Portland beckons, and a look back at Rochester

2 10 2009

The Whitecaps head to Portland for this Sunday’s second leg of the USL-1 semifinal, with the ‘Caps up 2-1.  In anticipation of my trip down there and the ensuing diary that will be featured on whitecapsfc.com, I give you my last road trip diary – September 2006 when the ‘Caps went to Rochester and claimed the USL-1 Championship.

(Note: these are from my saved Word docs rather than the archived webpages, so they are unedited and thus may contain some grammatical errors)

PART I

Welcome to our little ‘Road to Rochester’ diary.  Call it a blog, a journal, a diary, whatever you like – the point is, we want to share our trip with you the fan.  After all, not everyone can make it out to Rochester to see this momentous game.  So perhaps you can live vicariously through us as we travel across the country with only a shoe-string budget and a passion for Blue and White.  So visit this page often, as I will make as many updates as I can of our trip.  Gotta love the Internet!

Quick side note: be sure to watch the match live at the RIO on BROADWAY on Saturday at 4pm PST.  Tickets are only a minimum $5 donation to KidSport and you get to dress up and cheer on the Caps amongst other fans.  We were at the RIO this morning taking pictures for the daily ‘24 Hours’ so be sure to pick up a copy.

First, a little introduction is in order.  Our starting lineup consists of Paul Ruscoe, Account Representative for the Whitecaps.  Paul moved over here from London, England and has made it his mandate to pass along his passion for the sport and love for Tottenham Hotspur.  Justin Flett, Ticket Operations Coordinator, came on board in dramatic fashion.  An on-again-off-again fence rider, he showed up at work on Thursday morning declaring he is indeed coming along.  Oh, and don’t dare insult Zidane in his presence.  Matt Williams, an Ontario native, was an intern with us throughout the summer, handling various game-day operations roles as well as setting up our street team.  He knew virtually nothing about soccer when he arrived, but left with a love of all things Whitecaps.

Finally, my name is Ryan McKee, Manager of New Media and your host on this journey.

We first concocted this plan to see the game live on Monday afternoon.  In between phone calls, emails and web updates, we figured we just had to be there.  Our first plan was to go with the cheapest flight possible.  That had us leaving out of Seattle on Friday morning.  Cheap flight – Great! – and then we found out why.  Turns out you have to fly to Atlanta and then transfer to Rochester.  Atlanta??  Nine hours later, we’d be there.  Other flights had us going to Los Angeles and Dallas before ending up in Rochester.  Apparently the Seattle-Honolulu-Cancun-Rochester flight was sold out.  We did find one that made a little sense: Seattle-Boise-Minneapolis-Rochester.  But Justin shot that down saying ‘the more times you take off and land, the more chances you have of dying’.  Evidently, he’s not a fan of planes.

About this time, our collective brain power turned a 40 watt light bulb on.  Bing!  Matt goes to a college in St. Catherines, Ontario!  A quick visit to MapQuest revealed that he is only a few hours drive from Rochester.  Plus, he is only 40 minutes outside of Hamilton.  If he could pick us up, then we only need to worry about our flights.  Fortunately, Westjet had a nice seat sale going to Hamilton on Friday at 7am.  The way back is pretty steep and overall it’s considerably more than the Seattle flights, but it’s far more direct and it brings Matt into the picture.

I sent Matt an email and he called me, giddy as a schoolgirl (a 6-4 muscular schoolgirl, mind you).  He would pick us up, take us to Rochester and we would be on our way.  Our trip was officially under way.  Even after missing out on a free trip to Whistler you could not take the smile off my face.  (I helped out at the Vancouver Sun’s Raise a Reader, was selected as a prize winner at the wrap-up event, but was not there to claim it as I had to get back to work.  And no I’m not bitter at all).

PART II

I’m typing out this at 3:30 AM on Saturday morning as my 3 compatriots are nestled all snug in their beds while visions of a USL Championship dance through their heads.  It’s been a long day to say the least.  Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

I wake up at 4:48 AM, a full two minutes before my alarm is set to go off.  Evidently, my anticipation cannot be interrupted by an unconscious slumber.  After a shower, I venture off to pick up Justin.  He calls me while I’m driving and he’s either doing his best Barry White impersonation or he clearly should not be woken up at this hour.  Paul is next on the docket and he is the anti-Justin.  Big smile, chipper and full of vim – I’m not sure if he’s gone to sleep yet.

We are now at the airport and proceeding through security.  Paul has a tougher time than us and must pass a thorough (and I mean thorough) pat-down before he is allowed to move ahead.  Also, his keg of hair gel is called into question and quite frankly, I don’t know how he’d survive the weekend if they didn’t let it go.

