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Solutions to the Leaf Fan Invasions at the CTC

Ottawa, we have a Leafs problem.

This isn't new, nor is it different from what it has ever been, but if we don't do something about it it won't go away. Every time we play them at the CTC we trot out the same thing: "They're all coming up here to watch the game because they can't afford to watch their team in Toronto". But that's only half true - the majority can't afford to watch the Leafs in Toronto (who can?), but they aren't coming up here. They're already here. They live here, and they're not leaving - their parents were Leafs fans back before the Sens were a thing and they grew up watching the Leafs on HNIC. They're Leafs fans for life, and what's worse, they're having children and they're making them Leafs fans.

They're not going away, so we either accept that the CTC is forever more home from home for the Leafs, or we figure out how we take it back. I have some thoughts.

Creator: Icon Sportswire | Credit: Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

First, we have to accept some realities. It would be awesome if we could somehow just stop them from buying tickets in the first place. Nashville has famously done this for a few years for games against the Blackhawks by refusing to sell tickets to people with a Chicago zip code or phone number. Sadly, that's not really practical for the Senators. For one thing, Nashville sells out just fine to their own fans without the need for away fans to fill the Bridgestone. So there's no financial disincentive from them refusing to sell tickets to the opposition, and perhaps more importantly and as previously discussed, our nemesis lives among us.

The unfortunate disease of Leafs fandom may affect someone you know. A neighbour, a friend, a parent, your favourite co-worker. Absent making Leafs fans have to register as such on the municipal voter roll so they can be clearly identified as the enemy (you can have this idea for your next campaign for free, Mayor Sutcliffe) there's no way of identifying a ticket buyer as being a Leaf supporter, so this idea isn't going to work for us.

Of course, we also have the problem of season ticket holders selling their seats on the secondary market to Leafs fans, and in theory, we might be able to do something about that. The question there is perhaps a bit more about whether we should. There aren't any rules about reselling tickets for games you can't or don't want to go to, and creating such a rule for a specific team (or teams, if we include the Habs as a slightly lesser version of the same problem) is a little difficult. After all, what is the club going to do about it? Refuse to sell them another season ticket next year? Not a great look for a team that is just starting to rebuild the faith and trust of its fans after a long and challenging period for all sorts of reasons.

Some fans can only financially justify a season ticket by subsidizing it through the sale of the high-value games. If it becomes financially untenable for those fans to have a season ticket because they can no longer sell the Leafs games then those seats just become single-game tickets, and then that seat just gets sold to Leafs fans anyway but goes empty for the rest of the season. So not really viable for the club, at least at this stage in its life.

If, then, we have to accept that our games against Toronto will for the foreseeable future (at least until the team is good enough that we have enough ST holders to fill a majority of seats, and good enough that those ticket holders all want to go to the game to watch us thump the Leafs), we have to figure out how to make the building our own. Over the years I have had this conversation many times with friends of a Sens persuasion, and there's a recurring theme. "Wouldn't it be good if we had the sort of songs and chants that European soccer teams do?"

Well, yes and no.

I should at this point say that I am fairly well-placed to offer opinions on this. I've been a Sens fan for over 20 years and a resident of Canada for 13, but I was born in England and have spent countless hours and dollars (pounds!) travelling the length and breadth of England and Europe watching my club, country, and on occasion, other clubs play. I've been to Woking FC (capacity 6036, 2500 seated) and the San Siro in Milan (capacity 80,000). I love and hate soccer grounds in equal measure, and I think there are things we can adopt and embrace, and things we absolutely should not.

Let's start with one of the reasons why the songs and banter in soccer are so effective, and why it won't work here. Segregation of home and away fans at soccer matches is militant. If you're a road fan you have a dedicated section in which you can buy a ticket, those tickets can be exclusively bought through your own club and are often very hard to get hold of. If you buy a ticket in any other section and are exposed as an away fan through clothing or deed you will be removed by the stewards from both the seat and the stadium.

