Reflecting on a Swiss Soccer Sabbatical

After a couple of matches, a pilgrimage to FIFA headquarters and a tour of the Swiss National Stadium, Toronto FC is still on my mind.
by Sonja Missio   |   Monday, November 05, 2012

Red Dawn Rising - column on Toronto FC (TFC) & the Toronto Ontario soccer scene

I’m about 30,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, sipping white wine, and scribbling this article down in a Moleskine (eventually, typed), as I reflect on my Swiss Soccer Sabbatical. The trip has been wonderful and just the break I needed from soccer back home in Toronto.

A break, mind you, that I still plan to continue even after I have landed, because, from what I have seen over quick glances on Twitter in between games and mountain climbing, Toronto FC is a bit of a mess.

Apparently, from what I’ve pieced together, TFC had its end-of-season press conference, which resulted in suits squabbling with each other and led to journalists squabbling with each other. Evidently, I missed out on some epic Twitter fights.

However, truth be told, I am not too interested in grown men having wars with words; as far as I am concerned, I am still on vacation.

So, let’s talk about that vacation. In my last article I wrote Toronto FC a love letter and confessed my affair with another team. In this article, I want to talk about why I went on this trip in the first place, and what I have learned – for better and for worse – from it.

As the headline suggests, it was a Swiss Soccer Sabbatical, but I had no idea it would be so full of revelations. As luck (or cruel, cruel misery) would have it, my two European teams, Udinese and Young Boys, drew each other for the same Europa League group. I thought to myself, “Self, what a great (or cruel, cruel) opportunity to see my two favorite teams play!” and I had my flight book within days.

I should explain. I am an Udinese fan because my father was born and raised in Udine. He taught me there is nothing more important, nothing worth loving more, and nothing worth suffering for more than for the Little Zebras. And I am a Young Boys supporter because my grandfather used to play with them.

Or, so I thought.

Revelation #1: My grandfather had been lying to me about playing with BSC Young Boys for years. Or, according to my aunt and uncle’s claim, I “didn’t listen to what he said” and that I “made up my own story.”

Long story short, my grandfather actually played for Zürich’s Young Fellows and I have been supporting a random club for most of my adult life for no apparent reason. My family isn’t even from Bern!

But, anyway, I digress. And I will continue to support Young Boys because I already own a jersey. And a scarf. And have their logo hanging on my bedroom wall.

Revelation #2: I also discovered that Young Boys are actually very similar to TFC (I just need to fabricate a story of a family member playing for Toronto). Along with the Young Boy/Udinese game, the FC Zurich/FC Basel game, me storming FIFA’s headquarters – and accidentally crashing a party in the process, but that’s another story for another time – I also pre-arranged a private tour of the Stade de Suisse (previously Wankdorf Stadium), the home of Young Boys and the Swiss National Teams.

And, yes, I did choose, out of my own free will, a team called Young Boys that played at Wankdorf.

Anyway, the tour, which consisted of me, my photographer/art director, and the Stade de Suisse representative, was interesting and informative. This leads me back to my second revelation: Toronto FC is not actually that bad off. Or, at least, not any worse off than European clubs.

Once again, even when I was with a different club, one that I (now, begrudgingly) love, my thoughts turned to TFC.

The stadium representative informed us of the recent problems with the Swiss club; the team that used to be a top table contender – she even showed the team’s silverware in the Young Boys’ museum – has recently undergone a few transitions.

First, the stadium was changed into the official National Stadium. And since the stadium has gone from Wankdorf Stadium – which is what it was called the last time I saw Young Boys play, a month before Switzerland co-hosted the 2008 European Championship – to the Stade de Suisse, several changes had taken place, including the addition of real grass (Fun fact: Grass was laid on top of the Astroturf for the Euros).

However, with Switzerland’s climate, the grass suffers wear and tear. And, between both Young Boys and the Swiss National Team, all games practices, training, and the youth team matches must be done at another facility. Sound familiar?

The business side of the team also went through a recent transition, with a coup d'etat happening during my trip. On Oct. 30, the former CEO and chairman, Ilja Kaenzig, stepped down and was replaced by Hanspeter Kienberger. He became the new chairman of sports and event holding AG and the National Stadium Stade de Suisse AG and chief executive officer.

Other changes in staff included Young Boys President Werner Müller being appointed the new vice president of the holding company, as the previous sales and marketing director, Alain Kappeler, was promoted to chief operations officer. The restructuring of the organization is something Toronto/Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment fans have seen recently, especially with the promotion of former TFC Executive Tom Anselmi to president and chief operating officer of MLSE.

The change was due to a poor domestic run for the team (as of today, Young Boys are currently sit 5th with a 4-5-5 record). However, despite the team’s run in the league, Young Boys is doing well in continental competition. And by “doing well,” I mean, it had a massive upset over one certain team (notice how I have yet to mention the score of the Young Boys/Udinese game?). And while it no chance of winning the tournament, Young Boys are still (surprisingly) in the running.

Again, sound familiar? (Note: I realize TFC lost 0-1 to Santos Laguna while I was away).

The point is Toronto is not that bad off; I am not saying that just because a team has a similar situation doesn’t mean Toronto’s isn’t bad, I just mean they’re going through a normal soccer cycle. Granted, the team has hit its low point very early on in its short history, but so what? Every team goes through it.

I once proposed on Twitter – after reading my timeline full of “TFC sucks. I’m not renewing season’s tickets next year” – the following question: “How come you support your European team no matter what?” I then continued to ask, why do people support Aston Villa/ Werder Bremen/Lazio/Hearts/etc “until they die,” despite their standings and lack of titles (or, in some cases, qualifications to titles) in European competitions?

Why is Toronto no longer “until you die” when it has a similar record to a European club?

It has taken a trip overseas to make me realize what I feel for Toronto FC and to help me sort out my confusion and anger with the club, the fans, and the management. However, after learning about other others clubs and experiencing the game from a new angle, I think I finally understand my position and my outlook on next season.

But we can discuss that further next week. 

Sonja MISSIO

Nationality:
Canada
College:
Univ. of Guelph, Univ. of W. Ontario, Brock University
Club Domestic:
Toronto FC
Club Foreign:
Udinese
Supported Udinese since birth, TFC was her own stupid decision; writing on her masochistic relationship with soccer started after. Doomed as a Canadian - Friulano - Swiss - Filipina. Searching for Juventini actually from Turin and running for FIFA Prez.
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