I should also give a quick hello to Marj at the currency exchange booth next to Gate A.  I mentioned that I work for the Vancouver Whitecaps and she immediately knew about our Championship aspirations on Saturday.  She told me stories of old Empire Stadium, Crazy George and of course, Bobby Lenarduzzi.  She assured me that although she will be working Saturday evening, she will make sure the pub across the hall has the game on (particularly the TV that she could catch a glimpse of from her booth).  She wished us luck and even gave me an extra two dollars on my currency exchange.  Boy I wish everyone in the world had this woman’s spirit!

We are about to board the plane and I notice a purse left behind.  I mention it to the airport staff and they proceed to peer through it to find out who it belongs to.  Moments later, a woman emerges from our plane and claims her lost purse.  Paul leans in to me and says, ‘that sure wouldn’t happen at Heathrow.’  More importantly, our karma index is steadily climbing.

The plane ride is uneventful, highlighted by a skim through Justin’s 4-4-2 magazine, a picture of Paul catching flies and an Ellen show on TV (listen, Ellen is the best thing out there on daytime TV.  Besides, Justin was watching it too).  We have 4 hours to burn before Matt can pick us up, so we decide to play a little footy in the parking lot and then catch a cab to a restaurant.  The highlight of the meal, other than the food and bevies, is clearly the debates.  We cover just about everything soccer related, from who we think will take Sebrango’s place in the starting lineup (all I can say is I called it) and if a salary cap system would ever work in the Premiership.

Matt arrives and we are off to Rochester.  We hit customs and somehow our officer just happens to be a former footballer himself, having played with Tomasz Radzinski.  We share a few quick stories and we’re soon into the United States.  Karma boost number two!

Before reaching the hotel, we stop at the Rochester airport to pick up our dear friend and coworker, Lindsay.  Her plane is delayed so we grab a mini soccer ball from my bag and proceed to boot it around the airport, giving our best impression of Ronaldinho.  Although our exploits generated the odd disapproving look, most people were happy to kick an errant ball back to us.

By midnight, Lindsay arrives and we are on our way to the hotel.  We drive by a darkened PAETEC Park, and there’s an instant hush in the vehicle – anticipation, a journey has found its destination.

The hotel looks fantastic and we’ve just received word that 70 fellow Whitecaps supporters have made the trip and are shacking up here.  Should make for a festive weekend, indeed.  We also ensure that we are not staying on the same floor as the players – after all, four guys on a road trip can get a little loud at times and the last thing we want to do is wake any player up.  We go downstairs to join some other coworkers for a nightcap.  Many clinks of glasses and football stories ensue, and there is no doubt that this will be yet another chapter in the book of Whitecaps lore.  Looking across the room, I cannot help but feel a little humbled.  My day started with a lady sharing with me her Whitecaps memories and finished a few thousand miles away hearing a new set of stories.  They may as well have been the same story, it would not matter.  The essence and beauty is in the people that tell it.

So now I sit here, 4:30 in the morning in a dark hotel room, eager for my story to begin, for my very own Whitecaps chapter to be written and told.

PART III

My apologies for those eagerly awaiting the next blog entry (mom, dad).  As you can imagine, there was nary a moment to get on my laptop on Saturday and when I got home Sunday night, I crashed like a baby.  Fortunately I kept a notebook the whole way!

Saturday morning – today’s the day!

Our day gets off roughly on time thanks to Lindsay’s wake up call (we told her to be up and ready for 8AM and then we proceeded to sleep in until her 8:30 call).  We’re clearly a sight for sore eyes, each of us in need of a long shower, some coffee and a TicTac.  Matt and Justin somehow shared a double bed together and they both spent the night recreating the scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Paul contorted himself into an Origami Swan so that he could turn a chair and a luggage stand into a makeshift sleeping vessel.  That left me with an entire bed to myself, probably because I was up all night typing.

We try our best to look presentable, pick up Lindsay and get on our way.  We also grab ‘Bro’ for the trip.  Bro is the distant cousin of Wilson from Cast Away.  A mini Umbro soccer ball, we’ve grown quite fond of Bro on this trip and are now convinced he is our good luck charm and mascot, and thus must be involved in every aspect of our trip.  His trip consists of being dribbled through virtually every building and sidewalk we traverse.

We are determined to visit Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Now I know this is a soccer trip, but how many times are you going to be in upstate New York and a few hours from such a famous sports shrine?  Interestingly, the news director from AM1280 in Rochester read my blog and emailed me a note to call into their 10AM soccer show.  Leading up to the call, they were a lot of shots taken at Vancouver and callers were predicting and easy 3-0 victory (the irony!).  So I was expecting these radio guys to try and rile me up a little and give me a hard time.  But in truth, they were more than gracious and respectful.  I answered a few questions about the keys to the game, why Gjertsen is so good and how I feel coming into the match.  Even a guest from the Stampeders (the Southsiders of the Rhinos, if you will) invited me to come by their section during the game.

