There’s a kind of wild sensory overload you experience when you watch a Toronto FC match with one of its supporters’ clubs.
It’s like being in the eye of a hurricane: You’re the calm centre of your cramped universe as scarlet soccer jerseys and scarves whirl around you, the air crackles with anticipation for both the starting whistle and that next pitcher of beer. The assembly shouts out staccato chants, “THEY’RE WHITE! THEY’RE BLACK! THEIR TOWN IS FULL OF CRACK! DEE SEEEE! DEE SEEEE,” disparaging the uniforms of today’s opponents, D.C. United.
And that’s just the Red Patch Boys (RPB). This crimson-clad club that calls the Shoeless Joe’s at King and Dufferin Streets their unofficial home is only one example of an underground soccer-loving subculture that has existed in the city for some time, and with the founding of the Major League Soccer team, has finally found its lightning rod. Gone are the days when football fanaticism was relegated to ethnic pockets in the city popping every four years whenever its respective country did well. TFC has finally given soccer fans of all cultures something to shout about, and they do it week after week.
“We have a multicultural mix, and TFC unites them all,” says Duane DaSilva, founder of Tribal Rhythm Nation, TFC’s African, Latin and Caribbean supporters’ club. “It doesn’t matter what you are, we’re all here to support TFC.”
It’s also making up for lost time; in a little less than two years, RPB alone boasts more than 2,500 official members and supporters both locally and across the province in cities as far away as Kingston and Ottawa, and even fan support in the U.K., one notable being midfielder Rohan Ricketts, TFC’s latest addition from Barnsley.
Current club president Jack DePoe credits the club’s online presence as a factor in its growth.
“There were about 30 guys sitting in Section 112, (of BMO Field, known as the Bunker) who laid the foundation for the club,” says DePoe. “Now we’re all over the Golden Horseshoe and we’re still growing.”
But is it a growing enthusiasm for the beautiful game, or the birth of Canadian soccer hooliganism? Some would argue there’s a dark side to importing the magic that makes leagues such as England’s Premiership or Italy’s Serie A so exciting. During a trip to Ohio for the team’s season opener against the Columbus Crew, drunken TFC fans were publicly urinating on a chain-link fence near a church not far from Crew Stadium, local police alleged.
“There are always going to be a few who take it too far,” says DaSilva. “But you can’t blame 2,500 fans for what one or two do. The passion we bring to the table is the best in MLS.”
However you view it, you can’t argue it’s a typical Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment franchise. The fervent fan support belies the club’s at-times awful play: We’re not five minutes into this game and D.C. United has found the back of Toronto FC’s net twice.
Any hope of a shocking upset win goes up in smoke when midfielder Kevin Harmse is sent off in the 22nd minute for a hard challenge on D.C.’s Gonzalo Peralta. The Boys (and ladies, it should be noted) search for solace in suds and song as it just gets worse: 3-0, then 4-0.
Finally, their moment arrives. Maurice Edu scores in the 88th minute, preventing the humiliating shutout. The bar erupts in a deafening orgiastic triumph, and opponents can expect more of the same soon enough.
“We make BMO Field the hardest place for an opposing team to play,” says DaSilva. “We chant, we drum and we give our team a psychological advantage before the game has even begun.”
“We’re the 12th man,” says DePoe. “Win or lose, this is our house.”
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