Toronto-Montreal: The biggest showdown until the next one

So tonight’s the night for redemption. Nearly a year after Toronto FC saw its chances to win the inaugural Nutrilite Voyageurs Cup crumble at the hands of the Montreal Impact, the two square off again tonight, at BMO Field. How big a deal is this? Well, it’s not on television. That’s a start. But this is probably the closest that we get to a true Canadian derby match (though the Wikipedia link doesn’t reflect it). Even amongst the Canadian soccer cognoscenti, there is disagreement.

Duane Rollins argues, in his normal passionate way, that the Toronto/Montreal derby — and its massive geographic distance — is characteristic of how everything “is just bigger in Canada”. Even if it’s a pretty low-level derby now, it’s the supporters who can make it a classic. On the other hand, Richard Whittall suggests, in his normal colourful way, that Montreal v.s. Toronto is not a derby, in a post titled “Montreal v.s. Toronto is not a derby”. He posits that Columbus is actually a more natural “derby” rival for Toronto than Montreal is.

While they’re seemingly taking different sides, close readings of their posts suggest these two guys are probably on the same page: a Toronto/Montreal soccer rivalry will work if the fans make it work.

Of course, that’s the case in any rivalry. If you put the Leafs and Habs, Yankees and Red Sox, Barcelona and Real Madrid, etc. in generic jerseys and had them play in front of empty seats, would it be the same? Would there still be that level of intangibly-elevated passion, hatred and ferocity that we (supposedly) see every other time? Of course not. Rivalries work because historical battles and grievances get passed down from generations, continually circulated amongst fans and continuously propogated by media outlets to sell their product… and that passion translates from the stands to the playing surface (or at least, we perceive it to).

There aren’t yet many historical battles and grievances to speak of when it comes to TFC/Impact. In fact, there have only been two meaningful matches ever played. The biggest grievance Toronto fans have is probably, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, that the Impact swiped the spot in the CONCACAF Champions League that many TFC fans probably thought was our birthright… then Montreal really rubbed it in our face by getting all the way to the quarter-finals. For Montreal fans… meh, the old, Toronto-is-a-bunch-of-arrogant-pricks schtick seems to work (reinforced, I’d imagine, by the looking-down-their-nose attitude some TFC fans take towards the “second division” Impact.)

But, as Duane suggests, a name is a good start. It doesn’t even have to be a fitting name. The peaceful, benign-sounding Trillium Cup (Toronto/Columbus) has produced vandalism, property damage, arrests, police tasering and countless threats of physical violence. I’d call Toronto/Montreal the Begonia Cup or the Pussywillow Derby if it ensured highly-charged and interesting affairs. Kidding aside, Leafs/Habs will be — for the foreseeable future — the Toronto/Montreal rivalry, so TFC/Impact could certainly use a moniker to set it apart.

And then, well… we need shit to hit the fan. I saw a decent contingent of Ultras de Montreal who made the trip for last year’s fixture. I know some of those guys love smoke bombs. Why not toss a few smoke bombs at a family sitting in section 104?* It’s not like people throwing dangerous shit at strangers is unprecedented at BMO Field — but while the idiotic acts of a few dipshits from Stoney Creek can be easily swept under the rug, can you imagine the outrage if some Montrealers were the perpetrators? Hoo boy. There’s a grievance for ya.

Or we could go the traditional sporting route, and just let familiarity breed contempt. The defining moment of the TFC/Impact rivalry has, thus far, been the complete shanking of a sure winner by Jeff Cunningham (a moment that, to this day, still haunts some fans every single waking moment of their lives). But the moments will come. Someone will have an excellent goal we’ll still be oohing and aahing about in the pubs five years from now… someone will be scandalously awarded/denied a crucial penalty… the villains (Cunningam) and heroes (TBA) will, with the passage of time, be elevated to mythical status — like a gloating fisherman in reverse, we’ll keep reducing the amount of space between Cunningham and the net each time we tell the story (though it’s tough to have been much closer anyway)…

So, insofar we use “derby” to describe a heated, passionate rivalry between two sides, is TFC/Impact there? Not quite yet. But the game tonight will go a way in determining how close we are.

*For legal purposes, let me state that my “smoke bomb throwing” suggestion was facetious. The Pussywillow Derby, though? Totally legit.

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2 Responses to “Toronto-Montreal: The biggest showdown until the next one”

  1. Mel,

    his one could be a supporter’s group vs rest of the fans divide. Most of those that think this is a derby are south enders who traveled to Montreal last year (and were “greeted” by UM02 wannabes after the game).

    Those that site in the prawns are less convinced.

    My main point is that when you put this into a Canadian context it becomes a derby. Or at least the closet thing to it.

  2. Well, I don’t think I missed your point by too much (maybe I did?). There’s no question that there are different levels of intensity in different areas of BMO Field.

    But that little anecdote you mention — being “greeted” by UM02 folk — is the sort of thing I’m talking about… the kind of thing that could, over the course of time, gets retold, blown up, exaggerated and passed along to the more casual fan… and it becomes one ingredient that builds anticipation for the matchup in the future (“hey man, I heard that three years ago, some U-Sector guys went to Montreal and got chased with knives and hammers! those Montreal fuckers!”)

    I could just be dreaming, though.

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