A six year whirlwind has offered the Toronto FC faithful very little to shout about, whether it’s a change of head coach or an acquiring trade, TFC fans are unable to brush over the troubles the profit making owners are causing. Despite another poor season in 2012 I caught up with ‘The Yorkies’ Co-Founder Tone Walsh to get a fans perspective on the turmoil at BMO, Exclusively for www.soccernightexclusive.wordpress.com.

‘The Yorkies’ are a collective group of supporters who are allocated in the South Stand of BMO Field and have their own dynamic views on everything TFC.

First and Foremost, how did The Yorkies group come about, how did it start ?

A few of us were friends and football fanatics long before Toronto FC existed and we decided to buy season tickets when the club was founded. By chance, and very luckily, we ended up sitting near some other very like-minded football fans. We got to know each other at matches and realized we had very similar opinions, and the necessary sense of humour to be a TFC supporter, and decided to organize.

We were just outside the sphere of the two major supporters groups so decided that our voice would be best served by having a loose non-membership collective of similar supporters and creating a website to express our opinions. We all fondly remembered the days of the “fanzines” that were sold outside of football stadiums in the UK and wanted to re-create that irreverent and often humourous style. The name “The Yorkies” was taken as Toronto’s former English military-founded name was The Town of York. The “1812” part was to reflect the War of 1812. As TFC were the only Canadian MLS club at the time, it was a cheeky head nod at our new American “invaders”.

How long have you followed Toronto FC for ?

Really from the first rumour that Major League Soccer was even considering Toronto as a site for a new club. Toronto is a terrific multicultural football city with thousands of supporters but until TFC was born it was only about following the club from your former homeland or often that of your ancestors whether European, South American or further afield. TFC at its best was a great catalyst for bringing fans of all different stripes together under one badge.

Where are you allocated in games at BMO Field ?

We have sat in the same seats since the first match – right in the middle of the South Stand Supporters Sections. In its heyday, the South Stand garnered grudging respect from other MLS grounds for bringing a very international football supporting culture to the league with great displays of chanting and demonstrating. As the club’s fortunes have floundered it is sometimes hard to replicate the former atmosphere but it still bubbles under the surface and can return. Meanwhile, supporter culture has grown from strength to strength in other MLS grounds.

What does your typical match day routine consist of ?

Unlike many other MLS cities – Toronto got lucky in that BMO Field was built very centrally rather than deep in the suburbs. With that – a group of us often meet at a subway (underground) station and take transit to the match. Like many supporters we often stop at one of the many pubs that have grown in the area over the last few years, grab some pints and moan about TFC before walking the rest of the way to the ground.

What is there to do before a Toronto FC game at BMO Field ?

As mentioned above – being fairly central, supporters have a lot of options. The area north of BMO Field (called Liberty Village) has grown quite a bit in the last five years and has a fair number of pub and dining options. With so many direct transit links to BMO Field (despite our many local gripes with the Toronto Transit Commission) a supporter is only a short ride from Toronto’s vibrant downtown core which is one of the liveliest city centres in North America with loads of entertainment, dining and cultural options.

Toronto FC

The 2012 season for Toronto has been very poor, as a whole to date how would you describe how the season has gone ?

In a word: shambolic. The season started with optimism as the club made an unlikely appearance in CONCACAF’s Champions League semi-final after eliminating heavy favourite LA Galaxy in the quarterfinal round. Unfortunately, league results did not match continental ones and Aron Winter’s grand plan to mould TFC in the shape of Ajax was cut short after a dismal 0-9 start. Paul Mariner moved into the manager’s role in a sideways backroom manoeuvre but despite a few early positives, has seen the club look as bad, if not worse than it did under Winter.

For supporters it has been rough and for many it has been the season that broke the camel’s back with many “Day One” season ticket holders vowing not to renew in 2013. This however, has much more to do with a bumbling management/ownership culture rather than simply bad results.

What is the team looking to achieve during their final two games ?

Well, the official press releases from the club will constantly tell us that “players are trying out for 2013 contracts” but it is little more than playing out the string. The final home fixture is against our biggest rival Montreal so that is something for the fans to enjoy but in all honesty many fans (and we imagine many in the club) just want this season to end. There is one slightly meaningful fixture left – the final Group Stage match in Champions League against Mexican giants Santos Laguna but TFC would need a miraculous big win away to advance. Chances are mucho slim.

