Monday, June 04, 2007

The Mystique of the Shirt

I shared a flight last night with two of the FC Boys (Andrea Lombardo and Gabe Gala) coming back from the National U-20 team's disastrous match in Ottawa. Nice guys - happy to chat, and happy to sign an autograph for my son (no, really, it was for my son). But chatting and listening to them I was struck by how unbelievably young they were.

Yeah, yeah, I know they're young - they wouldn't be on the U-20 team if they weren't. But damn, they're normal as teenagers go. The banter is banal, the idea of flying around the continent is still new, they're bemused by being recognized in airports by shmoes like Antonio - and really they just want to call their friends on cell phones and arrange tonight's party.

Now of course I shouldn't be surprised - they're 20 and 17, respectively. But you know, once someone puts on a team shirt and plays in front of 20,000 people every week, I at least (maybe you're different) subconsciously assume that they are mature, calculating adults - the kind you see spouting banalities every day on sports reports. The shirt itself, stepping onto the filed in front of the fans and the cameras, seems to me at least to confer players with level of maturity that may not always be deserved.

These two are good players (Lomabardo especially, who doesn't get enough playing time due to the bizarre infatuation for Danny Dichio shared by both the coach and the South Stands) able to compete at a level most of us barely comprehend. But that doesn't change the fact that they're still kids. They're self-absorbed. They don't pay a lot of attention to what they say (trust me, there was a lot of stuff there that their coaches wouldn't repeated on a blog). Basically, they're just having fun.

Worth remembering next time you're tempted to scream an obscenity at them for, say, missing an open goal.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ottawa Senators vs. Toronto FC

It occurs to me, as I’m sitting and watching game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, how lame hockey fans are.

Take vocal encouragement, for example. Typical hockey chants include:


* Let’s go (team name), Let’s go (clap, clap)

* De-Fense….De-Fense

* Er…

* That’s it.

And that’s hockey fans in general – I'm not even talking about team-specific hockey fan lameness, such as the fact that Senators fans for some inexplicable reason think that dressing up in cheesy centurion gear is actually a homage to some quasi-Roman “Senator” (something HBO/Everton Manager Lucius Vorenus could set them straight on).

Football fans, on the other hand, have a constantly evolving range of songs and a developed tifosi banner culture. Seriously, why is North American fan culture so boring?

(As I write this, Senators fans are passing an 80-foot Canadian flag around the Corel Centre – or whatever the hell its called these days - and the guy singing the national anthem actually skipped three lines to let the fans sing it themselves…it’s still closer to lame than ambulatory but perhaps they are learning)

Anyways, I’d like to be proud about how freakin’ brilliant Toronto FC are and what a great fan culture they have. We're loud, boisterous and our singing is loud if not particularly inventive. Massive credit to U-Section and the Red Patch Boys for making the south stands at BMO Field the brilliant place they are.

But before Canadians get carried away with self-congratulation on how much better we celebrate the Beautiful game than all those American MLS fans, let’s face some facts.

One: Outside the south stands, we’ve got a lot of seriously unimaginative chanting going on. The De-Fense chant hasn’t made an appearance, but the “Let’s Go” one has. You can take the hockey fan out of the arena, but…

Two: To the everlasting shame of all FC members, idiots from the northeast corner continue to try to get the stadium to do the Mexican Wave. Again, kudos due to the Red Patch boys for protecting us west-side folks from this indignity.

Three: Yes, Canadians are picking up the soccer bug from FC’s recent triumphs, and yes, live national coverage of FC’s games is a brilliant thing (especially on days like to day when I’m stuck 700 miles from my seats): but CBC’s football coverage still stinks. That the People’s Network thinks it appropriate to promote the Under-20 world cup through a series of low-production value commercials featuring a mutli-ethic group of 10 year-olds doing ball tricks on what appears to be the Sesame Street backlot speaks volumes – libraries, even - about its lack of feel for the game.

Don’t get me wrong – BMO field *is* the most exciting sports venue anywhere in Canada. And yes, the Canadian media has come a long way in a mercifully short time since the days a year ago when Mo Johnston was referred to a “Scotland’s Wayne Gretzky”. But the South stands aren’t the Kop and it will be a few years at least before the culture of the arena is banished from the stands.