They also informed us that the Soccer Hall of Fame was only about half an hour south of Cooperstown and that we should check it out.  Especially since the esteemed Bob Lenarduzzi was enshrined there.  So now we had to really book it to fit it all in!

Cooperstown is a beautiful town.  You feel like you are taking a step back in time.  The old-fashioned colonial style buildings give off that ‘small town America’ vibe.  Trees line every road and pathway and the onset of autumn has blanketed the sidewalks with leaves.  The Hall of Fame itself is truly a worthy shrine to America’s Pastime.  Baseball might be the best sport at honoring and cherishing its past, and Cooperstown is its epicenter.  Justin was in his glory and even Paul, not a fan of baseball per se, was impressed.  With that said, I’ll bet a lot of interesting people have come through the turnstiles here.  However, I also bet that they’ve never seen a guy like Paul come through wearing a Whitecaps jersey on top and a Whitecaps flag wrapped around his body as a skirt!

A few hours and a few souvenirs later, we are back on the road.  Unfortunately, we aren’t going to make it to the soccer hall of fame.  If we had known about it ahead of time, we would have planned to leave earlier (by telling Lindsay we were leaving at 7AM, so she could inevitably call us at 7:30).  But we just can’t risk missing a second of the Championship game.  It sounds like a good Rhino turnout, so the boys are going to need all the support we can muster.

Working on 7 hours sleep in two days, I’m starting to feel the inevitable ‘crash’.  So on the way back to Rochester, I crawl into the back of the SUV and attempt a little shut-eye.  Bad idea.  Feeling every bump of the road, I quickly felt nauseated and had to return to my seat.  I’ll just have to push through it.

Fortunately nothing beats sleepiness like a little karaoke.  Paul has a mental library of songs to chant and sing during a Whitecaps match.  Most of them consist of two lines sung over and over again and they all mimic a famous song or kid’s tune.  But they’re catchy, they’re original (sort of) and by golly, they’re going to be sung tonight.  Some of them leave a little to be desired though, so we instead start flipping through the radio stations trying to remix classic songs into Whitecaps chants.  A few of our best:

(To the tune of “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra)

Start spreading the news

We’re winning tonight

We’re taking the USL Championship

From New York, New York

We’re gonna wake up

In the city with hardly any sleep

To find we’re the King of the Hill

Top of the Heap…

(To the tune of “You’re in my Heart” by Rod Stewart)

You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul

All we need is just one goal

We cheer you on to the very end

You’re in my soul

(To the tune of Red Red Wine, by UB40)

Bulge the twine

It’s up to you

Bulge the Twine

Ya make me feel so fine

Keep up the scoring

All of dee time

Okay, the last one needs some work

We get back to our hotel with just enough time to change into even more Whitecaps gear and head to the Stadium.  I quickly rub my 100 Mile House 1992 Division 1 Championship Trophy for good luck.  Here we go…

We’re at the stadium.  An interesting stadium, to say the least.  It has a very wide open style to it.  Perfect for crowd management, the food and drink booths are well back of the actual stadium bowl.  I’m not sure if they have the atmosphere that our fans would have brought (but I’m biased), but they do have some great features.  First, the video screen at the one end of the field is gorgeous.  Crystal clear and bright.  The presentation was impressive, with fireworks blasting off as the Star Spangled Banner was being sung.  Finally, the stands are all made of metal instead of concrete, so when the Rhinos come on the field, everybody stomps their feet and it sounds like a real stampede.  Great idea.  Maybe we could all yell ‘whooooish’ at Swangard and it would sound like a giant wave.  Okay okay, so there’s a reason I’m not in game presentation.

We’re sitting in a corner section close to the pitch with all of the parents, wives, girlfriends and kids so it was nice to see some familiar and supportive faces.  Paul was clearly the ring leader, as he spent the entire evening chanting and singing and hollering.  The only time he shut his mouth was during the singing of O Canada – but he has no excuse as he’s lived here for 6 months now.  One particular Rhinos fan was trying to yell back at us and rile us but to no avail.  He was pretty much stuck on chants of ‘USA. USA’.  He even tried to mock us with ‘hey, where are your farms?’  I’m not even sure what that means.

Speaking of the fans, they were tremendous.  They are a loyal bunch that weathered the conditions and tried valiantly to will their team to a comeback.  We met the Stampeders at halftime as well, and they are just great.  They’ll have to make a trip up this way next season so we can reciprocate the hospitality.