The days of hooliganism are thankfully mostly dead, at least in the stadia, but a visible and/or loud opposition fan sitting with the home fans is not tolerated. Exceptions are obviously made for children; we're not complete barbarians! This rigid separation of home and away makes for a perfect back and forth between two distinct groups of people of taunts and chants, some made up on the spot and some tried and tested favourites; with the concentration of hardcore away fans often besting their numerically superior opponents. But for reasons previously discussed around ticket purchases, this isn't viable in Ottawa or probably any other North American hockey arena.

Now we've talked about the things we can't do to take back the CTC and make it ours on the nights the blue sea is in attendance, let's focus on something that does perhaps have potential. The other thing that soccer crowds are known for is the creativity and diversity of their songs and chants, and that's an area where both the Sens and Leafs are equally pathetic.

Anyone who has ever been to a Sens / Leafs game will know that the only - and I mean literally the only - chant that ever happens is a "GO LEAFS GO, GO LEAFS GO" which happens for a handful of repetitions before the Sens fans respond with their own "GO SENS GO, GO SENS GO" on the same meter, resulting in a stadium-wide "GO SEFFS GO, GO SEFFS GO". Occasionally it's Sens fans who start it only for the Leafs to respond in kind with the same result before it all dies away.

It's hardly a sparkling back and forth of witty repartee, is it?

Imagine though if the Sens fans took the initiative to do something different. Obviously, many soccer songs are complete non-starters - although soccer is theoretically as much a family sport as hockey, a lot of the content is very much not family friendly and a lot of us learned many interesting new words at matches as our parents had a resigned look on their face, and hockey isn't really ready for that.

But even at a basic level Ottawa already has more songs and chants in its armoury, from the "LET'S GO OTTAWA" frequently used at 67s games to "Wings Of An Eagle" heard at GeeGees / Ravens matchups (a song stolen from soccer, but probably just about on the right side of PG to get away with at a hockey game and which would scan hilariously well with Toronto), so why do we just continue to regurgitate the same one chant that the Leafs fans know?

I think the key to making this happen is one more thing that soccer excels at - fan groups. One person standing up and yelling out a chant that no one has ever heard before is going to struggle to get traction, quickly feel a bit daft, and possibly get tagged as that weird drunk guy who keeps yelling random stuff. But if a group of people start doing it in unison it's suddenly a thing that everyone wants to join in with.

It's the hardcore, the real fans, the ones who are building and driving the atmosphere. Everyone wants to join in, and they will and do. I remember my middle-aged, shy, softly-spoken father standing on a terrace next to 14-year-old me joining in lustily with a chorus of Mull Of Kintyre (with our team's own lyrics) because it's what we do as fans when we unite as one against the opponents, no matter how good or numerous they might be. If we can do this and make our own songs and chants at the CTC, and challenge the Leafs fans to come back at us or drown us out, what are they going to offer? "GO LEAFS GO" about half a dozen times, and then they'll shut up because they don't have anything else. But we can, and we should, and very quickly "GO LEAFS GO" will get boring because they'll know that their numbers are no match for our creativity and our passion and our willingness to inform them, and everyone else who comes, that this is our team and our arena and our home.

So who's going to step up and do it?

We have fan groups. The Red Scarf Union has been around for some time, I had the pleasure of being part of their Toronto chapter for a few years when I lived there and they're every bit as passionate about our team as any European soccer fan is about theirs. I'm sure there are more groups, both formal and informal, that I don't know of.

We all remember the insane nights on Sens Mile and the Craft Brewery in Toronto and a hundred other places besides that remind us that this fanbase is every bit as passionate as that of any club in any sport in any country.

What we're missing is someone to take up the mantle to lead the charge on game nights. To be the catalyst to set us apart, and to make the CTC a place where we can inform the Toronto Maple Leafs, and anyone else who dares to challenge us, that this is our team, our city, and our building, and they are here as nothing more than guests in our home.

Who wants to step up?

By Russell Parr | Sens Nation Hockey


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