While the weather outside truly was frightful, Toronto FC players were warmed by singing, chanting fans at practice Sunday.
As snow swirled outside the team’s north Toronto training centre, some two dozen members of the Inebriatti supporters group were allowed inside to show the players some love on the eve of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final in Montreal on Tuesday.
“We’re all in this together,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. “It’s good to have them stop by. We appreciate it, because it’s a weekend, a Sunday, and I’m sure they have plenty of other things they need to do. But it just shows their commitment to the franchise and this team.”
The fan visit started with a text to midfielder Jonathan Osorio asking if the group could come up and wish the team well. Vanney OK’d the idea and the flag-waving Inebriatti supporters, most looking like they were headed to a Metallica concert, found themselves taking in the end of an indoor TFC practice.
Captain Michael Bradley, flashing a broad smile that rarely shows itself, led the parade of players to the supporters for handshakes and hugs. Star striker Sebastian Giovinco posed next to an Atomic Ant banner.
The supporters even tried to teach the players a few chants.
“It was very cool,” said goalkeeper Clint Irwin. “It means a lot to us to see their support. To come on a weekend when it’s blowing snow outside, it says a lot about their support and how much they care for this team.
“It just serves as a good reminder of what’s at stake here and how much this city cares about what we’re doing.”
This edition of Toronto FC has made one of its goals to win back the city and its fans after years of franchise failure.
“One of our lines has always been ‘They’ll remember how you make them feel,’” said Vanney. “When you win, people feel great and they want to support you and they want to get behind you.”
It was Toronto’s final practice before flying to Montreal on Monday when the team will train on the artificial turf at Olympic Stadium.
While Toronto has done much on the field to repair relations with its fans, there was some strain this season with hardcore supporter groups after the Inebriatti were sanctioned by the team in the wake of an obscene banner raised in its section during an August loss to visiting Montreal.
TFC called the banner “an embarrassment” to the club and its supporters. The Inebriatti, meanwhile, said it was not its work.
The two people deemed responsible were suspended by the club, which asked Inebriatti members to sign a code of conduct, saying they would have to do without their flags, banners and drums until they did.
That promoted other supporters groups to go silent at several home matches until the club and Inebriatti ultimately agreed to talk out their differences.
Sunday’s invitation suggests all is forgiven.
“I think it shows that we’re way past all of that,” said Vanney. “And the only thing that matters now is their support to us, our effort back to them, and getting results and trying to bring home a trophy.”
Jimmy Medeiros, one of the founders of the Inebriatti group, was appreciative of the club’s hospitality.
“It’s awesome, just us getting to be allowed to go in,” he said after the visit. “And now they’ve learned from the actual supporters that we’re all one now”
His group numbers 120, with Medeiros estimating some 80 will make the trip to Montreal.
Judging from past social media messages, they will not be showing their warm, fuzzy side to the Impact. Inebriatti was also sanctioned for misbehaviour in Montreal in the final game of the 2015 regular season after Toronto fans lit flares and damaged Saputo Stadium.
There was some more love for Toronto FC downtown at the Santa Claus parade Sunday as Mayor John Tory wore his club scarf.Report Typo/Error