I won’t go into the details of the game too much.  I’m sure most of you watched it, listened to it or read about it.  But I will say it unfolded exactly as you would hope.  It started rather predictably, with the Rhinos fired up and the Whitecaps a little tentative.  The Rhinos really needed to score in the first few minutes or else risk a turn of the tide (whooooish! – I’m terrible).  Despite the pouring rain, wet clothes, and trembling bodies (except Lindsay who took her hotel blanket to the stadium), we stood and yelled throughout the entire game.  When the momentum turned, we knew it would be for good.  The first goal at the end of the half could not have come at a better time.  I think I broke my finger banging on the Canada flag (thanks again Andrew!) draped around the railing.  When the second goal was scored, we were ecstatic and resolved to feverishly watch the clock.  The third goal was pure bliss.  Matondo took his shirt off after he scored – a brilliant act of solidarity for the suspended Eddie Sebrango.  Better yet, Paul was able to unleash this gem, with authority:

(To the tune of “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin)

When the ball’s in the goal

It’s not Shearer or Cole

It’s Matondo

We must have sung that song 75 times over the final 5 minutes.

When the game was final, pure elation ensued.  Bro was a ball of joy.  Not a dry eye could be found on faces of the parents and wives, and I doubt it had anything to do with the rain.  The team jumped around and hugged and then made their way to our corner to hug their loved ones and shake our hands.

We ventured to where the player’s exit and after clapping for the losing Rochester side, we were there to further congratulate the players.  The building was empty by the time they came off the field, trophy in hand, but we were not missing a moment.  Steve Kindel shoved the trophy in Paul’s face and told him to kiss the Cup.  Something Paul will never forget, I’m sure.

Our next stop was a restaurant/bar where we had a section reserved for the team, staff and significant others.  It was really a special time, maybe the highlight of my trip.  For the first hour or so, it was just the staff members there.  It was a nice moment for all of us to reminisce on the season, share stories of the weekend so far and just celebrate the achievement together.  When the players came in, we greeted them with a standing ovation and they made their way around the room thanking us for coming.  The smiles on the face of Bob Lilley and Mike Toshack were priceless – these guys have worked so hard all season.

Joey Gjertsen handed us the trophy and said, ‘here, you guys take it for awhile’.  We took a few pictures, lifted it up and just soaked in the moment.  I was a little speechless at this point and I still can’t fully explain the radiance of that trophy.  I had goosebumps and I couldn’t stop looking at it.  The next few hours were filled with more hugs, more hand-shakes, more photos – the spirit in the room was unlike anything I’ve experienced.

This blog has really been special for me, as it’s forced me to constantly consider how I feel at every moment.  To stop and absorb the moments.  I have to say, I’m so happy for the staff here.  In my short time here at the Whitecaps, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most passionate and dedicated individuals.  That was never more evident than this weekend.  This is a special group, both on and off the field.

I’m also happy for the fans, most of whom have been Whitecaps supporters for far longer than me.  You know who you are.  You were packing the RIO and cheering throughout the match.  You were at a favourite pub with you best soccer mates.  You were glued to the radio, envisioning every play in your head.  You deserve this.  I thought of that old famous phrase, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.  Well I say it takes a village to raise a championship.

Oh and one last thing.  For those of you that couldn’t see the match in person, we WILL host the Final one day and we WILL pack the joint and we WILL raise that trophy in front of our fans!  Now Goodnight.

Sunday morning arrives way too soon.  The anti-Christmas morning, if you will. The inevitability of a full day spent driving, flying, transferring and flying again has hit us.  We look like death.  And then I look across the room and say ‘we did it’ and a smile appears on everyone’s face.  That’s what winning does – it gives you a perpetual Get Out of Jail Free card for every cold, bad luck or bad day.  You can always say, ‘yeah but…’

Our road trip back to Hamilton was eventful – with the way the weekend has gone, how could it not?  Matt got a speeding ticket for driving 80 in a 65.  Oops, in case he wants to appeal it, let the record show that I was in the passenger seat and am sure he was doing 64.

We get to the border and just before approaching the officer I blurt out ‘these aren’t the droids you’re looking for’.  Puts everyone in stitches.  We then stop to see Niagara Falls and sit down at the Rainforest Café for a bite to eat.  After finding out that Tottenham Hotspur won this morning he declares it a perfect weekend.  I reply, ‘I know. Absolutely nothing went wrong this trip’ and immediately after (I kid you not), the restaurant went dark and a loud thunderous sound effect shot through the room.  A bit of foreshadowing indeed…

After leaving the restaurant, we realize that our plane is leaving in 75 minutes and we’re at least 40 minutes away.  We race up to the Hamilton airport and I run to the desk while the other guys grab our bags (Matt I forgot to say bye.  Bye).  She checks us in and we rush through security, with literally minutes to go.  In fact, the person has already announced the ‘final boarding call’ and is now saying something to the effect of ‘you must be here in the next minute or you risk missing the flight.’  I get through security, but while my bag is still being scanned (laptop inside), I run to the gate.  I point to Justin and Paul and plead with her to let us on.  The gate attendant wasn’t too happy, but allows us to proceed.  I run back to get my bag and run out onto the runway toward our plane.  A few dirty looks and sneers later, we are in our seats and on our way.  It seemed destined to end this way.  A frantic weekend, but we return as Champions.





