MLSEL to TFC fans: Oh, behave!

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:54 AM ET

Toronto FC officials have spent the past two days talking to leaders of their major fan clubs, while investigating crowd antics on Saturday in Columbus with Crew officials and Major League Soccer.

But reining in small rogue elements in their vast support group will remain a challenge for a team that walks a fine line between family entertainment and a passionate soccer demographic.

HURTS CLUB'S IMAGE

Tom Anselmi, senior vice-president and COO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., agreed that YouTube scenes of a TFC fan being tasered, damage to Crew Stadium and at least one arrest hurts the club's image just when it's off to a good start.

"For sure, it's a real disappointment," Anselmi said yesterday. "For the most part our fans are terrific and the fact that 2,500 or so go on the road and follow the team is great and the players love that. But they also have to behave.

"You get a couple of guys on the fringe who don't, and it reflects on all of us; our city, our country, the sport and our franchise.

"We've been talking to the league and we've been talking to our partners in Columbus, trying to piece together what happened, making sure at the end of the day that it doesn't happen again."

There were estimates of 1,500 to 2,000 TFC fans at Crew Stadium on Saturday. Drinking at such events with a mostly young male crowd of loud soccer zealots is tolerated to a degree, but TFC's own fan websites were full of complaints that some got carried away, damaging some stadium property, making anti-American remarks and then mixing it up with equally fired up Crew fans afterwards.

Spokesmen for the Red Patch Boys, the largest fan group in attendance, and the U-Sector have denied their members were involved in anything serious with police but sometimes the bad apples use the clubs for cover.

"We're talking to (the clubs) all the time and we've talked to them since Saturday," Anselmi said. "I don't know whether (the one TFC fan arrested) was part of a club or not. In general the fan club guys are really well-behaved and in fact they help us police themselves."

"Who knows, a few guys probably fueled up on some wobbly pops got a little over-rambunctuous and crossed the line. You can't do that."

Many put the blame on Saturday on the Crew's security staff and special duty police officers who tried to break up fights, but then called in squad cars and a police helicopter. One fan was tasered and arrested, a few others held and later released.

"While there were altercations involving a small number of fans exiting, security and law enforcement officials responded quickly and appropriately to defuse the situation and restore order within minutes," a statement from the Crew said yesterday. "A comprehensive plan was in place to prepare for and accommodate the approximately 1,200 TFC fans who attended."

Anselmi said TFC's home game procedures would not change, starting with the home opener against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday at 4 p.m.

"There is an MLS code of conduct and we enforce that," he said. "We have adequate security and police and if we have visiting team fans, we set them up in a separate section, clear them out of the building afterwards and make sure we have staging areas for their buses. It's just to avoid too much close contact, especially at the end of a heated battle. Up to now, we've had no problems."

Most MLS teams don't have the travelling band that TFC attracts, and the number was high on Saturday because Columbus is the closest MLS city to reach by car.

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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