State of Mind: Why? Just why? Because they're my team; sigh
Location: Hiding under SIX years worth of SSH scarves and tickets
It's been a tough few days for anyone that supports TFC - OK, a tough few, well pick whatever measure of time between April of 2007 and present day that works for you. And I'm not even going to really talk about that last minute let-down on Tuesday night, as it would mostly just be angry, depressed ranting. I think I've figured something out though; I still haven't come to the realization that investing emotion into this team is going to bring frustration, anger and tears more often than joy; for I know that there is joy to be had; just not for us, not yet. This is not a team for the faint of heart; or the expectation of great things, or really any expectations it would seem.
Which quite frankly sucks.
Really; what other way is there to put it? As someone (somewhat sadly) pointed out to me after the CCL match - this is the only team that I've to call my own. I'm not like a number of my friends that have grown up supporting the same team since they were kids, that have had that personal connection to a club for years. I don't count the teams from the EPL and lower divisions or other international teams that I've picked as "my own" - it's not the same. Those attachments were for me mere warm-ups to having a club that I could call my own. In the past six years I've become more committed, more attached and more involved with my team. I've rarely missed a home game, I've promoted the team to friends and family (dragging them to games as much as possible), I've blathered on incessantly to co-workers, have spent countless hours talking/discussing/hashing/agonizing over them on twitter and other social media and gotten involved with some of the team initiatives. And yet just when it (again) seemed like things might be looking up this year and we might get a stable, competitive team; the wheels fell off - more than once.
It isn't even that I expected my team to be uber successful - I didn't think trophies would come right away. Some of those lowered expectations came before I knew much about the MLS and the parity that exists in the league; before I knew how easy it was to go from the basement to the penthouse. And yet I still had faith, I still had hope.
Instead I've watched for six years as the team I love has been mis-managed, as players have come and gone in record numbers, coaching changes every time I blink and an ownership that has used one of the most rabid and loyal fanbases in the MLS as marketing fodder instead of focusing on the business of football. Innocence never lasts but there are days when I would still like to be the wide eyed and ignorant fan I was back in 2007 - OK, I don't actually mean that. I'd always rather know than not. It's just the knowing in this case is so often soul crushing; I envy the fan I was six years ago, the one with all of the pure joy and hope.
And I've watched the change in others - not just in the dwindling numbers at BMO, the erasure of the vaunted SSH waiting list, the annual ticket price increases - no I'm talking about those same friends that have tirelessly followed a team for years; most often without success - that are now talking about not returning, not following and likely giving up on a team that I know they love. That is how difficult this team is to follow and support - people who have lasted through decades of supporting the same team are considering walking away from their local team; not because of the product on the pitch (OK, partly because of that), but because of the behaviour of the Front Office.
We've spent six years faithfully showing up to games (both home and away), buying merch, buying beer and food, attending pub nights, going to end of season parties, going to pancake breakfasts and attending town halls. And in return? Ticket increase after ticket increase (still one of the most expensive teams in the MLS to support), well over 100 players, 7 coaches, constant assurances that 'this year we've got it right', growing 'Special Event' nights and lots of happy shiny marketing about the 'best fans in the league' in BMO Financial ads. But in the end all that has done is leave a tired, frustrated and dwindling fan base. One that at least in these recent, and oh so very trying weeks, seem more than willing to walk away until some modicum of success is reached, until an executive with actual football knowledge and experience is put in charge (for all of our sanity, please step aside Tom; please) and for Management to demonstrate with their actions some appreciation of we, the exploited.
Making matters worse was the announcement yesterday from the Montreal Impact that they will be lowering their ticket prices for next season. That's right; they are in their first season, they're not completely terrible but (and yes, most of it is pure optics) they are lowering their ticket prices! Can you imagine TFC doing that? Instead, for four straight years MLSE and the TFC Front Office rubbed their hands with glee and got to gutting the golden goose. After that crushing blow to the TFC fan psyche, came word they that (close to) fellow basement dweller the Portland Timbers will be freezing their prices for next season - true they're not lowering their prices, but even with the prices frozen those tickets are still less than TFC's and for a fanbase that is just as rabid, devoted and engaged.
Which leads me to the staying or going part. The last few days have brought about some fairly intense debate about whether or not SSH will renew for next year, watch games going forward in any manner or even attend games for the rest of the season. My friend Lars Lowther over at Red Nation Online has one solution, John at Waking The Red came up with a musical option (more of a how to deal with the stress) and well, all you have to do is check any TFC follower's twitter timeline to see how divided the supporters are on what they plan to do next season; regardless of whether or not the FO freezes or lowers tickets prices.
I do want things to change; desperately. Nothing would make me happier than to hear the Teflon Tom has stepped aside and someone with actual football knowledge and experience would take the reins and remake the management of the team from top to bottom. But am I holding my breath waiting for it to happen? Not a chance. Will it stop me from mentioning it as much as possible? Not a chance. What about Mariner you ask? If you read the blog you know that I don't like the way he coaches the team or the direction he's taking the team in terms of style of play. Do I think Aron Winter deserved a chance to finish out the season? Yes. Do I want Mariner fired? No. Really, that is not the answer right now. This team needs stability; period. And if another year of low possession, dump and chase football with the same coach and the same core of players helps to bring that stability, then so be it.
As for me? Where will I be come next March? If the prices go up it will be very difficult for me to renew. I already sacrifice other aspects of my life in order to pay for my seats each year and an increase will likely put them out of reach for me if I want to be realistic about what's in my bank account. However, if at the bare minimum they freeze - although really, this is a lower the damned prices situation if there ever was one - then yes, MLSE will get my money for one more year. Why? Because damn it they're my team. I'm not willing to walk away yet.
I will continue to speak my mind (hi friends at MLSE); I rarely if ever buy food or drink at games, have only ever bought a couple pieces of merch and yet there I am every home match willing to cheer on my team. And yes I know that MLSE get the vast majority of their money from ticket sales. Am I not filled with rage at being used to promote the brand of TFC week in, week out? Yes. But what supporters of any team aren't being used? Does the subtle but constant erosion of the supporter/old school football atmosphere not tick me off? Hell yes. But again, it's not done yet - so therefore neither am I.
Those who know me well, know that I am well used to protests and standing up for the rights of others (as well as myself). I'm certainly not shy and other than voicing my opinion on this blog (and other social media) why do I not take the ultimate step and turn my back until things change? It's not in me to walk away yet - this season has done a lot to change the way that I look at things in regards to TFC - but there is still this wide-eyed innocent, hopeful fan that just wants to watch her team play every week. So for now, that's where you'll find me, at BMO, anxious, biting my nails, hoping to see something to make me shout with joy, something (anything!) to wipe away the erosion of my optimism over the past six years.
So what about you? I know a lot of you are on the fence. I know some of you have made your choice. So please let me know whose faces I'll be seeing not just for the rest of the season but next year. Leave your answers in the comments section - and please know that I understand and respect if your choice isn't mine. Cheers.