will stop going to watch games. Villa were to be the 'Big Fifth' beginning this season with a wide support base and bags of American cash. After this summer they might be in real contention for domestic competition, but other clubs have been down this road before (Leeds, Newcastle) and met the giant, long established money wall nailing England's club giants to their perch. Unless there is some direction from that Old Firm known as government, the league is going to be in big trouble proving its relevance, both outside the Isles and in.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Sound of Silence...is Good.

The internet is a horrible horrible place. It's anonymous, uninformed, full of regret and reproach, which, come to think of it, could also describe me in my first year of University. Even more horrible is that increasing corner of web space devoted to your average joe's grumblings about the game of football, the 'Footy Blog,' which for all its huffing and puffing is sorely lacking a solid first touch and a good finish.

I'm writing this, quite aware that I'm part of the problem. After a lot of recent surfing through the weedier swamps on the web, I've now come to wonder: who in their good mind wants to write about football? More importantly, why do I write about football? With myriad voices joining an ever-expanding chorus of malformed opinion, much of it belting the same off-key tune, why bother entering the fray when you can bet that some schmoe half-way around the world has 'been there, done that,' often years before you ever discovered the unmitigated mess that is blog culture?

I don't have a good reason. This is not a good blog. I'm sorry. How can I make it up to you? I could get into cold hard reporting, asking the tough questions from the comfort of my padded office or at home in the odd days I can spend any time there. But how exactly? Calling up the MLSE front office and demanding why Mo Johnson has his thumb up his arse while Toronto FC's cripples are a week away from the start of a new season? Fuck that. I can barely reach my TFC ticket rep as it is, and I have to do that on my astonishingly short break.

Do I have some unique opinion or story on the game that everyone else has somehow missed? I thought of providing a sort of leftish overview of the game for awhile, but that's been much more effectively accomplished by sites like Pitch Invasion and Gramsci's Kingdom. Look, sorry that I didn't get my PhD in some esoteric topic and have chosen write about global football issues in my spare time while sipping cappuccinos at my local Fair Trade cafe and palming through Noam Chomsky's latest tome. I've become convinced that if you like politics with your football, you'd be better off taking "The Communist Manifesto" to the park on a Saturday afternoon. It would be just about as entertaining as reading through some of the champagne socialist rhetoric available on the People's Game.

Maybe this could be a Villa blog. Certainly it was going in that direction for awhile. But wouldn't you rather listen to someone who's been actually able to visit Villa Park in the last, oh, my entire life? And how much ink can one spill over a team that gives regular-ish starts to real wunderkinds like Zat Knight and Wilfred Bouma? (Actually, Bouma's had a fairly solid season this year, so I take that back.)

Anyway, I give up. Perhaps football is best enjoyed in a state of Zen-like contemplation without the blah blah blah before, during and afterward. Perhaps the blogs, analysis, journalism only serves to ossify the fleeting bliss incurred from watching ninety minutes of ball-kicking on the flowerless green. I've had a recent taste of what this could be like. For a whole ten minutes here last Sunday on the Score, a technical error meant the Arsenal-Chelsea was heard in all its purity without the familiar incessant prattle of the two British commentators. Missed chances, hard tackles, insouciant defenders with their hands up in Clattenberg's face, all seen and heard without Big Brother interjecting to guide us through it and tell us everything's going to be alright. The error was dutifully corrected, but for a moment the football was left to speak for itself, unaccountable to our pathetic prejudices and opinions. After the moment had passed, much like Aquinas humbled in the light of the Divine Majesty, I looked back over my web spewings and thought, 'So much electronic straw.' But I'll be back I'm sure...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Plucky Lucky Sucky Villa

Is Aston Villa sixth in the Premier League table because they're extremely lucky? And if so, is this necessarily a bad thing? Seeing as I have the attention span and memory of your average goldfish, which should be clear from my post-rate over the past two weeks, I'm not going to flash some "mad punditry skills" and go through each Villa game to pinpoint where 'Always Prepared' ended and 'Monumentally and Undeservedly Lucky" began. If that's what you want I'm sure some happy soul at Goal.com would be grateful to oblige. Mine is a loftier aim.

