AFTN continues our festive fun with the concluding part of our special story – “A TFC Christmas Carol” (If you missed it, you can read part one HERE)
THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS
Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Scrooge had no occasion to be told that the bell was again upon the stroke of One.
Now, being prepared for almost anything, he was not by any means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the Bell struck One, and no shape appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by, yet nothing came.
Eventually the spectre appeared.
“I am the Ghost of Football Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me!”
“Why are you so late?” stammered Scrooge.
“I am from Vancouver,” boomed the Spirit. “I never get in on time.”
Scrooge gazed upon the spectre. He was dressed differently to the Ghost of Football Past, who wore a flat cap, had scarves tied around both wrists, had a giant rosette pinned on him and carried a wooden rattle. This spectre was better dressed and kept checking his smartphone for twitter updates.
The Ghost of Football Present rose, waved his smartphone in the air and transported Scrooge to an office in Toronto on Christmas Day. It was at BMO Field and a man sat alone at his desk wearing a red scarf and a frown.
“Where are we spirit?” asked Scrooge.
“You are at the office dwelling of Tiny Tim Bezbatchenko,” replied the Ghost.
“He looks sad,” said Scrooge. “I thought people were meant to be happy on Christmas Day.”
“Alas,” said the Spirit. “These are hard times and this is a bleak house.”
“Wait a minute, they’re different stories altogether” said a well read Scrooge before the Spirit moved on.
“Tiny Tim is crippled,” the Spirit continued. “His hopes and ambitions have been crippled by coming to a team that simply cannot win. His goose has been well and truly cooked this Christmas.”
“Should he not be at home with his family eating Christmas dinner?” enquired Scrooge.
“He cannot stomach a traditional Christmas feast this year Ebenezer. He feels he’s seen enough turkeys these past nine months to last him a lifetime. Look closely Ebenezer. Do you see Tiny Tim’s crutch?”
Scrooge peered at the crestfallen figure below him. “Yes, I saw it months ago,” replied Scrooge. “His crutch sees him spend vast sums of money on top name players, only to still fail to deliver a playoff place.”
“And when your crutch fails you, the only way is down,” boomed the Ghost.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before in a football executive, “Tell me if Tiny Tim will live to see Toronto make the playoffs.”
“I see a vacant seat in the boardroom,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the hopes and dreams of TFC will die.”
“No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit! Say that he and they will be spared.”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find them here. You gave up on the team Ebenezer. Your team. That is not a true supporter. A supporter supports through thick and thin.”
“It was more like thin and thinner,” retorted Scrooge.
“Thousands of others have given up and lost hope and faith as well, and thousands more will follow. The team will die when there is no surplus population looking to attend and buy tickets.”
Scrooge hung his head to hear those words and was overcome with penitence and grief.
“Football without fans is nothing Ebenezer,” boomed the spirit.
“You’re just quoting Jock Stein now,” replied Scrooge.
And then, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood gazing down on an affluent living room full of festive revellers. Whitecaps fans once and all, buoyed by the news of a Christmas Day young DP signing. Everywhere you looked there was turkey, and crackers, and decorations, and presents, and much fun and joyous laughter everywhere to be seen and heard.
It took him a few moments to focus but to his great surprise, Scrooge recognised his own nephew Fred.
“Ha, ha!” laughed Scrooge’s nephew. “Ha, ha, ha!”
There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour. When Scrooge’s nephew laughed in this way: holding his sides, rolling his head, and twisting his face into the most extravagant contortions: Scrooge’s niece, by marriage, laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends being not a bit behindhand, roared out lustily.
“Ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha!”
“Oh read it out loud again, please” asked one of the revellers, wiping a way a tear from laughing so much.
“Mark it down, write it down, film it … We’re going to turn TFC around and we’re going to make the playoffs next year. We know where we’re headed, we know how to get there. We’ve been given the resources of this ownership group and we will get to the right place.”
The whole room erupted in laughter once again.
“Oh my,” bellowed Fred, “That Tim Leiweke was a one. I’ll miss his ridiculousness at TFC.”
“I don’t know what was more ridiculous,” one of the other guests exclaimed. “Leiweke saying that or the Toronto fans believing it.”
The room was filled with yet more laughter.
“And remember when Duane Rollins tweeted out “#TFC will win the 2014 #MLS Cup. Save this tweet.” in February?” said Fred to even more guffaws.
“WHAT A FUD!” went up the cry around the room.
“My Uncle Scrooge often brought Leiweke’s quote up to me early in the year,” said Fred. “Always said the Whitecaps would go nowhere if they didn’t bring in the big names, the team was too young and full of unknowns.”
“And then they gave us Laba for a bag of balls!” piped up one guest, before more laughter followed.
