Toronto FC fans under fire

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

Let's start this off with the admission that Toronto FC fans -- who have a well-earned reputation across Major League Soccer as the most passionate, most colourful and loudest supporters -- are no candidates for sainthood.

As Sun Media writer Brett Clarkson pointed out so well in the Sunday Sun, however, there are some of the more than 20,000 who have made seats at BMO Field the hottest ticket in town, who have taken their enthusiasm to an ugly new level.

At the Sept. 13 game against the Columbus Crew, for example, full cups of beer were thrown at opposition players from the rumbustious south end stands and after the game Crew fans alleged that they were assaulted by drunken, foul-mouthed Reds supporters in the parking lot.

The beer-throwing has been documented and yesterday TFC's parent -- Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. -- let it be known that it has identified some of the participants as season-ticket holders who now are in danger of losing their seats.

The post-game battle in the parking lot, though, appears to be a lot less black and white.

Columbus fans described to the Sunday Sun in detail how they were shouted at, spit at and punched by TFC fans -- one of whom they claimed started the whole thing by stealing a Crew team scarf from one of their supporters.

Yesterday the TFC fan in question -- on the condition that he remain anonymous for fear that he, too, would lose his BMO seat -- contacted me with a somewhat different account of what happened.

Here is his story:

"I was sitting near where the Crew fans were in the northeast section," he said. "At halftime one of the Columbus fans struck up a conversation with me about how much fun it was coming to Toronto.

"As the game ended the same fan came over to chat. He asked me if I wanted to trade scarfs with him the way rival players sometimes do after big international matches.

"I said sure, and he gave me his yellow and black Crew scarf and I gave him my red and white TFC scarf.

"I was walking toward the parking lot when a man and a woman started shouting at me: 'You don't deserve to wear that scarf.'

"The next thing I know the guy grabbed the scarf and tried to pull it off me. Then all hell broke loose and the woman then started to scream that I had stolen her husband's scarf, which was strange because if the police looked they could see he clearly still had his on."

That -- and some swearing -- was pretty much the extent of the damage.

It must also be pointed out that nothing that took place was deemed serious enough to warrant any arrests by the Toronto Police Services.

Now, more than a week later, Columbus fans have begun a campaign at the league level to make an example of TFC fans by placing some sort of sanction against them or the team.

Bob Hunter, executive vice-president of venues and entertainment at MLSEL, said that TFC management has from the start of the two-year-old franchise sought to enforce rules of behaviour at BMO.

"Safety for the players and fans at BMO are paramount," Hunter said. "We have a security detail and police presence in every section of the stadium to make sure there is a proper decorum during games."

He said MLSEL will pull season-ticket privileges and even press criminal charges if fans get out of hand. But in the same breath, Hunter pointed out that in nearly two full MLS seasons, the post-game fracas Sept. 13 was the lone blight on BMO's security file.

"We have sold out every game for almost two seasons," he said. "That is 20,000 fans a game and we have only one incident."

There are some who suspect, even some in the front office of MLSEL, that the Crew fans have just decided to start an anti-TFC campaign because they feel MLS gives too much credit to the franchise for soccer's new popularity in North America.

A quick read of some comments being made in the blogosphere seem to bear this out.

One Crew fan wrote on the Big Soccer site:

"Toronto is the younger brother that mom (MLS) made us take to the football field with our friends and now we have to play one hand touch instead of tackle because mom "doesn't want Toronto to get hurt."


Videos

Photos