In all things I try to be impartial, cold, neutral, even to the point of walking by the homeless people in my neighbourhood with nary a glance just so I can practice my journalistic indifference to the horrible plight of humanity. After all, 'journalistic integrity' is hardly a by-word among bloggers who can post basically whatever trash they'd like on the Interweb without annoying interference from some jackass know-it-all editor bleating on about 'balance' and 'fact-checking.' That said, it is my unbiased and therefore absolutely true opinion that Villa are shite and clearly have been all season, right back to when Liverpool beat us at home on our home opener in August. Shite yes, but the boys with 32Red on their shirts have also been very lucky.

Sure, we've won lots of games, mostly by scoring dodgy goals on set-pieces whilst offering clubs with superior passing-ability, tactical acumen, and goal-scoring instincts opportunity after opportunity to score which they refuse to do for reasons that could only be put down to extreme courtesy, unless of course Carson really really insists. Watching Villa is kind of like watching a group of sad-sack children whose dad lets them win.

Soon, and I'm thinking April and May here, dad will get tired of Johnny and Henrik running around pumping their fists and ruining the Gardenias, and will have to beat them REAL BAD so that they'll learn the value of humility. Once we've fallen to, oh, let's say ninth spot, O'Neill might realise what's been going on all this time and then press Randy Lerner and Charles 'Patton' Krulak for a bit more pocket money to pay the big boys down the street, the ones with the low-riders and the bandanas, to come and beat the shit out of dad. Until then, prepare for an end of season collapse like no other. See you on the other side.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Barnsley, Cardiff, and The Magic of the Cup

The magic of the cup, long derided by pundits who had thought the Big Four were making the tournament more routine than a Rodney Dangerfield vehicle, seems to have returned in spectacular fashion, with Barnsley outplaying, outdefending, and crucially of course outscoring a clockwork Cheslea, Portsmouth overcoming a particularly unlucky and, as usual, sore loosery ManU, and traveling wax museum Cardiff City complicating matters by getting a Welsh side involved in the semi finals of the Premier English domestic knockout competition.

Some papers, again, really my only source of any information, the Guardian, wondered aloud if the no-name sub-Premiership underdogs may be diluting the quality of competition now that the FA Cup has lost it's Fleet Street marquee names, replaced by sides more reminiscent of Brick Lane. Well, judging by some so-called Super Clasico match-ups this past year, including the Waterworld-ian flop that was Grand Slam Sunday in December, and by the often entertaining, all-English and all-pacey, open-defense games I've seen in the Championship on Setanta's off-days, this theory doesn't hold out.

Barnsley's fans storming the pitch post-victory, and the sheer amazement at seeing the ground erupt at the decisive header, almost brought a tear to this no-name author's eye, and was one of the best things I will remember this year in football, outside of course Gabriel Agbonlahor's second goal against Chelsea which essentially put Mourinho's head on the block. This is what those old folks at the local down the street have been talking about, the one that serves real ale, doesn't have a TV or any music and has no cell phone signs everywhere, the one you never go into, when they mention the 'Magic of the Cup,' which you would be forgiven for thinking was a Sky Sports jingle. This is why some in English Football understand the importance of the photo at the header of this blog, AVFC with their very first FA Cup, and the smug pride on the faces of those who won it so long ago. They earned the right to that smug pride because the Cup wasn't always a given, and judging by this year's topsy-turvy competition, which might turn out to be a happy aberrant event on par with Haley's Comet or a Lib Dem government, it may still not be. In any case, in an age when money seems to rule just about everything in the Beautiful Game, this year's FA Cup reminds us to heed Sepp Herberger's words:

"The ball is round, the game lasts ninety minutes, this much is fact. Everything else is theory."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sir Alex, Manchester United, and a Happy Retirement

Grizzled, angry, and wine-washed Sir Alex Ferguson has announced plans to retire ‘in three years time,’ which is either Sir Alex generously giving the club he built into a European multi-national corporation beginning some fifteen years ago (not-coincidentally with the launch of the Premier League) adequate time to find a worthy successor; or it’s Sir Alex taking the pressure off by transforming himself into a sitting duck for the next thousand days (although at the time of writing he’s already denied saying anything, the old bugger). He already appears to be something of a figurehead. A recent Guardian expose on Manchester United’s training regimen seemed to insinuate that Carlos Quiroz is now the Prime Minister to Sir Alex’s Queen, the latter making only the briefest appearance to his players on game-days and to inspect the guard during the ‘boxes’ in mid-week.

