August 12th 1994 was a proud day for a lot of people. It was the day that Caledonian Thistle (without Inverness in their name at this point) made their home debut in the Scottish league setup. They had played a few home friendlies leading up to this [and had also won their first ever senior match (in the league cup) at East Stirlingshire just a few days earlier] but this was it, the first home game of a new club and 1700 people showed up to watch the league new boys demolish Arbroath 5-2 courtesy of an Alan Hercher hat-trick and goals from Paul McKenzie and Wilson Robertson.
April 28th 2007 will also be a memorable day for a lot of football fans in Toronto. This was the day that Toronto FC played its first match at the purpose built 20000 all-seated "BMO Field". Toronto FC has not had an easy start losing 4-0, 2-0 and 3-0 in its first three games and failing to score a goal in the process but anticipation for this sold out game (crowd was later announced as 20138 !!) had the city buzzing especially those who follow football. The team has been promoted heavily and the PR side of the club has been excellent with top quality season ticket books, a membership card for season ticket holders that gives 15% off merchandise, and the best move of all, the ticket to the first game being a scarf with your ticket attached - a good way to ensure nearly 20000 people are waving them about.
Toronto is a football city, there is no doubt about that, but like many Scottish cities, the fans who live in Toronto had to turn elsewhere for their fix as Toronto did not have a team in the North American Major Leagues until now. One of the fan websites (U-Sector) urged everyone going to the game to bring along a scarf for their ‘other' team and I duly took my Caley Thistle scarf (and baseball cap) with me to the Wheatsheaf pub for the pre-match meeting. It was perhaps fitting that the oldest pub in Toronto is to be the base for at least one supporters group of what will hopefully become the newest sporting phenomena in the city and as I approached the watering hole it was clear that there were many others who had also taken up the scarf challenge with scarves on display from all over Europe and South America. A couple of pints to wet the whistle and a few renditions of some of the new songs and it was time to head for the stadium. It's a good 20 minute walk from the ‘sheaf to the stadium but the U-Sector were in good voice all the way there. "T-O-R ... O-N-T ... oh,oh,oh,oh,oh,oh FC" was the main chant (and the only one I really knew) but there were also others on the go.
Many months ago when the season tickets went on sale, I had to make a decision about whether to get some ‘nice' (but boring) seats or to join the U-Sector or Red Patch bandwagon and opt for the supporters' section. After Saturday, the decision to opt for the latter seems to have been the right one as both supporters groups really got into it and created an atmosphere before, during and after the game that is best viewed on some of the multitude of ‘YouTube' links below.
|Proposed TV Ad|
|http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4cydqI9oPc||Pub before the game|
|TV News Article|
|Oh Dear - singer forgets words of USA anthem|
|Fans get into it before KO|
|http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pE_ALV4K728||Singers in 113|
|After-match in Wheatsheaf|
|After-match in Wheatsheaf|
Mo Johnston (Toronto FC manager) was quoted after the game as saying it was one of the few times in his career that he has experienced ‘goosebumps' from crowd atmosphere. Presumably the other times were at Ibrox and Parkhead.
The match itself was good. Toronto have some decent players, but it has been a slow start with three losses and no goals. I had previously watched the other games on TV and the side were well beaten on each occasion. Kansas had won 3-0 in midweek against Toronto but this time it was Toronto looking the most likely to score in the early exchanges. Midfielder Maurice Edu was the first to have a real chance in 10 minutes but put it just wide after some clever play. Toronto managed to get a good few corners during the first half and another chance almost ended with a Kevin Hartman (KC keeper) own goal as he spilled an easy catch but caught it before it went over the line. Fan favourite Alecko Eskandarian (USA) was the next to create and after skinning a couple of KC defenders he passed to new signing Danny Dichio whose shot was blocked by Jack Jewsbury. Dichio, signed last week from Preston North End, was putting himself about a bit in the first half and managed to flatten both the keeper and another couple of defenders before getting the inevitable yellow card. Half Time score 0-0
Time for a wander about at half-time ... The international nature of the support was evident but I had spotted a familiar strip and went to have a look - turns out I was not the only Caley Thistle fan in the place and as I chatted with this supporter, another two guys went past and said "f*** me, its Caley Thistle fans" ... turns out these lads live in Canada but are Dunfermline fans - one of whom is returning to Scotland for the Cup Final. Another wander about and a few more people noticed the logo on my hat or the writing on the back that said ICT - I met Rangers fans, Celtic fans, Hibs fans and later in the day even a St Mirren fan so at least half the SPL was represented !! I am sure there were fans from other SPL sides too but I just didn't bump into them in the 20000+ crowd.
If the first half was good for Toronto - and it was - the second half was a disappointment. The flowing attacking football with skillful play in midfield, strength up front and adequate defending was replaced by schoolboy defending, midfield mediocrity and little or no chances up front because of this. Toronto, despite a lacklustre second half were weathering the storm, or the were until the 81st minute when Eddie Johnson managed to cut inside from the edge of the box and beat the keeper at the near post. Although Toronto threw on another forward after this, the score remained the same and the first home game for Toronto FC ended 0-1. A bad loss but a great day nonetheless. TFC may be winless and goalless but they are certainly not without support in the city.
Through it all the crowd was the star, from the very start not a single person had sat down in the (all-seated) supporters section (and there were no threats from stewards or police to make them do it !!). The stand was jumping, huge noise was being made and those watching at home on TV have since posted on internet sites that some of the camera footage was actually shaking because the stands were quite literally rocking !!! The newspapers over the last couple of days have devoted two or three paragraphs to the game but most have also had big articles dedicated to the atmosphere the fans have generated. Roll on the next game on the 12th .....
TFC - Toronto: Football City