A Few Good Men

19 06 2009

One of my favourite movies of all time is A Few Good Men.  Every time it’s on TV (which seems monthly at this point), I find myself landing on it and staying there.  It’s a movie filled with A-list actors and memorable lines.  And the best line of all comes at the end, when Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) says to Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) – “You don’t need a patch on your arm to have honour.”  After the final match of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship last night, I think I may need to watch this movie again on the weekend.

Smoldering flames

It was April 19, 2004. The Vancouver Canucks were at home to the Calgary Flames for game 7 of the first round of the playoffs. The season had already been marred by an ugly incident involving Todd Bertuzzi, but the resilient bunch looked capable of a decent march into Lord Stanley’s Spring.

I was less than a year into my first sports gig – marketing assistant for the Vancouver Canucks. Between data entry and other staples of the administrative world, I was charged with taking hold of the Inside Edge, this new ‘e-newsletter’ project that was going to push content out in an interactive and efficient way. I was making a cool $24,000 a year, but hey, I worked for a professional sports team, so I was on top of the world.

When game 7 approached, word spread around the office that there were some seats opening up for staff to purchase. I jumped at the chance, spending a quarter-paycheck on what was to be a highlight of my young career. I took my girlfriend (now wife) and we nervously watched the game unfold. I still remember it like it was yesterday. When Matt Cooke scored with a couple seconds left to send it to overtime, the building erupted. It still gives me goosebumps watching it. I picked up my girlfriend and swung her around like a rag doll. I was high-fiving and hugging everyone in my vicinity. Somehow our entire section became life-long drinking buddies who had just won a trip to Vegas.

The next moments happened in an instant. Everybody packed into the concourse to hit the washroom before overtime commenced. As I waited in the concourse for my girlfriend to get through the line and back to our seats, I remember thinking that I was witnessing one of the greatest Canucks games in history.  Watching Pavel Bure score his game 7 goal a decade earlier on a 22-inch tv in 100 Mile House had nothing on this moment.

My girlfriend came back and we rushed up the steps to our section.  Before we could get back, it was over.  Calgary had scored.  I didn’t even see it.  All I saw was the rush of people coming towards me like a fire had broken out.  That’s one of the key things I will also remember – that feeling of everybody rushing to get out of the building, like the loss was a virus that was going to infest us all.

It’s not you, it’s me.

That week back to work was especially difficult.  I can say for certain that I lost something that week.  You see, sports is like a love affair.  You fall in love with a team.  You wait on every bit of news.  You plan your days around them.  You feel heartbroken when they lose.  But you hang on, because you believe that happiness is just around the corner.

Working for a sports team, you lose this aspect very early.  The shine wears off.  The novelty gets old.  I always tell students that if they want to work in sports, prepare to give up your affection for the team.  Don’t get me wrong, working in sports is great.  But when you’re on the inside, when you have to deal with the highs and lows not just as fan but as an employee, it loses a bit of lustre.  Less than 12 hours after that fateful game 7, I had to put my despair aside and get back to season ticket renewals and email data capture.

You know when people in a relationship say ‘I love her, I’m just not in love with her?’  Game 7, 2004 is when I fell out of love for the Canucks.  I still cheer them on, I still wish for their success.  I read all about them, opine with my friends about their transactions and watch the games closely.  But it’s not the same.  I love them but I’m not in love with them.

The lamplighter brings darkness

Last night might have been the hardest loss I have ever taken as a sports fan.  Perhaps I am hyberbolizing because I’m still caught up in it.  But let’s face it, Montreal deciding not to show up and losing to Toronto FC 6-1 was one of the Whitecaps biggest losses in history – and we weren’t even on the pitch.  On the brink of CONCACAF Champions League, it was snatched away by an opportunistic TFC and a Montreal squad that most have described as their ‘B Team’.  I watched it amongst 50 Whitecaps supporters at The Lamplighter and words cannot describe the feeling in the room after it was all said and done.  It was a mix of shock and anger.  It was worse than a loss.  At least with a loss, there are answers to be unearthed; people to blame; an autopsy to conduct.  This was beyond that.  We were helpless.  It was like pulling up to your house after a night out with friends and watching it engulfed in flames.