With the boardroom and training staff running smoothly, a repeat of the scenario when ManU’s last genius manager Sir Matt Busby left the club at the height of it’s success, only for the team to languish and fall into the Second Division while Liverpool took to their ‘fucking perch,’ doesn’t appear likely. Even the Glaziers’ debt and a growing resentment in Manchester and England toward the club, made evident in part with the popularity of renegade FC United of Manchester, won’t shake the Manchester United brand from top spot in the Premier League. An entire generation of football fans, many outside of England and Europe, have latched onto the seemingly perpetual Premiership Champions since the massive resurgence of English Club football, itself brought on by the well-publicized marriage of the league and satellite television in the early 1990s, and most don’t show any signs of changing loyalties with a changing of the managerial guard. The orthodox press in Britain would say the manager is everything, and therefore Manchester United should therefore be very, very worried. Successful clubs come from good management, they say, only then does the money pour in. My suspicion is that Sir Alex has known otherwise for a while now, and will be happy to see the sun set on his legacy in full knowledge that the fortunes of Manchester United FC will be sunny for a long, long time.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Montreal, Champions League and Cappuccinos


With great sadness, I left the world of Champions League football back in 2007. After an aimless year back home in Toronto after five years of living as a starving student/artist in Montreal, I finally got a full-time admin job at a major Canadian university in September 2006. Sadly, the 9-5 ‘Bankers’ hours meant that I was no longer able to plunk myself down cappuccino in hand at my local café on a Spring afternoon and witness a gang of eleven millionaires lose dejectedly every other week. This had been one few privileges enjoyed during my five-year, cheque-to-cheque life in Montreal, a city where no one would look at you sideways for spending your afternoons watching football instead of wasting away in the sort of inhuman office environments more native to my hometown Toronto. I may have been malnourished and in rags, still recovering from my McGill degree and confused about what sort of direction life was supposed to take after some eighteen years of formal schooling, but I was certain about football and the beautiful tension of those European nights enjoyed while the Montreal sun worked its way down Boulevard St. Laurent.

While league football has a comforting predictability welcome on a hung-over Saturday morning, Champions League football is an altogether more chaotic brand of kick-about perfectly suited to cure the mid-week, end-of-Winter blahs suffered by even the most hardened Montrealers. Sure, life has its problems, bills piled up, snow drifts everywhere, endless darkness. Yet all these seemed insignificant when faced with an away leg against Juventus, the ‘Old Lady’ capable of reducing the boys that played her to tears, or the prospect of playing Barcelona at Stamford Bridge buoyed only by a measly away goal. Football at its best helped put things into perspective.

I had a place I went -- most of us Montreal football types did, who couldn’t afford heat, never mind cable. Mine was Euro-Deli, a hole-in-the-wall café at the edge of Plateau Mont-Royal. By night, it was a Montreal-hipster staple where cheap slices could be enjoyed alongside a cold Americano. By day though, and there were far too many, it was the hangout of choice for us neighbourhood football nerds clamouring to take-in whatever TSN had on offer on a Champions League afternoon. In some desperate moments, like when a mouth-watering tie emerged from the fog of a group of sixteen first-leg matches but had escaped the attentions of the cable network programming staff, we might have to pay the illegal cover at the dingy sports bar up the street to watch games on absurd Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Asian satellite channels. But for the most part, Euro-Deli was our home away from home; no cover charge, service with a smile, and football served up on the big ‘small-screen’ TV up on the corner ledge (after some minor pleading with the cooler-than-thou cashier to change it from MuchMoreMusic).

