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Sports & Recreation Soccer

Come on You Reds

The Story of Toronto FC

by (author) Joshua Kloke

foreword by Michael Bradley

Publisher
Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2018
Category
Soccer, History
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9781459742376
    Publish Date
    Oct 2018
    List Price
    $24.00
  • eBook

    ISBN
    9781459742390
    Publish Date
    Oct 2018
    List Price
    $11.99

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Description

How Toronto FC rescued itself from misery, carved out a niche, and became a true alternative franchise in North America’s most crowded sports market.

From Toronto FC’s inception, the club and their fans did things their own way. When Danny Dichio scored the first goal in franchise history, fans at BMO Field threw their seat cushions onto the field in ecstasy. It looked as though TFC had a bright future ahead of it, but what followed instead was eight seasons of poor results, mismanagement, and misery.

Still, TFC fans never wavered, building the most unique atmosphere in Toronto sports. When it seemed TFC was destined to become an afterthought in a city crowded with teams, the club carved out a niche by creating a winning culture unlike anything Toronto had ever seen, bringing a championship to the city in 2017.

Come on You Reds takes fans behind the scenes, from the inception of TFC, through the team’s lowest years, and finally, to the story of how management arguably built the best team in Major League Soccer history.

About the authors

Joshua Kloke is a sports and music journalist whose work has been published by Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Sportsnet, the Toronto Star, and the Globe and Mail. He currently covers Toronto FC and the Toronto Maple Leafs for the Athletic. He lives in Toronto.

Joshua Kloke's profile page

Michael Bradley, born in the United States and now residing in Canada and France, has written seventeen books, including two novels. A former lecturer at Dalhousie University's Centre for African Studies, he has been invited to give guest lecture series at Kennedy-King College (Chicago), Yale University, The Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, Vanderbilt University, the University of Toronto, and York University (Toronto).

Michael Bradley's profile page

Awards

  • Commended, Dewey Divas and the Dudes Fall 2018 Pick

Excerpt: Come on You Reds: The Story of Toronto FC (by (author) Joshua Kloke; foreword by Michael Bradley)

Chapter 1
Message Boards, Manna Dropping from Heaven, and an Armani Suit

A claim could be made that Toronto FC’s birthplace was either in the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment offices of 50 Bay Street in downtown Toronto or in the Major League Soccer offices across the border in New York City.

But, as it turns out, TFC as a club was first dreamt up in a space much more difficult to pin down and then eventually conceived in a setting where so many fans still watch games to this day.

Midway through the first decade of the 2000s, soccer had not yet broken into the mainstream consciousness of Canadians. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two iconic global brands who would usher the sport into the homes of Canadians via a generation of young, impressionable teenagers clamouring for the next star, were just beginning their careers at Barcelona and Manchester United, respectively. David Beckham was himself a star recognized around the world after incredibly impressive spells at Manchester United and Real Madrid, but in North America he could have just as easily been identified as the husband of Spice Girl Victoria Beckham or the player Keira Knightley wanted to imitate in 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham. Before Beckham’s historic move to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, soccer magazines from England could usually be found only at the back of the magazine rack, past the hockey, basketball and, well, motocross glossies.

Soccer, for better or worse, was still a fringe sport in North America’s biggest cities, such as Toronto. Many in that city could only look with confused curiosity at the thousands of people who congregated along two of the larger streets, Danforth Avenue and Dundas Street, to watch two unlikely teams, Greece and Portugal, face off in the final of Euro 2004. That a Greece team without a single superstar defeated a heavily favoured Portuguese side was one thing. But how could this dull 1–0 win, on the other side of the world, motivate jubilant supporters of Greece to close down 10 blocks of the major thoroughfare in Toronto? It only confirmed what many unfamiliar with the sport suspected: soccer is strange. But beyond the ouzo-soaked fans on Danforth revelling in patriotic fervour were many other people who also revelled in that strangeness. And there was a degree of patriotism involved there, as well; albeit without much return up to that point.

And without a street to call their own, they congregated where so many fanatics met and congregated in that decade: on message boards on the internet.

For all the future influence that the club could have on the growth of the game on Canadian soccer pitches across the country, Toronto FC would not exist without internet message boards.

Every day early in the 2000s, hundreds of fans would log in to a message board called Big Soccer to discuss their obsession: not a giant club on the other side of the planet, like Arsenal or Liverpool (though many of these fans had their allegiances), but instead, the players that represented them in red Canadian jerseys.

The Voyageurs were a country-wide group of Canadian soccer supporters that was founded in 1996 and, spread out across a large country, enabled like-minded people online to discuss Canadian soccer. It’s worth noting that the national men’s side, after achieving their best-ever FIFA ranking at 40th in 1996, would plummet to being ranked 101st in the world two years later.

But as the century turned, interest on these message boards did not dissipate. Fans still gathered and critically examined the state of the local game. And, given that local soccer still garnered very few, if any, headlines in national newspapers, and both local and national men’s teams games weren’t always featured prominently on national television broadcasts, internet message boards were the place where those who didn’t feel their needs were being satisfied by mainstream media would meet.

