Thursday, November 29, 2012

(If I) cornered Payne at the party.....TFC 101

TFC had a random draw yesterday for season seat holders to award the lucky few entrance to a party this Saturday at Real Sports Bar and Grill (ACC) for the watching of MLS Cup 2012. Almost needless to say, I did not win. Should I squawk about my misfortune? I am always in conflict about these functions. Writing a blog for six years shows that I have a strong interest in the club, the sport and the fans. On the other hand I am wary of anything that leads to the slippery slope of "insider" or "pathetic wanna-be." I am happy to express myself, but I am not so sure about being listened to. This conflict just might be what keeps the blog going....

Perhaps it is for the best. The new club president and general manager, Kevin Payne, may have a clause in his contract that allows him to back out of the job if he is accosted by a crazy man at a party in his first week. Here is what I would tell Mr. K Payne if I were able to monopolize his ear for a minute or two.

1. The location of BMO field is not a location, it is the location in Toronto sports history. It is as close as we get to sacred ground. Argos and Blue Jays were once the big teams in the old Exhibition Stadium. Yes, the Jays and Argos have won championships since moving to their downtown location, but sorry corporate bosses, the Rogers Dome will never get close to sacred. Winning down by the lake in the open air on the CNE grounds may only be 10% of why a TFC fan wants to win, but I argue that it is a significant factor and no other sporting ground in the city (now that Maple Leaf Gardens is no more) has that pull. Of course, I am the man who named his TFC blog "Mistake by the Lake" in honour of the old Exhibition Stadium and the memories that float around in these parts. You might, Mr. Payne, want to spend some time at Downsview, but the story of getting to know this city and this team lies by the lake.

2. We are a sophisticated football crowd with split allegiances built into our growing up with this game. That is why the motto of the club is "All for One". It acknowledges that TFC is interested in bonding together those who are split apart come World Cup or Euro, Champions League and pretty well every weekend when we watch the game on tv. Oh and when we talk about watching the game on tv, we are talking EPL, La Liga, Serie A and the like. We are not watching MLS.
 Therefore we are suspicious of the MLS parity concept. We understand that big clubs in the football club world beyond our shores stay big clubs by selling and buying talent. Sure, developing your own talent at the club would be nice, but we are in a country that qualified only for the 1986 World Cup. We have learned not to hold our breaths on the developing your own talent side of things. We want to be a dominant club and have a hard time believing that it can be reached with three DPs and a host of bargain basement players. The Galaxy have done it that way and we would not turn success away if that pattern was repeated in Toronto. We think that spending money and having an eye for talent is more likely to do the trick.

3. We Torontonians have a second tier complex, we want to be considered a big time city but fear we are second rate somehow. This fear has been part of the story behind the fickle Toronto fan.  For every true fan who will stick through thick and thin, there are 10 (20?30?) fans who are fickle bandwagon jumpers. Toronto does a horrible job of supporting losing teams, teams that are perceived as being minor league and anything that isn't considered a hot property. If somebody tries to tell you that this is a hockey town, just smile and nod. Remember that for every ticket bought for a Maple Leaf game there is an empty seat for a Junior A hockey game or a university game in our part of the province. This is not a hockey town, it is a fickle town and the Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be the only exception to that rule when it comes to selling tickets and getting media attention.
I am not a believer in lumping all of the city's teams together as either a positive or negative indication. Too many fans, or at least those ranting on the TFC fan message boards, get themselves into knots when they lament the direction that TFC is taking. The next thing you know they are throwing out MLSE, Leafs and Raptors as if they are interchangeable items.
I am only interested in TFC. I am only interested in MLSE in terms of their operation of TFC. Mr. Payne if you can be wildly successful, you could own this town.

4. Have fun, learn and laugh, be the boss and aim for great heights. Oh, and invite that blogger Still Kicking (Mark Kennedy in section 220) to more parties.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

End the pain with Payne?

It seems that Toronto FC are on the verge of hiring Kevin Payne of DC United to be their team president. He has stepped down from his role in Washington and official word of his Toronto appointment is expected.
I had commented that the recent town hall meeting raised questions about the front office alignment. If the questions were "who is in charge?" and "who does the firing when things continue to slide?", we may have our answer very soon. Kevin Payne.
On one hand, sir, you will find Torontonians more than a little sceptical that an American is the answer to what ails TFC. On the other hand, you are not Tom Anselmi.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

TFC Town Hall 2012 - just waiting for this ship to sail...

A handful of days have passed by and I am still wrestling with impressions from the TFC town hall meetings this week. I attended one town hall meeting on Monday evening and managed to watch the webcast of the Wednesday evening too.

I strongly appreciate the town hall format and opportunity. I can recall in the first one I attended, I wrapped all of my complaints around one phrase “What makes this a club?” I think that part of the answer would rest in the very fact that TFC has town hall meetings. We fans are not customers in a detached sense or a focus group, but members of a football club.

