A Different Kind of Traveling Soccer

//A Different Kind of Traveling Soccer

A Different Kind of Traveling Soccer

Soccer in the US is often associated with youth groups traveling to participate in tournaments. But there is a growing number of professional-league fans who cover many miles to support their teams.

I missed the goal. I had traveled 521 miles by bus to be at the game, and I now missed my team’s goal.

Disappointed, I slowly elbowed my way through the crowd back to the seat. I had come down to the concourse to buy something hot to drink and take refuge from strong winds and 30-degree weather. I must have been in line for at least 20 minutes, only to get tea that cooled within 60 seconds. “What a waste of time this was,” I thought as I proceeded up the aisle, my eyes getting watery from the cold.

Second half, Chicago Fire: 1, Toronto FC: 2. About 35 minutes left of the match. I tightened the scarf around my neck and started jumping to stay warm. ”Come on, Fire! One more!”

I did witness two more goals, but they were scored for the home team by a former Chicago player. “Fire reject!” I heard a few people chant behind me. My fellow Fire supporters of Section 8 Chicago did not hide their frustration with the game’s progress. After the final whistle, we gathered all our banners, flags and drums, and waited for security to escort us out of the visitors’ sector. “We-have-health care!” shouted a few Canadian fans as we were leaving. “Stick-to-hockey!” we responded.

We held our heads high, but there was no denying that we had hoped for a different outcome. To see your team lose is upsetting, but to see a loss on the road is even more so. Yet, despite the score, feeling exhausted and having suffered one of the coldest May days we could remember, we were still glad to be in Toronto. The annual supporters’ trip north of the border is one that many of us look forward to.

On the eve of this year’s road trip, I am wondering what it is that drives us to take time off from work, spend hours on a bus, and ardently cheer on our team in any weather conditions, no matter what the final score may be. Is it a sense of community? An excuse to socialize? A way to show local pride? I believe all these factors play a role, along with passion.

Soccer supporters are traditionally among the most devoted fans in all of sports. Sometimes the devotion goes too far and the sport becomes an excuse for violence, but thankfully, hooliganism is not common in American soccer. What is on the rise, however, is the number of organized fan groups throughout Major League Soccer that provide visual and vocal support during home and away games.

These fans are not mere spectators, but influencers who are an integral part of the game. Recognizing the power of being the 12th player on the pitch, they use chants, drumming and elaborate visual displays to invigorate their team and intimidate the opponent, all with the purpose of having an impact on the course of the game. Energy created at games is infectious and addictive. It brings people together, unites them around a common cause, makes them feel important. In a number of cases, it also extends beyond the stadium and translates into charitable work. Some of these groups are registered non-profit organizations, actively involved in supporting a variety of causes.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a lively community, centered around a shared interest and powerful enough to make an impact?

This year I am driving to Toronto. Gas in my neighborhood costs $4.65 per gallon, but I know the trip is worth the money spent. I have traveled to support the Chicago Fire in Canada since 2007, the year that marked Toronto FC’s inaugural season with the league. In these four years, not only have I made new friends within the Fire community (and had engaging – and friendly – conversations with Toronto supporters), but I’ve also had a chance to discover the city bit by bit. With its rich cultural scene, diverse culinary offerings, great walkability, and cityscape blending North-American and European aesthetics, Toronto is one of the most appealing urban destinations I’ve experienced.

Time to pack.

(Photos by D. Henderson) 

 

By | 2014-02-05T23:13:34+00:00 May 12th, 2011|STORIES|12 Comments

About the Author:

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Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.

12 Comments

  1. avatar
    Adrian June 1, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Well written and on point. I made the Toronto trip in 2008 I believe, and the best part of the trip was restaurant crawling before and after the match with the guys. There’s just something better about being some place for football with friends.

    • avatar
      Jetting Around June 1, 2011 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks, Adrian! I’m glad you made the trip – and I agree that hanging out with other fans before and after is a lot of fun. :)

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  4. avatar
    Marcus November 14, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    I wouldn’t have thought of a soccer game being the reason for you to come to Toronto :) – That’s awesome and a great read and you should definitely drop me a line when you’re in Toronto next year!

    – Marcus

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 14, 2012 at 8:04 pm

      Hi, Marcus. Thanks for reading and commenting! It all started with soccer, and now I love Toronto for all it has to offer. One of my favorite restaurants is there and I always check it out when I’m in town. I’ll be in touch next time. :)

  5. avatar
    Karla April 16, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Wow,

    you sure are a passionate fan Pola!

    So great to hear that you will go as far as crossing the border every year in order to show support to your beloved Chicago Fire.

    Yes it is well worth the trip and well, sometimes they win, sometimes they lose but one stays faithful until the end right?

    It is quite unfortunate that a small group of people take matters into their own hands and will not accept defeat and cause big problems :(

    Soccer or futbol is a sport that is in my DNA and will love it til the last day!

    So happy to know you love it if not more than me!

    Viva el deporte ;) K.
    Karla recently posted..Travel Tuesday: Quote of the dayMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 16, 2013 at 7:22 pm

      I can’t wait to talk fútbol with you when we meet! It’s another thing we have in common. :) Thanks for the lovely comment, Karlita! xx

  6. avatar
    Agness May 28, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    I’ve never been to Canada, but been following your adventures for the past few days and the scenery is just amazing. Hope to make it one day. Agree, it’s money well spent :)
    Agness recently posted..Budget Travel Guide to Guilin, ChinaMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around May 30, 2013 at 9:38 am

      Thanks for following the trip, Agness! Great times and I’m going to miss “training around” Canada.

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