During the season there has been many fingers pointed at many different people, what would you say is the main problem ?

As with all of our answers here today, and on our website – this is our opinion. Different TFC fans may pick different villains but for us it has always been the owners – Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (also owners of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors) who have fostered a sports management culture where profits far exceed the desire for trophies. Since before the club even kicked a ball, the ownership’s only interest was making more and more profits and putting all of their resources into marketing and branding a “franchise” instead of building a football club from within.

To this day – the amount of staff running this club is woefully low on football IQ and very high on finance and corporate branding. It is a deep and often complex issue that isn’t black and white. In the North American football world they are a very financially stable outfit who have invested in the club in some positive ways. However, from a sheer sporting standpoint, they have a reputation (with all of their sports teams) as being a money-hungry spin-machine who never put fans’ interests first.

What needs changing to ensure this season isn’t copied in 2013 ?

Well we have to put the ownership woes aside as we have next to no chance of that suddenly changing in some kind of “Christmas Carol” miracle. It is what it is. On the pitch, Paul Mariner and his team need to re-tool this club with a host of new starters and most importantly depth. Rumour is that Mariner and General Manager-to-be Earl Cochrane have been given a one-year reprieve with a “playoffs or bust” ultimatum. Many see this as a dangerous move in that the future could be gambled away for the quick-fix of a 2013 playoff appearance. There really isn’t tons of optimism in the city that the current management team can turn around fortunes drastically enough to make 2013 a much different season.

Off the pitch, for any hope of retaining long-term customers, the club really needs to make an act of goodwill on season ticket prices. The have been named-and-shamed by Vancouver and Montreal, both of who reduced season ticket prices in one form or another. Many Toronto supporters are screaming that the only way they would consider renewing is with a price reduction after six long years of losing badly while paying one of the league’s highest average ticket prices. Call us cynics (most do) but the best we can see MLSE doing is a price freeze or a similarly underwhelming scheme.

If you had the penultimate decision on the 2012 Toronto FC MVP, who would you select and why ?

That is a very hard question in a year where so few have shone. If it wasn’t for an ACL injury, Danny Koevermans and his phenomenal strike-rate would have walked this home but really, so few others have shown much in footballing prowess. Youngsters Luis Silva and Ashtone Morgan have had moments of brilliance but are far from consistent enough. With that, for sheer perseverance and workmanlike nature we will hand it quietly to veteran Terry Dunfield. We love Terry for his spirit but the fact that he is most likely the MVP in many eyes shows how poorly the club has performed in 2012. We only call him “Canadian Pirlo” with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Many players in the final two games will be playing for jobs and contracts for next season. Who would you like to see stay ?

We wrote an article about this very point last week called “The Long Short Goodbye” where we went through every player. The consensus was that very few should return in a perfect world. However, we can’t see the management team being able to find that many replacements so many of the same faces will likely be here next March. There are a few current starters who should stay, but only as bench strength.

As far as building blocks we would hold on to Stefan Frei, Darren O’Dea, Ashtone Morgan and Luis Silva as our only “musts”. While others could have a role to play – they are replaceable. This somewhat controversially would include the injured and aging Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings who are both entering the last year of their Designated Player contracts.

What players would you happily see the back of come the end of this season ?

Not trying to be cruel to many TFC players but there is a lot of dead wood here. Of non-Academy players there is little upside to Quincy Amarikwa, Logan Emory, Ty Harden, Jeremy Hall, Dicoy Williams, Andrew Wiedeman and Freddy Hall just to start. If you want to get into “value for dollar” then arguments will be made against Richard Eckersley and the 3 DP’s (Koevermans, Frings and Eric Hassli) although I think Eckersley has a role to play and Hassli could return at a lower salary. The value of the other two DP’s will of course be an argument that many will have. Talented no doubt – expensive and breaking down, for sure.

Who has been your stand out players ?