We made up a motley crew of ne’er do wells, some of us half- or even one quarter-employed, each from different national and ethnic backgrounds and not always harmonious in support or opinions but in complete agreement on one thing: it was better back in the eighties when it was the European Cup and men were men and each league champion played each other in a straight two leg knockout with none of this group stage baloney it’s a money-grab but yeah I’m gonna watch anyway in November so what is it to you? A lot of talkers in both official languages. We had a French-speaking Tunisian, an aristocrat and a true neutral but with a slight inclination to the Italian sides who smoked weird French cigarettes and looked like character straight out of a Joseph Conrad novel. We had an Italian-Montrealer who did tiling at some point in the day, when exactly no one could tell, and had a hard inclination to the Italian sides, mostly Roma with a tinge of disgust leveled toward those ‘bastardos’ Internazionale. We had a piano-playing, womanizing St. Laurent drifter named Chuck, a guy you could spot a mile-away with his enormous disordered dollop of white hair who shouted ‘Go Leafs!’ when the play was less than exciting which varied depending on a number of factors, mostly the number of German clubs involved. We had a Benfica-maniac that worked behind the counter who would leave the queued-up Quebecois clientele in a tizzy when he’d leave the cash to revel in Porto’s inevitable (except that one year) knockout. And we had a rotating cast of guys off the street, regulars for two weeks who would disappear into the Montreal winter and re-appear without warning five months later for a semi-final, only to disappear for four more months. We were loved and hated by the staff, with a lot of the latter and smidgens of the former, especially on -30 degree days when no one else would have been stupid enough to go outside. But we would be there rain or shine on a Tuesday or a Wednesday to remind everyone that football was here to cut through even the most pretentious of pretentious neighbourhoods.

Those days are behind me now but I know that yesterday the same cast and crew would have been in attendance with their pizza slices and their lattes, probably with more than a few new faces, happy to see Roma knockout those overachievers Real Madrid in the second leg of the round of sixteen. It’s a phenomenon that is out of reach in cities like Toronto, cities where young men, until they get their priorities in order, are going to be forever condemned to watch reruns of the Champions League in the dull domestic silence of the living room, never knowing the fleeting joy of an afternoon on the edge of Spring savoured in a café in the dubious company of other football-loving Peter Pans.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Toronto FC Season Preview


The stage is being slowly set for Toronto FC, Season Two, and while expectations are high, like all things ‘Toronto’ they’re also measured. Toronto is an odd berg, a town with an unrealistic sense of self, proclaimed as a World Class City by the same city councillors and corporate promoters who are scared-to-death of taking the initiative to earn the right to be so-called. But embarrassing self-esteem issues aside, Torontonians do a few things very well. For example, we’re good at movies, if not in the making then certainly in the culture—for a city of our size and nickel-and-dime arts-funding, to be home to one of the most important and recognized film festival in the business is a minor triumph. We watch movies in droves, packing theatres for the most esoteric repertoire imaginable, from Japanese horror to old Soviet propaganda. Quiz a Torontonian, and chances are they’ve seen a movie in the past month and can name most if not all the most recent best picture nominees. We’ve known this for a while and now the rest of the world seems to be catching on; Toronto is the choice market for studios test-driving risqué art-house offerings before putting them out in wide release.

The discovery however in 2007 that we might be really, really good at football—again, not in the playing, but in the culture—was a big surprise. The good folks at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, used to catering to the corporate lackeys and suited technocrats who fill out the aptly-named ‘Gold’ section at the Air Canada Centre, didn’t know how the city would respond to their brand new Major League Soccer club at the start of 2007. Would it mimic the small-market US clubs that feature soccer moms piling their kids in the van to go to a half-empty stadium on a Sunday afternoon? Or would TFC be just another corporate tie-in, a cheaper alternative to the Maple Leafs for the annual ‘team-building’ company outing? Early advertising played it safe (if a little creepily) by targeting both markets, putting out posters with crazed, face-painted accountants jumping excitedly alongside ten-year olds.

Expectations weren’t exactly raised when some local pundits, led predominantly by Dave Perkins at the Toronto Star, predicted with relish that TFC would be an embarrassing financial disaster for the MLSE. For these types, the fact that the MLSE would go out of their way to promote a fruity niche sport in the heart of Hockey Town typified just how out of touch the Maple Leaf’s corporate managers had become. Even worse, public money would be contributed to a ‘soccer-specific’ stadium at the CNE at a time when sports funding from all levels of government was sporadic at best. These opinions were evidence that soccer-bashing, long thought to be a side-hobby for right-wing windbags in the States, had a home in Southern Ontario. Meanwhile those itching for a professional football club held their tongues lest they come out as fools or MLSE stooges six months down the road.

