Sunday, March 30, 2008
Springtime in Columbus - season opener 2008
I completed my first TFC road trip this weekend. I traveled with a good friend and fellow season ticket holder. He's a fan I have previously called Craven Cottage for his love of Fulham, but he is in search of a new name as his team teeters on the brink of relegation from the EPL.
The drive is a long uneventful one as the snow vanishes and the state troopers abound. I think I have never spent so much of my time in the USA strictly observing the speed limits. We set off at 5am Saturday morning and crossed at Fort Erie / Buffalo. Conditions were good, traffic scarce and light (no surprise when you start driving before dawn on a Saturday). At the border after giving the guard our destination and reason for going he asked "Is this the same league with "what's his Puss" ? Give Beckham credit for taking on America and hoping to raise the game's profile, but there are times when you wonder if anything can penetrate... There are sports fans on both sides of the border who take the attitude that they like what they like because they like it
It was fun to drive out of snowy winter landscapes into Ohio spring. Snow and ice are completely gone there, but the green has yet to arrive. Stopping rarely, only washrooms, gas refills and one hotel stop to ensure a room on the homeward segment, we arrived around 1:30 pm.
After a period of rest we picked up our tickets from Will Call and entered the stadium. Everyone on staff were excellent. Friendly talk and smiles and answers to our questions. I think that travelling support is still a novelty for most MLS venues. The usher for my section, 209, was especially personable. He helped Toronto fans with taking pictures and joked with them. He was also on top of any breaches of regulations. I had been so absorbed in the second half that I did not realize that I was standing on bench seats instead of the flooring. He gently, but firmly called me on it. Doing his job, but with a touch of courtesy.
The Crew Stadium is a soccer specific one, double decks on each side, capacity. I think it is less intimate than BMO, the field seems wider and the players appear to be remote. I was in the second deck on the east side and I would say that they lack the steep angle that makes the west side upper deck at BMO feel like you are on top of the play.
I am not fond of the end section designs. The north end has been renovated during this recent off-season and has been turned into a rock concert stage. It looks ugly and out of place, as if a car had crashed through the wall of your living room and you were trying to pass it off as an improvement. It gives off an impression of surrender, as if Columbus felt that they could not sell soccer tickets there, so let's try something else. It does their ultra supporters a disservice as it shunts them away from the action.
The south end is just as bad. A number of sections stretch across the ground beneath their big scoreboard and behind the section it's surrounded by a concrete plaza that leads to food and drink concessions. The biggest flaw is a huge awning across the front of the section that protects an eating area behind the net and below the section. It keeps the fans in the south end a huge distance away from the action. That this was a blessing considering the actions of the Toronto travelling contingent is the subject of my next post.
I am fussy about this idea of a restaurant living near a soccer pitch like Las Vegas tables in a performing area. I do not want to eat during a game. Before and after is just fine, but during the game I am so aware of soccer, the drama before me, that I am not hungry. Having a food section under the awning ( I think they call the area Party on the Pitch) would be a form of torture for me. Could you see the game properly ? Would I freak out as my concentration was broken by those around me ordering or eating or chatting ? Does Ohio have the death penalty ?
Although I am a huge fan of eyeing pretty women (you can ask my wife), I do think that the constant use of cheerleaders in pro sports is bewildering and often pointless. They rarely lead cheers in the college sports manner. They seem to be designed to give the venue a reason to play music and serve as a distraction to cover for the multiple television timeouts required. However, although Columbus cheerleaders are of this classic pro North American style (they are the Crewsers) , they are mercifully under -used. You see them for introductions , a little half time show and not much else. In the second half they were arrayed around the big concert stage as if they are doubling as security guards or roadies. When they first came onto the field in their full dozen or two formation at the start of the game, I was convinced that Columbus had more pom pommed Crewsers than singing and flag waving fans. However the Columbus goals and win seemed to magically inflate the supporters section. You can't knock that. Had Toronto won it would have worked the other way. Winners grow, the defeated shrink away.
We did not stay beyond the final whistle. It was fairly easy to make your way to the parking lot and we had parked strategically close to an exit. In minutes we were on the Interstate heading out of town. Toronto has a lot to learn about the need to get traffic away from a sports event quickly by closing a few roads and directing cars in a one way fashion.
It had been a long day and our strategy of stopping after a few hours of driving paid off big time. We were at our hotel in Richfield Ohio just as the sun was setting. I could blog, have a beer and a burger and watch sports on TV (Note to Holiday Inn Express - get HDNET and HD tv so that I could have seen Colorado play LA Galaxy).
I know that I will do the Ontario to Ohio road trip again. I would be happy to spend more time and money there. Next time I hope to get a chance to meet more Crew fans to gain some perspective on following MLS for all the years as we Toronto folks are playing catch -up. Next time I hope we score on those rare (for TFC) penalty kicks. Next time will be next year and may we improve enough by then to win.