There are few things in the world that can truly be described as world changing. Witnessing the birth of a child. Going to the Grand Canyon. Jumping out of an airplane.
Going on your first away day.
In England, away days usually start early, involve a short train ride, and involve singing and calling someone a wanker.
For most Toronto FC supporters, the only easy away day is the 401 Derby in Montreal. It’s a 5 and a half hour drive through some of the prettiest country I’ve ever seen.
For me, being from Buffalo, the adventure starts at 5PM on a Friday with a mad dash to the Peace Bridge, a beer and a toasty at An Sibin Pub, and an overnight stay at a friend’s house in Toronto.
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016. My day starts at 6:30 AM. This is not just the start of an away day. This is the start of a covert operation. Our plan for our supporters group is to infiltrate a Montreal Impact section, stay out of sight until after kick-off, and then go absolutely insane. The directive from up top is to go casual. No red. No branded gear. Discretion. I decide to wear all black. I thought maybe wear blue to blend in a little better but I just couldn’t stomach that.
We’re on our way to pick up the third member of our car and then off to the races. We drive 5 hours east on the 401, which is, of course, the road this derby is named for. Now, I’ve road-tripped before on long car rides in the States. Canada is a whole other experience. Miles and miles of beautiful country. Quaint little towns, especially in the Thousand Islands region. The Couche-Tard.
We arrive at the Irish Embassy just before 1PM. It’s the group’s home away for home in Montreal. As folks start arriving, I start to realize we have a big hole in our plan. Everyone is wearing black. We now have a group of 35 people wearing the same color, going into the same area, and trying to be inconspicuous. This is not going to work.
In the meantime, I’m going to drink beer and eat poutine. I’m in Montreal. I want to experience the culture.
We take the Metro to the stadium. I’m thankful I’m with the group because I speak minimal French and I can’t here the call outs for the stations nor do I know where we’re going.
Stade Saputo is right next to Olympic Stadium, former home of the Montreal Expos. Olympic Stadium is insane from an architectural standpoint. You come out of the Metro station and just see a giant spire rising into the sky that essentially guides you right to Saputo.
Security is surprisingly high. Higher than anything I’ve ever experienced at BMO Field. A girl comes by and explains the MLS’s new policy regarding taking bags into stadiums, in French. I nod. I only know what she’s saying because she just said it in English to the people in front of us. Apparently, I look like I speak French.
Once we get into the stadium, we realize we’re in a precarious position. Last year in Montreal, a few TFC supporters were attacked so there is a palpable tension. We try to stay in groups and keep an eye out but out rouse seems to be working. We head to the top of section 114 and attempt to stay quiet. We all start to realize that we’re 40 deep and all in black. Someone has to be wondering about us.
As part of the pageantry for the big day, the Impact have invited MMA legend Georges St Pierre to ring the bell every time they score. The bell is impressive and all and could toll the beginning of a very disappointing day.
Two sections over is the official TFC visiting support section. Even a half hour before the game, they’re already chanting and singing. I’m brimming with energy and it’s hard to keep quiet. All I want to do is scream my head off and sing my heart out for TFC.
We make it to the anthem. The Canadian National Anthem. Being an American supporting a Canadian club, it’s a strange thing to participate in your neighbor’s anthem like it’s your own. What’s even odder is for it to be sung in another language. Obviously, with a bunch of Ontario boys, we sing along in English. Still under the radar.
Just after kick off, we’re still not going nuts. We’re waiting for a cue from the other group. We’re waiting for them to finish a round of “Oh When the Reds”.
I WANT TO BE IN THAT NUMBER. OH WHEN THE REDS GO MARCHING IN.
It’s at that point where we came unhinged. The looks from the crowd around were first of astonishment. Then of wonder. There were those that got up to complain to stadium staff. Some seemed to enjoy the energy. The supporters group at the front of our section were probably the least happy to see us.
Within 30 minutes, I was hoarse from singing. By this point, security and a few of Montreal’s Finest have cordoned our group off, more so to protect us than anything else. To put it in perspective, there was 250-300 in the away section with 5 or 6 security guards. Our group was 35-40 with 6 security guards and 4 police officers.
We don’t seem to mind the extra attention. We’re there to support our club.
Then came the 40th minute, Jozy Altidore is taken down in the box. The ref points straight to the spot. Seba time. Seba shoots left. The keeper guesses right. But it doesn’t matter. He’s placed it in the corner. One to nil. Insanity ensues. I believe at this point someone has grabbed me so hard it left a bruise. I just don’t care.
SIAM VENUTI FIN QUA
SIAM VENUTI FIN QUA
PER VEDERE SEGNARE SEBA
We’ve came all this way to see Seba score. It means even more when drive 5 and a half hours to see it happen.
Halftime comes. I think it’s for the best that I don’t get up and go anywhere. Greg Young from the TFC front office comes over to say hello. He’s glowing. He loves the energy. A gentleman from the Impact, who exemplifies what you think of when you think jovial, heavyset Frenchman, comes over and echoes that sentiment. At a time when MLS is harassing supporters groups and imposing inconsistent and overreaching sanctions, it’s wonderful to hear from people in club offices that understand that, without real support, there is no club. There is no league. There is no soccer.
As the second half kicks off, we roar back as well. We’re coordinating our chants as direct responses to anything the Impact supporters do. We’re even doing call and response chants with the other TFC section. We are at full tilt.
We go for 35 minutes and we are really starting to get some glares. The feeling that something could happen at any moment begins to return. Only one man can break that. Giovinco takes a pass from Jonathan Osorio and finishes first time with his weak foot. An absolutely stunning goal that will show up in highlight reels for the rest of the season.
Our entire group mobs together. Beer goes flying in the celebration. Some of it ends up on some Montreal supporters in front of us. Some guy takes his belt off. There’s some pushing and some figuring pointing and the police step in to cool the situation. We could care less though. We’re up 2 nil in enemy territory. Nothing can stop this high.
At full time, I finally sit down. The rest of the group is still singing but I’m completely spent. It’s been such a long day. Between all that time in the car and 90 minutes of singing and the absolute emotion of the day, I just can’t keep going. But it’s not over yet.
Security decides to keep us in place until the stadium is empty. So we sing. And we keep singing. And then we get a security escort through the stadium. And we sing the whole way to the gate.
And just when you would think we are done, they escort us all the way to the Metro station. We sing all the way.
The only reason we stop singing is to say thank you to security and the Montreal Police.
At that point, we sing our way on to the trip and on to a night of revelry.
Now, I’m almost a week removed from my first away day and it has truly changed me. Not only has it strengthened my love for my club, it has strengthened my love for the game.
By Jeff Plummer, Guest Writer for TFN on 02/05/2016 at 11:30
Follow Jeff on Twitter @Prime_Time_Pope