United fan and Toronto resident, Bruce, got in contact with his review and pictures from the game…
United’s match against Celtic at Toronto’s Rogers Centre stadium was a unique event for many Canadian football fans who are not able to see United week in week out, as well as a reunion for English expats who stand by the team. While not comparable to seeing United at Old Trafford, the match was exciting, with the team in good form and managing to put three away in a comfortable victory.
The venue for the match was the Rogers Centre, which is usually home to baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League (American football). The 54,000-seater stadium was built to house to Toronto Blue Jays at their height of their popularity in the early 90s before they won their two championships.
Fans who came out were in full voice. Toronto is known for having the best match-day atmosphere in the MLS, and this game was a good example. The two supporters sections behind the net were filled, fans were on their feet the whole game and they never stopped singing. Fans draped themselves in United flags, and there were more than a few green and gold scarves and jerseys on display.
The game featured Giggs, Scholes, Evans, Van der Sar, Fletcher and Berbatov as the only regular starters, with most of the other usual suspects resting up after the World Cup. While many were disappointed to miss the likes of Rooney, Vidic, Evra, and Park, it was a good opportunity to see the up-and-coming players. The Da Silva twins played the first half at fullback, and Smalling was a towering presence at centre back. Macheda had some nice passes, and Cleverly put in an impressive performance and a great goal to seal the game.
At the end of the game, the team walked out, politely clapping for the supporters. Van Der Sar was the last player to leave the pitch. On his way out, he stopped by the stands and signed some autographs for the fans. Classy.
The game was great, but the choice of venue really left me scratching my head. Looking forward to a sell-out and a big payday, the team chose Rogers Centre for the game over BMO Field, the 20,000-seater soccer-specific stadium that is home to the local MLS franchise, Toronto FC. It soon became clear that the high ticket prices ($90-150 CDN / £55-93) would keep many casual fans away. Had the upper-level seats been appropriately priced, they surely would have sold out, but as it turned out announced attendance for the game was only 39,139, and many of the upper sections of the stadium were unfortunately completely empty. The silence from the upper tier was deafening.
The other issue with the Rogers Centre is that it was designed for baseball, so the shape of the field meant fans behind the nets were pretty far from the action. I was sitting in the third row, but was still a good 30 yards from the pitch. It definitely brings home the need for soccer-specific stadiums like BMO Field in MLS franchise cities.
At the end of the day, I’m sure the Glazers will still be happy with their profits. With the 39,000 tickets sold at an average price of about $120, United, Celtic and the owners of the Rogers Centre will split $4.3 million (£2.68 million) between the three of them not including concessions. With the pound at an all-time low, they could not have chosen a better time to tour. If they had played four years ago the exchange rate would have reduced gate to £1.75 million.
Forgetting about the club politics that always surround a United game we all had a blast. For us over here it was a rare treat to see our favourite team. Now back to my summer distraction, Toronto FC, until the Premier League starts up again.