Despite many in these parts being down on him for his salary, I think former Celtic defender and Irish international Darren O’Dea is a good addition. A strong defender who has shown some vocal displeasure with the state of things. Take his salary out of the equation and he could anchor our defence and possibly be full-time captain. Luis Silva is the youngster with the biggest upside and should only improve in 2013. Seems to have great natural talent and decent size and speed but needs to find professional level consistency. Milos Kocic did yeoman’s work after Stefan Frei was lost to injury for the season and again, Terry Dunfield was the little engine that could.

Midway through the campaign Paul Mariner replaced Aaron Winter as Head Coach. How would you describe the job Paul has done ?

After seemingly being a breath of fresh air for many players after Winter’s departure, Mariner has lately become a very polarizing figure amongst supporters. His bombastic personality has gone from endearing to annoying for some while his tactical choices and tendency to play players out of position has many pulling their hair out. He seems to heavily favour “his” players even if it means not putting out a full bench at times. His defenders will say he hasn’t had time to build “his team” but that excuse won’t last too long after March 2013.

In fairness, there has been a glut of injuries but many have the feeling that he hasn’t really shown enough to warrant the keys to all future player acquisitions. We tend to like him on a human level – his enthusiasm is great but we need convincing on the pitch. Sadly he is dealing with his father’s death at the moment which may have explained some of his more prickly moments as of late.

Will he be in charge come the start of MLS 2013 ?

By all accounts Mariner, with General Manager Earl Cochrane, will be the two man show going into 2013. As we mentioned earlier it seems to be with the sword of the playoffs hanging over their head though so who knows how that will motivate their decisions. Many would agree in Toronto, after seven managers in six seasons, a change for change’s sake may not be best. Jose Mourinho is hardly waiting outside BMO Field to take over.

There has been many murmurs about Dwayne DeRosario being lined up for a return to TFC. Can you see this move happening ?

I would not put a penny on this happening anytime soon. The saga of Toronto’s best ever footballer and the breakdown of his relationship with TFC is a shame for everyone involved. De Ro has equal number of fans and foes in Toronto now with some blaming the club and its “backroom politics” for his unhappiness here while others brand him a greedy and selfish player. Personally we were saddened when he left – it was such a waste of great talent from our own hometown. Whatever side of the fence you are on, most would agree it shouldn’t have turned out like it did. Reconciliation is very, very unlikely.

If you could pick three players from any MLS side, who would you like to see in the red of TFC and why ?

The league has really improved in talent level since 2007. There are way too many good choices but we will take a shot based on what we need right now:

Jamison Olave – Real Salt Lake – D: Despite getting older, he is a beast of a defender that we have sought in Toronto for so long. Big, fast, mean and powerful.

Will Johnson – Real Salt Lake – MF: A bit of patriotism involved but the Canadian can play right across the midfield and would be just the kind of creative link we could use here.

Chris Wondolowski – San Jose – F: Other than the brief times when Danny Koevermans has been healthy, TFC has lacked a consistent striker since 2007.

What will the club be looking to do in 2013 ?

Well sadly, it seems like the be all and end all goal for MLSE President Tom Anselmi is “make the playoffs”. It is indicative of the ownership that such a low bar is set. It’s not “compete for the MLS Cup” but simply be one of the 10 clubs that makes the post-season. It is definitely mediocre but after six years of much worse it may seem heavenly to many in the stands.

Can TFC achieve MLS Cup success in the future ?

As much as it pains me to say, and as much as many would (and do) call us “negative” (and much worse!) – I have to say under the current regime it is unlikely. There has to be a paradigm shift in the way the club is treated as a whole. After seven years of “development”, the club still lacks the right football people in too many spots – most glaringly the lack of a “club president” or “director” with a solid pedigree in the game. That being said – it is not hard to build a successful MLS club quickly. If these changes were made – things could improve at a good pace and return the club to a place of good-standing in Toronto’s sporting landscape. Impossible? No. Unlikely? At the moment.

In a five year time period where do you see Toronto FC ?

Well the next season may determine that. If it goes the way pessimists predict – TFC will continue to diminish in stature. If the management can’t find a way to right the ship then the club will become a ghost of itself. When The Reds entered the league and you couldn’t get a ticket to save yourself – we all gloated and sort of mocked the other MLS clubs with their half-empty stadiums full of shrieking children’s’ teams holding thundersticks while a fuzzy mascot kept them entertained. Could never happen here we thought – but it may very well be the “Ghost of TFC Future”. Because of the financial clout of the ownership, the club will not likely fold or relocate but if they don’t heed the warnings of empty seats in 2012 – then 2017 could see 7,000 people watching a Danny Dichio managed club continue to “try and make the playoffs”.