Sean Keay was a member of those early message boards. He remembers them as a forum for people to gather, share thoughts on Canada’s teams, and perhaps even bridge that divide between online and “real life” friendships.

“Even though it was a much different time and they were just these simple message boards, I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in now without that community,” said Keay, who is now a manager of digital strategy at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE). “The first time I met the Voyageurs, I was sixteen and my brother said ‘I met these people on the internet and we’re going to go watch Canada play in World Cup qualifying.’ And I was like, ‘No, that’s the thing your parents tell you not to do.’ But that’s exactly where the community came from and grew from.”

It was a community that Paul Beirne had to listen to.

Beirne is, in many ways, the founding father of Toronto FC. He had been overseeing ticket sales and service for the Leafs and Raptors with MLSE. With Richard Peddie at the pinnacle of power as president and CEO of MLSE, the owners of the company, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, had given Peddie and MLSE a mandate for enterprise value growth.

“It was an era when you saw MLSE trying new things,” said Beirne. It was during this time that MLSE launched Leafs TV; welcomed the Leafs farm club, the Marlboros, back from St. John’s to Toronto; and continued commercial development outside of Maple Leaf Square.

Beirne had begun to feel bored with his role and saw his peers at MLSE being given opportunities. So when he heard that Peddie and MLSE were going to acquire an MLS expansion franchise, he put his hand up. He was quickly entrusted with figuring out whether an MLS team could work in Toronto.

“Everyone, without exception, thought I was crazy to buy into soccer in Toronto,” said Beirne.

Seeking validation, he began to conduct research about the viability of an MLS franchise in Toronto in the message boards. At first he lurked, but eventually he came to a realization, combining what he saw online with data from presentations at MLSE meetings: past attempts to get a professional soccer franchise off the ground in Toronto had failed, but not for lack of ticket-buying support.

Editorial Reviews

Joshua Kloke captures the feeling of those years, of being a Toronto FC supporter and living through a trajectory that kept getting worse, until it didn’t anymore. His tumbling style and excellent behind-the-scenes access combine to create a brilliant book that’s … essential reading for Toronto FC supporters.

Literary Review of Canada (Review by former mayor of Toronto and TFC superfan David Miller)

From the moment the club was first dreamed up in 2005 through their treble triumph in 2017, Toronto FC has consistently been at the vanguard of pushing Major League Soccer forward. The results haven’t always pretty, but TFC has almost always been ahead of the curve in terms of support, willingness to spend and, at least since 2015, results. In Come On You Reds, Kloke chronicles the club’s birth, those long years of mismanagement and misguided ambition, its rise and ultimate triumph in a way that will entertain and inform the most ardent TFC supporters, casual Toronto sports fans and fans of other MLS clubs alike. This isn’t just a story about a team – this is a book about how, if it’s done right, an MLS club can become a continental power and a true part of the fabric of their city."

Sam Stejskal, MLSsoccer.com

Joshua Kloke's account of the many ups and downs of Toronto FC's first decade of existence should be considered required reading for any player, coach, administrator or fan with a stake in Canadian soccer. Kloke details the phenomenon of TFC's loyal, unwavering support, its many futile attempts to build a winning product and its recent rise into one of the continent's soccer powerhouses. There are important lessons to be learned in the club's successes and failures alike and Come On You Reds shines an in-depth and well-researched but also highly accessible light on them.

Oliver Platt, The TFC Report

A compelling tale of how Toronto FC went from being the most tediously tragic franchise in Major League Soccer to capturing not just their first MLS Cup, but the imagination of a city too. Kloke does an excellent job of conveying how exasperation finally led to euphoria, and all the bits in between. There are parts of this story that defy belief, but TFC’s tale serves as a reminder to all soccer fans of all teams - always believe.

Graham Ruthven, soccer reporter (The Guardian, Eurosport UK, The Sportsman)

Over its first decade of existence, Toronto FC managed to bring the full spectrum of sporting experience to its fervent fan base. Come On You Reds manages to take the reader inside both the club, as well as its fandom. From the birth of an idea, through the years of mismanagement to finally getting it all right in glorious fashion, Joshua Kloke describes just how Toronto FC became the pin-up club of Major League Soccer.

James Sharman, Sportsnet

How does one sum up a lifetime? In Come on You Reds, Joshua Kloke just does that for Toronto FC, navigating the tumultuous history of the club from perennial punchline to MLS Champions and beyond. Deftly highlighting the essential moments, both on and off the pitch, Kloke unearths innumerable stories and insights that will be revelatory to even the most ardent of TFC fans. In it's elemental tale, the birth of a club, struggling to find an identity and launch itself into the world's game, it is a must read for all TFC, MLS, and soccer fans.

James Grossi, MLSsoccer.com

Other titles by Joshua Kloke