I think that some of my discomfort with the present state of the team is connected to my perception of the worst aspects of the Toronto sports fan. I do not have enough experience to compare to other places, but I do see Toronto fans as a fickle group. There are too many tourists and not enough fanatics. I have seen this happen over and over again, bandwagon fans that know the fashion far better than the passion. Toronto Argo fans became NFL fans and Blue Jay fans became empty seats.  I could go into the lack of passionate support in the world of basketball and hockey, but I lack the energy to go there.

I thought that Paul Beirne and Earl Cochrane did as well as could be expected considering how lousy the team was this year. I thought that Thomas Rongen of the TFC Academy was the most hopeful of the group. Really, he had better be. If the leader of your academy is saying there is no hope for the years ahead, all is lost.
The task of developing local talent does take us into the shadow cast by the horrible 8-1 loss in Guatemala for Canada recently. At both the club and country level the Canadian Men’s golden generation seems off the horizon (my sources claim they are now playing U12).
Paul Mariner is another matter. I think that he is a coach on thin ice and he does or says very little that makes you want to cheer for him to stay dry. I think he talked at the town hall much in the same manner that he coached this year, as if he had little to do with the team. When things go wrong, they are Aron Winter’s mistakes. When he looks back at the season he put the parade of losses on unfortunate injuries. After the last home game of the season I caught Nigel Reed on the radio sharing his opinion of Paul Mariner. He said that there are coaches who are best suited to be assistants and it is possible that Mariner is in that category.

The fact of the matter is that Tom Anselmi’s promotion to MLSE head honcho means that hiring a president of TFC is a priority. I think I read somewhere that the hiring could be done before the end of the year. It did feel weird at the town hall not having Anselmi there. I think the questions from the floor about the front office structure were a reflection of that absence. The underlying question was “who can fire who around here?” You never had to ponder that question when master plan Tom was on the scene.
It might be logical that a new president would understand that Mariner is the coach, for now. A weak start to 2013 and I am willing to bet the new president, assuming they hire someone worthy, will place himself in the coach role too.

If the world and TFC prospects surprise me and Mariner remains coach of TFC next year, come town hall meeting time, I promise to ask a question that opens with an apology.
In the end town hall is just a way to say welcome to the off-season. Funny, it has felt like off-season for months now.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Back to my Canadian football roots - Guelph Gryphons 42 Queens Gaels 39

Cold, cloudy November weekends remind me of many things long lost in my life.  As a kid and teen, growing up and making sense of the world through my father's values, November was, above all else, the time for Canadian football playoffs. My father arrived in Canada in 1952 and for reasons lost in the mists of time soon became a Toronto Argonauts fan. It was his team and his sport even though he had never played the game as a kid. He cared deeply about his Argos' chances and the culmination of the season was bundling up and heading to the stadium to cheer and survive the lakeside outdoors on a bleak November day.
  I truly wish that November still meant bundling up and heading down to the lake to cheer like thermally insulated fools at Toronto playoff games. Just substitute Toronto FC for Toronto Argos and I am happy. Why my loyalty switched from Canadian football to soccer would be the topic for another blog post. If Toronto FC ever manages to make a habit of qualifying for playoff games I am ever hopeful that our late autumn traditions can be rekindled.
   So it made a lot of November sense for my wife and I to go to the Yates Cup semi-final at Guelph Alumni Stadium, Guelph hosting Queen's Gaels. Our son attends University of Guelph and I have been bugging him for years to take us to a football game. He happily bought the tickets for this one.
Walking to the stadium, on a perfect football weather day, I was wondering why it had taken us so long to do this. Alumni Stadium is in a wonderful location, tucked into a valley at the north end of the campus.
   You can read better sportswriter accounts of the game (here and here and here, for example), but it is hard to capture the emotional side of the game. It was a fairly even match for most of the first half and then Queen's took advantage of some Guelph mistakes and the halftime score was 24-14. The chances of the home team coming back looked slim, but it was a great afternoon to be outside and we were enjoying ourselves.
   The second half began and Queen's seemed unstoppable. With 10 minutes left in the game, Queen's was ahead 36 -14 and Guelph could not do anything right. I admit I thought about leaving, figuring my son could study or rest before  Saturday night dragged him out again. I am sure I was not the only one in the crowed who thought it was hopeless for the home team to win.
Then the tough Gryphon's defence blocked a punt and ran it in for a touchdown. Shortly after the Gryphons qb had an improbable 80 yard run for a touchdown. Guelph ended up having to score a touchdown and a two point conversion in the final seconds to tie the game and they did.
Queen's had to settle for a field goal in their overtime turn with the ball. The first Guelph overtime play was a hand off that went nowhere. Things were looking grim. Then a short pass was completed and even though  two defenders were within reach, the Gryphon burst out and headed to the endzone. Touchdown and the overtime, come from behind win was complete. The people in the stadium went crazy. It felt as if we were part of a Hollywood movie production.