Page XIII: Fun & Games in Toronto

Rugby League World Editorial: First published in Issue 434 (June 2017)

Have you ever met an optimistic Rugby League fan? Don’t tell me that’s an oxymoron, they must be out there somewhere! Perhaps it’s our default setting, but Rugby League folk do seem to have a penchant for the gloomy outlook when analysing our own sport.

We demand such high standards that almost anything will fall short and be judged accordingly. Instead of a great try, we see a missed tackle or weak defence. Instead of a record crowd, we see empty seats and unsold tickets. Instead of an opportunity, we see a risk of failure.

Toronto’s arrival on the Rugby League scene has been viewed with a great deal of scepticism from the outset. How could it possibly work, plonking a new team in an unfamiliar city several thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean and having them play in League 1 against mostly development sides from the UK. The costs would be prohibitive, the locals wouldn’t care, and in any case, even expansion attempted much closer to home hasn’t exactly produced a host of well supported, financially sound, successful clubs in the past, so why would this flight of fancy break the mould?

But fired on mainly through the unbridled enthusiasm of Eric Perez, a newcomer to the sport unburdened by the latent negativity that can often overwhelm even the most ardent Rugby League optimist, Toronto Wolfpack is now a startling reality. Their long awaited first home game in May attracted a crowd that not only broke League 1 records but which would put some Super League clubs to shame.

In that crowd were curious Canadians who had come to see what this new-fangled sport had to offer, one of whom had this to say afterwards, bravely venturing onto the Fans Forum to share their enthusiasm:

“I was at the game today. Had a great time. I brought my three kids and they all wanted to get season tickets. Canadians don’t take the fighting too seriously as it is such a part of Ice Hockey.

“They have done a great job of marketing it in the local neighbourhood, which is called Liberty Village. With continued success it will expand outward.

“The only problem was that they couldn’t serve the beer fast enough. Everyone was there to party.”

So far, so fantastic.

But later on in this online conversation, a fan from England who had attended the same event had this to say:

“I was at the game….cold and wet. Like watching a Challenge Cup tie between two very unmatched teams.

“Lots of freebies going round in the last two days which might have boosted the crowd. Many there out of curiosity and it was a weekend when both the baseball and soccer teams were on the road.

“UK fans considering a trip be prepared for the Canadian crowd. They don’t go to watch an entire game (or even half) but continually walk up and down the stands visiting the concessions and bathrooms. Also today huge queues at the one box office before the game and one entrance open.

“I dont think the game was televised in Canada, certainly not on any of the main sports channels and there were no programmes so little to promote the playing staff and what was going on…very poor.”

It’s an interesting contrast of opinions, to say the least and illustrative of the difference in the way newcomers look at Rugby League, compared to those more familiar with it.

Is your glass half-full or glass half-empty?

I know which one I’d rather share a beer with at the next Toronto game, even if I have to queue for a while to get it!

Of course, past experience tells us that a new club’s first game can turn out to be something of a false dawn. Paris Saint Germain are probably the most glaring example of that. But past experience should also make us wiser and better equipped to avoid the pitfalls that allowed all that early Parisian enthusiasm to wither away.

Maybe this time, maybe in Toronto, things will be different. Maybe an influx of enthusiastic Canadians can remind us to look on the bright side of Rugby League every now and then.