It’s pretty well official now. Soccer is booming in Toronto. Its abysmal past — the failed professional ventures and the widespread skepticism — has been obliterated, and the sport clearly has become all the rage in this city.
Heck, with sellouts of 20,000 commonplace at BMO Field, it’s almost impossible to buy tickets for Toronto FC home games — and we’re talking about an MLS expansion club that is wallowing just above the Eastern cellar at 3-6-1.
The success of Toronto FC, however, is merely the start of Toronto’s soccer frenzy this summer.
The under-20 World Cup — one of the most prestigious international competitions in existence — will kick off June 30 and its matches will attract jam-packed crowds in B.C., Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and, of course, Toronto. Five of the nine matches scheduled for T.O. already are sold out, including the July 22 final.
There’s more, though. Metro has learned that, on Aug. 1, a blockbuster deal will be closed in the west end of Toronto and construction of a 30-acre, state-of-the-art soccer complex will begin.
It’s a $25-million deal — about $10-million for the land and about $15-million for the complex — and the partners are Nike, Britain’s famed Manchester United Football Club and a group of investors led by Toronto entrepreneur Neil Jamieson.
“I won’t get into specifics yet, but let’s just say this will be the ultimate training and competitive ground in Canada — by far,” confirmed Jamieson, the project’s managing partner. “It’ll incorporate five to six FIFA-sized soccer fields — top-end, artificial-turf fields with stadium lighting. It’ll also feature a 180,000-square-foot indoor facility.”
There will be health-therapy centres, fitness studios, eating establishments and modern locker rooms — all modelled after ManU’s renowned training ground in Carrington, a 70-acre facility in the U.K., where the first team and academy teams train.
“It’s an exciting time for soccer in Toronto and in Canada,” Jamieson said, “and we intend to be a major part of it.”
Details of precisely how the complex will be used and when it will be completed won’t be publicized until a news conference but, in reality, Jamiesonet alalready are major contributors to Canadian soccer. They launched ManU Soccer Schools in Oakville in April and their individual programs were sold out, as were their team programs this month. They’re preparing now for long courses that will start July 2 (details at www.muss.ca) and they’re again anticipating maximum attendance.
Yep, soccer’s all the rage around here these days — and it wasn’t long ago when I thought I’d never be able to honestly say that.