Toronto FC's Montreal pilgrimage | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerToronto FC's Montreal pilgrimage

Posted: Monday, April 9, 2012 | 07:23 PM

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Montreal Impact's Bernardo Corradi, right, and Toronto FC's Ty Harden battle for the ball during first half MLS soccer action in Montreal on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press) Montreal Impact's Bernardo Corradi, right, and Toronto FC's Ty Harden battle for the ball during first half MLS soccer action in Montreal on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

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This past weekend over a thousand Toronto FC fans hopped on planes, trains and automobiles to find their way to Montreal for the team's first meeting in MLS. If the league can learn to embrace them, these kinds of rivalries will help it grow.

The streets of Montreal can offer an engaging trip back through time. The City of Saints or ville aux cent clochers - the city of a hundred bell towers - is the closest thing to the old world that Canadian cities have to offer. Their massive stone structures - glorious in their design and pristine in their function - offer a stark contrast to a new kind of church in Montreal.

A fraction of the age of some of those old world churches and nowhere near as impressive, stands Olympic Stadium. Cavernous and cold it offers a glimpse at the dystopic view that would emerge in the late 1970s and early 1980s - one that strived to demonstrate technological superiority and is now dealing with its repercussions as it literally falls apart.

But despite that, citizens of these football churches are increasingly making long distance trips to sing the (ahem) hymns of their team in stadiums not their own. This past weekend over a thousand Toronto FC fans hopped on planes, trains and automobiles to find their way to Montreal for the team's first meeting in MLS.

Everywhere you walked downtown, you could see someone with Toronto FC gear on. They mingled with members of the team, gobbled up the local fare and flooded the local after hours establishments.

Next month, Vancouver Whitecaps supporters will do the same as they travel en mass down to Portland - a rivalry that they also share with Seattle and one that dates back several generations now.

It's part of an emerging trend that has rarely been seen in other Canadian sports and its being likened to the near cult following that exists for NCAA sports in the U.S.

They're organized, they're motivated and they follow their team to the ends of the Earth. But with each new trip, come a number of challenges for the city and the security staff.

Saturday, a police escort awaited Toronto fans as they queued at a nearby subway station. A line of security and barriers would cordon off their section. Skirmishes would kick off after the game as the police presence faded away and the memories of banners that read "TFC circus in town" and "Enjoy Torreon?" remained fresh. But it's nothing that hasn't happened before. Toronto and Montreal's rivalry has often spilled onto the grassy knolls after the game ended. Why? It's likely as simple as a 'your colours don't match mine' mentality - one that can easily be fueled by frustration and testosterone. It's not an accurate reflection of the majority who travel, but it does it happen enough for the league to take precautions.

Last year, MLS tried to put a cap on the potential problems elsewhere by limiting the number of away supporters allowed to travel in the Cascadia region and across the league. It didn't last long though after an outcry from supporters. Eventually some clubs were forced to acquiesce as the thinking went: fans will be able to find tickets anyways, so it's best to keep them separated.

Long and short term this is the best policy - for the league, the teams and the supporters. Encouraging unlimited away support will help to better develop a still relatively young league's rivalries and can serve as the backbone for the success of the league in the years ahead.  

As Toronto supporters left Montreal on Sunday, the heavy wooden doors to the proper churches that line the streets of Montreal stood wide open. On this, the Easter holiday, its patrons would hear stories about redemption and rebirth. In football, for the downtrodden and defeated, there is redemption too.

Toronto and Montreal play each other three more times this season. Vancouver? They'll see Seattle and Portland a total of five.

If MLS can manage to just not get in its own way, the annual pilgrimages have just begun.

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