 

For all the readers who are unfamiliar with your blog, what is it about and what is the main purpose of the blog ?

As we said earlier, we wanted to bring back the “fanzine” feel of the past. Toronto FC has a very good mainstream media following (in MLS standards) and has some terrific independent blogs that follow the team on a very factual and analytical basis. What we wanted to do was bring the perspective (of some at least) in the stands with a very heavy dollop of humour and absurdity. We definitely leave the serious reporting and analysis to those with far better resources than us but aim to have the same banter with fellow supporters that you would hear in the stands. Those odd conversations and jokes that drift through the air at so many grounds along with some very nerdy obsessions with football kits and badges all get blended and end up on our site.

Where can people find you if they want to take a look at your blog ?

There are two ways into our site – the easy to remember: theyorkies.ca – or the more blog-direct: yorkies1812.blogspot.ca

We welcome  football supporters from around the world but do of course cater to those with TFC tastes. You won’t always agree with us but we love a good, respectful footy debate and hopefully leave you with a bit of a laugh – even on days when TFC makes you want to cry.

Best TFC Game You’ve Watched

Well wins have always been few and far between so we base this on match experience, the YouTube sensation match in 2007 vs. Chicago when Danny Dichio scored the club’s first ever goal / the 2008 season opener in Columbus, Ohio when 3,000 TFC supporters invaded Crew Stadium after an 8-hour coach trip/ or… the Champions League Quarterfinal against LA Galaxy last March when the club sold out Toronto’s Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome) with 50,000 Beckham-baiting supporters.

Best MLS Game You’ve Watched

Any match where Montreal gets beaten soundly.

Favourite Ever Toronto FC Player

For true class, grit and team spirit we will always love former Wales International Carl Robinson. Not our most technically skilled player ever but the kind of guy you are proud to call one of your own and not given a fair dismissal by the classless former GM Mo Johnston.

Favourite Opposition MLS Player

So many of this league’s finer players have used TFC as a whipping boy so we have a hate-hate relationship with many. Not that he is a personal “favourite” but the crowd gets such a charge out of playing against Landon Donovan of LA. His natural belief in himself (some would say arrogance) shines through and is a lightning rod for abuse. It makes for a fun atmosphere.

Favourite MLS Stadium (Other Than BMO Field)

We have to say that Kansas City’s Livestrong Sporting Park is our favourite MLS ground. It would not be out of place in many European cities and has re-energized their supporters. We are jealous of any ground with a roof to be honest.

Favourite TFC Chant

Well we have a funny relationship with TFC’s chants. There is a tendency to repeat many of the same ones at the same time rather than have more organic new chants. That being said – the capo’s who lead the chants have a tough and unenviable job these days with an often dour group in front of them – they do a tough job. A chant that made us laugh this year was after Danny Koevermans called TFC “probably the worst team in the world” we all joined in with “We’re the Worst Team In The World” (to the tune of “Whole World In Our Hands”) – very gallows humour.

Favourite Pre-Game Destination

Whichever pub has the shortest line-up in Liberty Village. It’s where the bus lets us off before having to pass under the Exhibition railway station which in turn makes BMO Field “the wrong side of the tracks”.

Favourite Pre-Game Food

The ultimate food on the go has to be “Toronto Street Meat” aka a massive Polish Sausage on a bun covered in sauerkraut, onions and as many condiments as you can fit.Helpful if you don’t want to talk to anyone at the match too! For a particularly Canadian treat it has to be “Poutine”. For our friends reading this in the UK that’s a portion of chips covered in thick brown gravy and deliciously melting cheese curds. BMO Field does have defibrillators.

Favourite Pre-Game Drink

One of the treats of living in one of the world’s most multicultural cities is a crazy choice in international beers. Nothing fancy mind you – just a good old pint from whatever part of the world you choose. Ours would be a Greene King IPA if you’re buying. Cheers!

I would like to thank The Yorkies (Tone Walsh) personally for your efforts and time during the interview process.

By Anthony Bedworth

@maplesoccer123

@usbritain05

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