With a simple, well-intentioned message posted on social media on Thursday, Councillor Norm Kelly sparked another skirmish in an unusual Toronto turf war. His offending post, written above a photo of BMO Field: “1 week until the @TorontoArgos home opener!”
Another user, self-identified as a Toronto FC supporter, posted a response, suggesting the Argos should have moved into a smaller stadium elsewhere, and that, “no one cares about the Argos.”
That drew a rebuttal from a Canadian Football League fan saying it is, “a proven fact that more people in Toronto and Canada care about Argos more than TFC,” capping his retort with: “Lol get over it.”
The Argos, having shriveled for more than a decade at Rogers Centre, have moved into a new home at BMO Field. There are plans to tailgate and hopes of a rebirth, beginning on Thursday when they face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, their storied rival.
In the process, they have found a new rival. Toronto soccer fans suffered for generations without a proper venue to call their own. In the final days at Varsity Stadium, they could only sit in one grandstand for games, because the other had been condemned.
They embraced BMO Field immediately, and they have defended it aggressively.
Those competing narratives have collided, pitting football fans against soccer fans. For a segment of each fan base, BMO Field is a simmering battleground. It is red versus blue.
“We’ve lost our home,” said Toronto FC fan Eli Zeldin. “We’ve lost our space.”
Zeldin is a leader in the wonderfully named Inebriatti, a fan group. When rumours of a possible relocation started swirling in 2013, the group launched a protest movement they called: “No Argos @ BMO.”
“I don’t think that anybody who’s an advocate of the ‘No Argos’ at BMO Field campaign is actually in favour of the club just shutting down and ceasing to exist,” Zeldin said. “That would be a sad day.”
The objection, he said, is to having them exist inside the soccer stadium.
“We would have much preferred to have the Argos go to Varsity or York, or to have their own stadium built,” he said. “We really feel that BMO Field should be the home of TFC and TFC alone.”
In 2004, the Argos were part of a proposal to build a 25,000-seat stadium on the grounds of Varsity Stadium, at the University of Toronto, for about $80-million. Residents — and some members of the university — objected loudly. The plans were shelved.
The Argos spent the better part of a decade looking for a new home. There was a window at York University that ultimately closed. In 2001, ownership seriously thought Lamport Stadium was the answer. In 2003, the rumour was the team would move to London, Ont.
“Our approach is one of humility and graciousness,” said Argos fan Adam Gosse. “I’m sure I don’t just speak for myself when I say, as Argo fans, we’re just happy to have a home.”
There are plenty of examples, though, of Argos fans needling their new roommates. One Twitter user, posting under the nom de guerre “Blue Patch Boys” — a take-off of the Red Patch Boys, another Toronto FC fan group — has become among the most vocal.
The user, who declined an interview request, posted a mission statement of sorts earlier this month: “Canadians care more about football than they do about soccer.”
“I know that there’s a lot of online banter between the two fan bases,” said Phil Tobin, president of the Red Patch Boys. “I don’t get the feeling from our group, in particular, that there’s much anger toward the actual Argo fan base.”
The main concern, he said, is with the field. Football is generally played by large humans who will, over a period of time, chew up the middle section of the field.
That is an important part of the field in soccer.
“Then it damages our sport,” Tobin said. “Because the ball’s not rolling through, because it needs a flat, perfect surface. So you’re potentially impacting the integrity of the game.”
In October, when the Toronto weather can turn cold and wet, there are concerns over how the grass will endure potential playoff pushes from both teams. What if a divot created by a football player leads to the injury of a soccer star such as Sebastian Giovinco?
“The last thing anybody wants, including our owners, is for Giovinco to go down because of an issue on the field,” said Argos president Michael Copeland. “It’s the last thing I want, as the president of the Argonauts, because I don’t want to alienate a fan base or a city.”
There is a drainage system in place to help prevent the field from becoming too soggy, he said. And there are special lights to help regenerate the turf, and a nearby sod farm with a reserve of ready-made grass. There is a buffer between football and soccer games to give the field time to recover.
Bill Manning, the Toronto FC president, said the first year of cohabitation will likely be the most challenging. Stadium renovations prevented the soccer team from hosting a home game until May, which has created a more compact schedule.
“I think you’re always going to have fans who, no matter what, will never accept it,” he said. “It’s like anything, though: There’s some people, you will never change their mind.”
Zeldin, like Tobin, does not wish the Argos ill. He wishes they were not at BMO Field.
“It’s sort of like living with your parents again,” he said. “This is your home, but you’re hemmed in a little bit more. You’re accountable to more people, you have more guidelines you have to follow. It takes away part of the celebratory atmosphere.”
– Toronto Star