Ciarán Breen is a sports writer and multimedia journalist. Here, he reports on the rituals and superstitions Toronto FC fans have developed over the club’s decade-long history. Follow Ciarán on Twitter.
Toronto, On. — On Saturdays, Kristin Knowles packs her bag before work in the usual manner. Red shirt, red shoes, blue denim jeans. She takes transit to her local Chapters bookstore, where she works an eight-hour shift on the floor.
Her day is one of routine.
However, the carefully folded apparel in red is not work to market the latest bestseller. This is Toronto FC gameday and Knowles follows a strict ritual.
“I don’t wear any opposing team colours, except for jeans, because jeans are neutral,” says the 43-year-old. “I won’t wear shoes, socks, bra… everything.” She means, of course, in visiting team colours.
For the Bloor West Village resident, TFC home games are opportunities for mishaps.
“I’ve caught myself leaving the house and I will go back and change,” says Knowles, a season ticket holder at BMO Field since the team’s inception in 2007.
“It’s usually when we’re playing teams that wear blue that it’s more difficult. Oh, no, wait, no, I have to change that, put that back. Especially coming from work.
“Wrong colour, put that one back.”
Knowles, from Peterborough, has been living in Toronto for 25 years and admits most of her friends, family and fellow supporters don’t know about her particular dress code.
“I don’t look down on anybody, unless they’re wearing the others team’s kit, then get out of my section.”
Asked what would happen in the event of a clothing malfunction, Knowles suggests her ritual is more to do with comfort than superstition.
“I don’t know if anything would actually happen but I would feel really uncomfortable,” says the host of fan-run podcast The Vocal Minority. “I would enjoy the game less because I would feel off.”
“This is how I get myself psyched up for games, how I get myself in game-mode.”
Knowles did make an exception on one occasion, when her beloved Tottenham Hotspur came to town for a friendly match. She wore her Spurs kit that night and cheered for both teams. Significantly TFC lost 2-0 so maybe there is something to her focus on fashion.
In another part of the GTA, Raghav Sandhu has an alternate dress code.
Despite supporting the team since day one, the 27-year-old Bramptonite has an aversion to TFC red.
“I don’t wear a shirt or a jersey. I don’t wear the TFC jersey at all,” says Sandhu, who moved to Toronto from Frankfurt, Germany when he was eight years old. “I like to wear a black shirt with a scarf because wearing a jersey for me is unlucky.”
A writer for fansite Waking The Red, Sandhu points to the record books as reason for the tradition he adopted midway through the 2015 season.
“The last 10 years of TFC have been less than stellar,” says Sandhu, who focuses on the fan experience rather than game analysis. “If I do wear a jersey, nine out of 10 times we’ll end up losing the game. So I just stopped wearing jerseys and this year has been going pretty well.”
However, Raghav concedes that if TFC’s star striker Sebastian Giovinco knocked on his door, handed him a signed replica jersey and requested he wear it to next game, his ritual would be broken.
“If he asked me to wear it, then yes I would,” he says.
Long-time Toronto FC fan Edward Hon-Sing Wong is also a scarf wearing supporter, whatever the weather.
Wong grew up on soccer in Hong Kong, watching mainly British football on television. To stand out from the crowd, he choose English side Wolverhampton Wanderers as his team of choice and picked up a scarf in the famous black and gold from the club shop on a visit to the United Kingdom.
“In Hong Kong you don’t really wear a scarf because it’s really hot,” says Wong. “So I guess it made me feel more authentic.
“It’s a collectivization. That’s the great thing about soccer. If you’re suffering you’re never suffering alone. Part of wearing the scarf is reaffirming the identity.”
Professor Peter Yannopoulos, from Brock University, has researched the underlying motivations of soccer fans. He highlights the importance of social identities in understanding supporter behaviour.
“People go to soccer games to be with similar fans and to express their identity,” says the professor of Marketing and Business Strategy at the Goodman School of Business.
“There’s rational fans and there’s the more serious, fanatical fans. They try to behave in accordance with their image or self-concept or identity.”
Many fan traditions appear to tread a fine line between superstition and ritual.
For Wong, who at his first home game at BMO Field in 2007 witnessed TFC’s first win in their history, the significance of the scarf has changed over time.
“I insist on doing it but if I miss out on it, it doesn’t bother me so much,” says the 27-year-old. “It used to when I was younger.
“It started out as a ritual. Ritual became superstition. Growing up, I grew out of it a little.”
Social worker by day, Wong has soccer themed boxer shorts “for bigger games usually.” He also has a pair of TFC socks that he wore to his wedding last summer and now wears to most home games.
So what did his wife make of the special nuptial socks?
“She thought it could have been worse,” chuckles Wong. “I could have forced her to have the wedding at BMO Field.”
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