I attempted to drown my sorrows at The Roxy’s 21st Birthday Extravaganza.  But after seeing too many colleagues and having to discuss and dissect what had previously occured hours earlier, I wanted out of there.  I just wanted to go home and fade away into dreamland.

The sun also rises

Waking up this morning was blissful.  There’s that 5 or 6 seconds when you wake up that your brain is still recounting its final dream and has no recollection of any reality from the day before.  That is a beautiful, beautiful time.  But as with all good things, it’s fleeting.  Reality set up shop and slammed a door in my face.  I was dreading coming into the office.  But I trudged through the morning and arrived at work to see a ghost town.  Where Thursday the office was bubbling with laughter and excitement, today felt like a funeral.  No eye contact, no conversation.  The frustration and confusion was pungent.

And then it changed.  I went onto the Southsider message board and read the sentiments.  Mixed in with the anger, a central theme emerged.  They were proud to be a Whitecaps fan and publicly stated it.  I moved onto the blogs and articles smattered across the web.  Again, it was respect to the ‘Caps.  I checked my Twitter accounts.  More of the same.

That’s when it hit me: last night, was a dark hour filled with despair and heartbreak.  But we arose a stronger club.  Our emotions may be low but our heads are high.  In one of the most eventful 7 days in club history, we’ve learned who we are and what we stand for. Ultimately, that’s worth more than any trophy.

All it took was a few good fans and a bunch of ‘new age’ web devices for me to see it.

Press on.





Stay of execution

2 06 2009

Working in sports, you can measure how much a moment means to you by how much you stick around after the match. When I worked at the Canucks, friends would tell me I was so lucky because I could hang out and watch every game. But nothing could be further from the truth. You work so hard day in and day out that most of the time you just want to go home. Sure, I stuck around for the big ones, but more often than not, I was content to just watch from home or at a pub with friends.

Working at the Whitecaps, I hardly ever miss a match – pretty much only if I’m out of town. I enjoy the atmosphere and I enjoy the closeness I feel to the club and thus I don’t want to miss a moment. But I will say, once the game is over, I want outta there. I don’t stick around, I just want to get home or onto whatever plans I have for the evening.

When a game like this occurs, however, you become like a kid at Playland. You just wander around with a perma-grin. Last night, I found myself going up to anyone I knew to shake hands, pat on the back, high five, whatever. When players were being interviewed I lingered, when fans were chanting in the concourse, I applauded. I just didn’t want to miss a thing. I wanted to be a sponge and soak it in. Tuesday night’s match reminded everyone how great following a club can be. I don’t want to even think about the future, but rather just enjoy what we have before us. Let this moment linger, just like me post-match on Tuesday.





Storming through BMO Field

6 05 2009

I thought I’d keep my loyal readers in suspense on ‘Boxergate’ for a couple more days.  So first, I should take you back a little – to Saturday – where we last left things…

After my first blog post, I made my way to BMO Field with Ms. Campbell, eager to catch my first TFC home match and absorb this heralded atmosphere that only Youtube had teased me with prior.

We entered the grounds and made our way to the offices to meet with Paul Beirne, Senior Director of Business Operations.  The first thing we noticed was the branding around the stadium.  TFC have done an amazing job of putting their logo on virtually everything.  I am passing this on only as heresay evidence, but to give you an idea of what I mean, the women’s washrooms apparently have logoed toilet seats and soap dispensers. More than logos, however, there were collages of memorable moments (you might be thinking ‘what memorable moments?’ but go with me on this), framed autographed photos and large silver wall thingees (I’m saying thingees because I have no idea what the name for these are, so just have a look at the picture).

I must say, I was a wee bit nervous to meet Paul.  Admittedly, I don’t know many Torontonians, but I had always heard they were arrogant.  And if any Torontonian had a right to be arrogant, it would probably be the guy that took an expansion franchise and made it the envy of the league.

So when Paul walked up and joyfully dissed me on my Whitecaps jacket, I knew I was clearly misguided in my stereotype.  Over the course of the next hour, Paul chatted with us about pretty much everything and anything to do with the club.  He was incredibly open, humble and thoughtful, and I could see exactly how the fans feels such a closeness with the club.  In fact, as I write this later, I’ve spoken to a number of supporters that mentioned him outright as a key to their relationship with the club.  I asked Paul about the 75 or so visiting fans from Columbus, all sectioned in the upper north east end of the stadium.  He told me that they let them in 30 minutes before the gates open and don’t let them leave until 30 minutes after the match finished.  This was done so as to keep the visiting and home supporters from any potential skirmishes.

