Sympathy for the Devil(s): A Battle for the Soul of Canadian Footy in the Most Melodramatic Way Possible

Sympathy for the Devil(s): A Battle for the Soul of Canadian Footy in the Most Melodramatic Way Possible

Look, I’m a fan of the game in Canada first and foremost. I know have a small pulpit to shout from, but I’m going to try to look at all parties sympathetically, because the bile is killing my footy buzz. And I can’t have that a month away from CanPL kickoff and in a World Cup year.



It doesn’t make sense to get mad at a shark for chomping you. I mean sure you might not enjoy swimming as much down an appendage, but Sharky wasn’t trying to ruin your game, he was just being Sharky.


In much the same way it is ok to be mad at, or disappointed with, CSB. When all your heroes are screaming at them for ‘ruining’ international soccer in Canada, it feels easy to go with the flow. But business is just doing business. WalMart gets tax breaks. Coca-Cola gets subsidies. Capitalism is the same as it ever was. If they can get a deal, they’ll take it. The CSA gave ‘em a sweetheart deal, so they took it. That’s how the game is played.

The fact they are working hard to bring sponsorship deals that never existed before at much higher amounts is a good thing, and saying that we would have gotten that money anyway because the players are so good (and famous) is a bit naive. People have to look at the small print, and close deals. That doesn’t seem to be CSA’s forte (or the player’s to be honest).

CPL Commissioner and CEO of Canadian Soccer Business Mark Noonan. (CANPL.

And we are getting things in return for the deal. The CPL has brought hope, joy and excitement to communities across Canada that were starved of the gameday experience of pro soccer.

Ask any TFC fan how fun it is to grab a pre-game beverage in Liberty Square, march to the stadium, cheer on the Reds, enjoy a day with your friends then scramble and push your way back on to a streetcar or GO train. Wonderful. Now 8 more places in Canada can do a version of that, minus Go Trains and Liberty Village mark-ups. (And sure, Montreal and Vancouver probably have similar rituals, but does anyone really care? By the way, a side note, I am from Ontario – quelle surprise!).

TFC fans on their way to a game (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

And CSB has created a Canadian Soccer ecosystem. Canadian players, coaches, GMs, ticketing agents, player agents and even content creators (though severely underpaid ones) are all working where they couldn’t have 5 years ago.

So being mad at Canada Soccer Business is fruitless.* They made a deal that gave them a massive safety net. And that’s smart. I mean from a pure “what the markets will bear, invisible hand-type capitalism” it’s a little weak, but who really believes in that anymore anyway, right?


*Though I guess you could be mad that the CSB hired a clearly anti-union first commissioner- from Tim Horton’s, ‘nuff said – on a continent where top tier pro players are always represented by Player Associations, in every sport. And the thought that my fellow Hamiltonian soon to be at the helm of Canada Soccer, Dr. Nick, was thanked by the Head of CSB for helping to talk the CSA out of an ownership stake/board position in CSB is…disappointing optics at least. But we are staying positive in this space – and don’t worry, I see your good works Mr. Noonan!


Then there are the players. How can you be angry at them? Both the men and women have brought us the greatest Canadian soccer moments in generations, if not all-time. Gold medals and long-awaited returns to the World’s biggest stage are what we live for as fans. You can only commiserate with heroes who find themselves on top of their game, and yet also facing cuts to their programs in the build-up to the biggest era of Canadian International footy history.

Canada players wear purple shirts with ‘Enough is Enough’ written on them while posing for the team photo before the SheBelieves Cup soccer match against the United States on Thursday at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Fla. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/)

Although, to be fair, there are some head scratchers there too. As a group, how can you not pay attention to announcements about the future of footy in your own country? Every serious Canadian soccer fan had an opinion on CSB when it was first announced. Why didn’t the players? They were quick to talk about new pathways and the importance of growing the game and having our own leagues. But not one seemed to dive into what the new league really meant.


Now, footballers are busy with others things, like careers and trying to play well enough to stay on these national teams. So, that’s fair. But then you’d leave that to your legal teams. Of course choosing connections who had careers in corporate law, or waiting to take on flashy American law firms, after the fact, hurts you in understanding the Canadian playing field. Let’s face it, it is mind-boggling that you wouldn’t align yourself with the very players that are standing up to the CPL (read CSB). It stands to reason that this group will actually have to see the CSB financials, at least in part, in creating the first ever Collective Agreement in league history. Solidarity is an obvious advantage in Canadian soccer. But so is the fact that the PFACan actually has lawyers and leaders with Canadian Labour experience. Mistakes like two fairly-obvious illegal work stoppages could have been avoided. Proper, beneficial work actions or protest steps to pressure everyone into some transparency, could have been utilized. Alas, an opportunity was missed (though it can’t be too late to sit down with the PFACan can it? Unless those flashy Yanks the men hired have burned bridges through unnecessarily provocative shots at a league young players are trying to build at home? Sigh).