Vindication would come much earlier than expected, April 28 2007 to be exact. The scoreboard, showing a turgid one-nil victory for visiting Kansas City, did not even begin to tell the story. The fact it was a sellout crowd in an uncomfortably cold open-air stadium was for some success enough, although this had been on the cards back in January when it was announced some 10 000 plus season tickets had been sold five months before kick-off at BMO Field. What really mattered on the day was who was packed in the stands. Was it the multi-culti ‘new-immigrant’ crowd that many patronizing liberal media outlets (CBC, Toronto Star) assumed was the driving force behind these early ticket sales? Or the suburban families from GTA satellite cities where soccer is an ingrained part of the SUV/Minivan culture? Or gangs of suits eager to test drive Toronto’s latest ‘sporting venue’?

The crowd consisted of something altogether stranger and more wonderful. Young men, mostly in their twenties and thirties, with the odd old codger thrown in here and there, packed the south stand and filled out most of the east and west stands, singing away, slagging the ref, challenging each and every card, whistle, raised off-side flag, over-looked handball, berating home players for missed passes, shouting profanities and drinking their fair share of over-priced Heineken. In other words, the crowd was like any you’d see across Europe from Glasgow to Genoa on a Saturday afternoon.

Where had they come from, and how had they been overlooked in the build-up to Toronto FC’s first season? Certainly support like this was generally unknown in the sterile, pastel-coloured and milquetoast world of North American professional sports, which may have been one reason why the MLSE didn’t see this interesting broadside coming. But the real reason for this youthful turnout was rooted in the unofficial, underground culture of the city itself, the core of what makes Toronto great in defiance of the World Class propaganda pushed by its self-appointed chattering classes.

When the CBC isn’t glowingly covering the tossed-salad World Cup celebrations witnessed in downtown Toronto every four years, young men in their pajamas across the GTA are huddling in front of the television on Saturday morning watching a myriad number of live football broadcasts on offer from Italy, Spain, Germany, Holland, England, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina. These same young men had been quietly monitoring the progress of Toronto FC on the Internet from the start, and in the process discovered others like themselves devoted to the new club. Momentum for TFC gathered rapidly under the radar of the MLSE, who had perhaps overlooked the phenomenon due to years of dealing with the Leafs Nation for whom chat boards and blogs are not a part of the culture. This makes sense if you consider Leaf games are on during prime time, watched at home with the family or out at the local bar. Opinions on the game can be shared between friends at work or your next-door neighbours, heard on talk radio 24/7 and read in the morning paper. Hockey is everywhere.

European club football on the other hand is broadcast live on the weekend in the AM or early afternoon Eastern Standard Time. You can’t go down to your local to watch the game because it’s not open yet, and if it were you’d be hard pressed to find more than three or four rabid Liverpool supporters decked out in shirts and scarves. You’d be even luckier to find someone at work that could identify more than one soccer player whose name didn’t end in Beckham or Zidane. And as for newspaper coverage, there might be the occasional Associated Press round-up on a slow weekend, but certainly nothing in the way of commentary or analysis. The internet therefore is a godsend for the isolated football fan in Toronto, who glories in an amazing variety of live games but is left to fend for him or herself at the end of the match. As such, it was a godsend for TFC when the creation of the club was announced in October 2005.

The crux of all this is not that Toronto FC has an amazing following after only one season – it’s that Toronto is a football city, nourished on an incredible array of live games available on most cable packages and helped along by a healthy and active internet culture. Toronto boasts a disproportionate number of blogs, on-line fanzines, Facebook and MySpace groups dedicated to all aspects of the game. Toronto FC supporters are among the most knowledgeable and sophisticated in the MLS, discussing everything from the newly appointed fitness coach down to the relative merits of trading Ronnie O’Brien for allocation money for the purchase of another tiring but great European player.

Now that the happy surprise of 2007 is over, the next step for TFC, and indeed for the Canadian Soccer Association, which not only failed to take advantage of the new-found attention to the game at home, both with TFC and the recent FIFA Under 19 World Cup, but also to get its house in order with recent controversy over the hiring and firing of Fred Nykamp, is to bring the game out of the shadows of the Internet and into the mainstream of Canadian society. The only way for this to happen is for the MLSE, the CSA and the domestic media to ramp up their efforts to offer support and coverage that Canadian football fans deserve. This may be as if not more important than where TFC end up in the standings at the end of October.