Probably the most interesting thing we discussed was about supporters groups and how he began working with them.  His response was simple: “message boards”.  Sometimes it is as simple as that.  Talk to people.  Read what they are saying.  Personally, I’ve always felt that reading what the Southsiders or Voyageurs are saying on their boards was like free research.  Yes, I also post new topics and respond to threads.  But I also just read.  Like I said, free research.  So to hear Paul touch on that was extremely encouraging.

We took a little tour of the building and the most memorable part was the large room with turf for carpet.  In the middle of the room, there is a little net upon which the players play a form of ‘foot-tennis’.  The dressing rooms were pure class as well.  I didn’t take pictures out of respect, but the main room had a giant touch screen video review wall and there were additional rooms with food, hot and cold tubs and a lounge.

After the tour, we ventured out into the concourse.  TFC have done an incredible job of ensuring every fan is wearing red, and that was never more evident than when I walked through the concourse.  In fact, one of the things I found interesting was that their merchandise booths sold very little variety of items.  Only the staples – jerseys, scarves, caps, hoodies, shirts and a backpack.  That’s it.  Rather than trying to provide something for everyone, they instead tried to make everyone looking homogenous.  This has to be deliberate, as you can look into the stands and only see red.  I compare that to the Canucks merch shop, which features hundreds of different items and stylish clothing in a range of colors and cuts.  Although the Canucks store is undoubtedly successful, I would venture to suggest that it doesn’t help build atmosphere in the arena the same way TFC does.  Different clubs, different sports, different strategies.

Once the match started, we attempted to get near the Supporters Club section.  Unfortunately, Lake Ontario had different intentions as a storm brushed in and proceeded to pelt us with freezing cold rain.  I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but we scurried off to the MLSE suite to warm up, eat some free food and observe.  Sure, laugh at us all you want, but in the thick of things, you’d do the same!  Besides, I was the only person in the building with a Whitecaps jacket on, so I’m not sure if I would’ve survived in the supporter’s section much longer.

The atmosphere at BMO Field cannot be overstated.  Sportsnet or Youtube clips do not do it justice.  What makes it especially interesting is the different ‘pockets’ of atmosphere that exist around the stadium.  You have the visitor’s supporters section whose patrons remain standing and yinging (a combo between yelling and singing) throughout the match.  Then there’s the north end whose supporter’s club sort of built up organically (essentially the people of that section created their own group one day).  The fans on the upper deck stomp their feet and since the upper deck is built on aluminum stands, the sound is immense.  The sidelines are perhaps the quietest (corporate and family-oriented), but even they have times where they all stand up and cheer.  Finally, in the south end you have a mixture of a steel drum band in one corner and the immense presence of the Red Patch Boys in the other.  Their chants, flags and streamers cannot be missed and they do a fantastic job of delivering intimidation to the opponents (and the refs!).

Despite the allegiance to the home squad, the ‘aura’ in the stadium never felt dangerous.  It never appeared like there was any chance of fights breaking out.  Even I, wandering around in my bright blue Whitecaps jacket and Southsider scarf, heard barely a jibe.

The match itself was great to watch, although TFC were probably lucky to come away with a draw.  It seems as though the crowd really pushes TFC along, as they got stronger as the match progressed.  I’m sure a 1-1 draw was not ideal for the TFC faithful, but against the defending champions, it wasn’t a bad result either.  The fans exited the stadium with little incident, content to head home and do it all over again on Wednesday.

And with my last pair of underwear on and nasty cold forming in my chest, so was I.

TFC thingee

This was down near the locker rooms

Inaugural season tickets and scarf

Columbus fans entering the stadium long before the TFC faithful

TFC fitness room

This is written on the wall in the fitness room

Turf and soccer-tennis setup

Match - and storm - set to begin

Me getting pelted with rain in the supporters section

The suite was much dryer

A stream of streamers await the corner taker

Merch booth - as you can see, not a ton of variety but all red.

Mmmm...

BMO Field concourse

And finally, this is also what you take pictures of when you go on a trip with a director of events. Fun!






In search of soccer fans and undergarments

2 05 2009

I’m writing you from the center of the universe, a densely populated metropolis of vast expanses of industry, endless rows of brick and mortar houses and a limitless medley of cultural expression.  I’m talking, of course, about Toronto.   This is the second time I’ve visited big brother, but the first that I’ve been staying downtown and am able to soak in the city’s energy.  That is, if I can find some more underwear!

Perhaps, I should back up a little.  I’ve been sent on a research mission per se, with my colleague Hillary Campbell, Director of Events for the Whitecaps.  We are here to spend time with Toronto FC staff on a topic we are calling ‘fan cultivation’.  As you probably are aware, TFC have done a remarkable job of not only selling out their building since their inception into the MLS, but also creating a stadium atmosphere unlike anything typically seen in North America.   By working with supporter clubs, they’ve made BMO Field an intimidating place and created a local passion for the beautiful game.  No easy task, considering teams such as the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors and Argonauts harbour loyal fanbases themselves.