But despite all their missteps, the players are still sympathetic. Because after all, it is them that make us dream. Kids want to be the next Phonzie or Alistair or Cyle. Kids are blown away to be growing up in the home of soccer’s greatest ever scorer in Sincy. To be watching legends-in-training coming up like Grosso and Rivière. We watch the game for them. And to some extent we play it to be more like them. They have our hearts.

S. 2 Ep. 17 – Can Canada Hold Herdman FC13 Podcast

Welcome back Ball Boys and Girls, as we are now back from our mini break after our national team suffering, to bring you some of that beautiful football action. And what a better way to start it off than with a 401 derby in which Toronto shows again why they are the toxic ex in the relationship, Vancouver FC pulling out the big guns for the big wins, and the CSA is at it again with some new crap. So jump on in as Paul and Thomas break down what happened this past week, and buckle up for your source of everything Canadian. ———————————————————— Thanks so much to todays sponsor SeatGeek! When you need tickets, but can't seem to find them, head on over to the #1 trusted name in the ticket resale business, and use our code FC13Pod to get $20 off your first order. ————————————————————- Be sure to follow us on Twitter @FC13Podcast, and our parent account, @13thManSports for all of your sports needs!


So then it’s obvious where the lion’s share of blame goes then. CSA is the villain, right? I mean how could they have signed that deal for a measly $3-4 million over almost 20 years (thanks to that crazy option). How could they have bet against the boys? How could they not have included a demand for funding for a Professional Women’s League in a deal that benefits directly from the women’s National Team success? How did they manage to not learn from the lessons of the past? Player/Board relations have always been…strained. This was an opportunity to bring them into the fold, including alumni, and show them how Canada Soccer were working to grow the game in Canada for all. Why not have the hard talks back when they mattered? That is what leaders do.

Charmaine Crooks, Canada Soccer acting President. (Canada Soccer

And this article was meant to be empathetic. So I am going to try to empathize with the CSA. They are an amateur outfit trying to run a highly-professionalized game. I mean the fact that we don’t have full-time professionals running our federation speaks to why these issues are still here. Hiring people whose life work it is to find ways to professionalize the game is not wrong. Outsourcing may have been a less desirable way to do it though. I mean, your game will only ever be as serious as you take it. A bunch of volunteers trying to build and maintain World Class teams was always a pipe dream.


The Canadian Soccer Families

It has been said over and over again that soccer is the most popular game by registration in the nation. It is popular with boys and girls and with women and men. It is popular with all of us. It is popular with 2SLGBTQ+ communities. We have a non-binary legend on our XNT. It is popular among newly-arrived immigrant families. And it is even popular with hockey families.(Maybe even more so in light of Hockey’s recent controversies). It is so popular that we are all willing to open our wallets to make sure the game is available and accessible to as many kids as can afford it. So when kids can’t afford to play, or don’t have organizations in their area, or the coaches, or the refs; then we rightly worry. And we worry because we know the answer to all those questions in Canada is always the same. Raise the fees. (And like clockwork CSA has done that after announcing funding cuts to the XNT/MNT)


And whose fault is that? I hate to keep banging on at the CSA, so I won’t. It is ours. If Canada Soccer is a volunteer thing, then we have to roll up our sleeves. Let’s demand it become more professional. Let’s look at international best practices and learn from them. Let’s stop saying, “but we are such a big country, so it’s hard.” Or “we are so young on the international scene.” (We’re not, by the way).

We are the 9th biggest economy on Earth. We have some of the biggest banks, mining consortiums, Oil & Gas Companies, billionaire philanthropists and even grocery profiteers plus Beer and Alcohol companies. Why aren’t we tapping into their collective wealth and need for positive PR? I know it’s gross, but aren’t we past the point of pretending Fifa and everything it touches isn’t? Can’t we make the bad do some good here?


Shouldn’t parents be looking at the MLS and wondering why 3 massive teams are being granted permission to play in a US league for peanuts in payments back to their federation? (You wanna make the corporate daddies of TFC, VWFC and CFM pay to “grow the game”? Well there’s a start.) How can the fledgling CPL (CSB) be providing more in fees to our federation than the organizations owned by multi-billion dollar media empires steadfast in not growing the game beyond their own investments? (Consider the league fees, professional members fees and referee fees. And also the size and relative wealth of the teams/leagues).

We’ve got to stop being so polite (see: passive) when it comes to the game in Canada. Our laid-back approach is why there is next to no oversight demanded. It’s why our players face the potential for abuse at all levels. It is why we are miles behind the big established nations, sure. But also why we are behind small footballing nations, and poor ones.

We have to stand up at some point and demand change. And while chaos reigns right now there is no better time. If our house of cards is falling anyway, why not give it a push?

There are a myriad of things we can start doing to change the way football is done in Canada. Don’t wait for me to tell you, get moving.

Your country needs you!

(By the way, I’ll be back to tell you how in a couple weeks, so get busy, or just wait for me to do your homework for you).

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