So we have a week to attend two TFC matches – today against rival Columbus and Wednesday against our very own  Whitecaps.  In addition, we plan to meet with key TFC staff as well as supporter club leaders, pub owners and anyone else willing to offer up some insight.   The goal is to come back to Vancouver with a sense of how we might build a similar atmosphere (or better!) and how we can better work with fans, supporters, etc. If this trip sounds like a dream trip for any Canadian soccer fan, it isn’t without it’s share of calamities – at least for me.  We flew with Air Canada and I was pleasantly surprised at the choices of movies and television shows you can watch on your personal monitor.  However, I foolishly chose Marley and Me despite hearing about it’s proclivity to induce sobbing.  But I love dogs and it seemed far more enjoyable than Frost/Nixon, so I pushed onward.  Hillary, who prepped me with ‘I’ve never cried more in a movie in my life’ was peeking over at me as the movie approached its inevitable conclusion.  Needless to say, it got a little dusty in there during the end, but I managed to keep things in check.  I probably looked like an idiot to the rest of the passengers, but it serves me right.  Note to self – on the way home, go with Frost/Nixon.

Secondly, I completely forgot to do any laundry before my trip.  This means I have a bunch of dress shirts that are about as wrinkled as Henry Kissinger.   Most vital of all, I had hardly any clean underwear to pack and thus I currently am wearing my last pair.  I’m not exactly sure how this story is going to end, but clearly I’m going to have to find something somewhere.  I just hope I’m not stuck buying some tacky TFC boxer shorts!

Other than that, my stay has been great.  My hotel room is very nice and something called Lemongrass Body Butter and Mint Thyme Hair Creme awaited me in the shower.  We are staying in the hotel attached to the Rogers Centre, so we ate dinner overlooking the Blue Jays game last night.  We then ventured off to Wayne Gretzky’s pub, which is also a cool little spot.  Unfortunately, I’m still on westcoast time, so I didn’t fall asleep until 3:30 eastern and am a little groggy today.

But there’s not time to waste!  TFC – Columbus kickoff in 4 hours and we are heading over there to pick up our all-access passes and meet the staff.  I’m so used to ‘working’ at matches, that it will be nice to just wander around as a fan (an ‘all-access’ fan I suppose) and soak it all in.

And, of course, my quest to find underwear looms in the background.  Unless I want to use the hotel’s dry-cleaning service for my only two pair, I better stumble upon a clothing store sometime today.  Wish me luck!

Not the greatest photo, I realize, but my first glimpse of BMO Field.

The Score studio - very very cool

Blue Jays game from our seats in the restaurant. I believe if you look close enough, you can see Alex Rios killing my fantasy team.





I like to frequent the discos…

4 04 2009

Good times were had at Mahoney & Sons this evening. The UBC men’s soccer team held a fundraiser and were showing the 1979 NASL Soccerbowl match between the ‘Caps and Tampa Bay (we also watched a bit of the semifinal victory over the Cosmos).

Vicente Arze, Mason Trafford and Marlon James stopped by as well. The highlight of the night came during the halftime when a young Bob Lenarduzzi was featured and spoke to his love of racquetball and how he ‘frequents the discos’.

I spoke to Mike Mosher, the men’s head coach, and we talked about doing another fundraiser in the fall that we can properly promote and get involved with. Should be fun.





Juno who Jeff Parke is?

31 03 2009

Working over in marketing for the Whitecaps, it’s not often you get to be involved in team signings and roster moves. Now, I’m not suggesting I had any major involvement, but this is probably the closest level of influence I’m going to get.

You see, Friday morning I arrived at the office to learn that Jeff Parke was on his way in to Vancouver. We felt he could be a key signing for the club and really strengthen the back four. He and his wife were set to arrive in the afternoon and we had put them up in a downtown hotel for the next several days. As is customary with these types of situations, you want to ensure the player has a positive experience with the club and the city. It’s sort of a courting game, per se. So with the Juno Awards in Vancouver that weekend, we thought it would be a great event for Jeff and his wife to attend and get a taste of the city.

But how were we ever to get tickets to the main events, especially on the same day that it was all to kick off? Well, that’s where I stepped in. With my relationships at various radio stations, I knew they would be the best source to hit. It was a little bit of a long shot, however, as most people give out their passes long before the day-of. But I explained the situation to my wonderful colleague at CFox and sure enough, she couriered me off some concert tickets and VIP passes!

So when I found out we actually signed Jeff last night, a little piece of me claimed victory. It was a fairly minor and possibly inconsequential element of the process, but hey, maybe it did play a factor. I’ll continue to think so until someone tells me otherwise!








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