“What did your Uncle say to you Fred when Vancouver made the playoffs, clinched a Champions League spot, won their fifth Cascadia Cup and finished the season with a record number of points for a Canadian club in MLS?” asked another.
“He just looked me in the eye, and said HUMBUG!”. Cue more laughs.
“He’s a comical old fellow,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “That’s the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. I think being a TFC fan for 8 years is bound to do that to anyone and those offences carry their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against him.”
“I have no patience with him,” observed Scrooge’s niece. “He’s a grump and a halfwit and clearly knows nothing about football”. Scrooge’s niece’s sisters, and all the other ladies, expressed the same opinion.
“Oh, I have!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “I am sorry for him; I couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims of going to every home game at BMO?! Himself, always. Here, he takes it into his head to dislike us Whitecaps fans, and he won’t come and dine with us. What’s the consequence? He don’t lose much of a dinner.”
“Just some great football banter and incisive chat,” replied Fred’s wife and everyone nodded in agreement. “And don’t forget all the fun games. Now, who wants to play pin the tail on Doneil Henry?”
The Spirit turned to Scrooge. “See the fun you could have been having if you had gone along to their dinners.”
“Why would I want to go along and be mocked,” asked an indignant Scrooge.
“That is football Ebenezer,” replied the Spirit. “Banter and ribbing and rivalries is what makes football. But what do you care? You walked away from your team and said that Toronto FC were dead to you.”
“And is this the lesson that you are trying to tell me Spirit?” asked Scrooge. “That I should renew my season tickets and be a TFC fan for ever more, no matter how poor they play and how unsuccessful they are?”
“You still have a lot to learn Ebenezer, but my time on earth is short and will soon be over,” replied the Ghost. “My brother will be with you shortly. Maybe then all will become clearer.”
Then with that Scrooge found himself back in his bedroom. He listened intently as the bell struck twelve. Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.
THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. But as a TFC fan, he was used to watching such things.
It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. A faceless being like many football club owners in the UK. Tucked into several pockets were share certificates and financial reports.
“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Football Yet To Come?” asked Scrooge.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.
“You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Scrooge pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?”
The Spirit nodded.
“Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”
It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.
“Lead on!” said Scrooge. “Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!”
And the Phantom did. The pair were transported to a group of gentlemen talking animatedly.
“So that’s it then. Finally dead?” said one.
“I don’t think too many will shed a tear?” said another.
“Wouldn’t expect so,” replied the first man again. “Been as good as dead for years anyway. I think everyone was just past caring and waiting for the inevitable end.”
Scrooge was puzzled as to who the men were talking about. It can’t have been his old partner Jacob, for that would have been in the past, but before he had too much time to think, he was watching a new encounter play out.
There were two women in a small room with a seated man. The women were carrying a lot of red items and seemed to be trying to sell them to the man.
“Oh come on mister,” said the first woman. “You know they’re worth more than that.”
“Not to me they’re not,” replied the seated man. “Not to anyone any more. I’ll give you ten bucks for the lot.”
“But this is a vintage 2007 TFC strip. Inaugural season. And five other strips, ten scarves, lots of caps and so much other memorabilia.” said the second woman. “Can’t you do a better price?”
“Ten is my final offer. Take it or leave it. I’ll just be using them as cleaning rags anyway. No skin off my nose if I have to use something else. You don’t like it, you blame the Two Timmies who promised so much but delivered so little.”
Grudgingly the women took the money and left cursing two Tiny Tims.
Scrooge thought of all the Toronto merchandise he had bought over the years and the vast amount of money he had spent on it all. But before he could think too much, a new scene was unfolding in front of him.
He recognised his nephew Fred once more and yet again, he was in fine spirits, toasting with friends.
“Fans, one and all, and from near and far. Thank you for coming to another Vancouver Whitecaps end of season party,” said Scrooge’s nephew. “Once again, it has been a tremendous season and one that has seen the Whitecaps lift a record breaking 6th straight MLS Cup.
“When I look back over the past few years and the success Sir Carl Robinson has brought to the team, it is amazing to look back at so many firsts. Becoming the first MLS side not only to win the CONCACAF Champions League but also the FIFA Club World Cup, was a tremendous achievement. But to lift that trophy three years running was something beyond our wildest dreams….”
Fred was still talking but before he could hear any more of it, Scrooge was soon transported once again and he recognised the surroundings of course, for it was BMO Field. And there was his old seat in Section 113. The stadium was full. He was pleased to see that. But upon closer inspection it wasn’t soccer that was being played and it was TFC fans that packed the stadium, rather it was CFL match, with the Toronto Argonauts losing to the BC Lions.
“Spirit!”, cried Scrooge. “What is this that unfold before me. What is going on in my home, my team’s home? Why is there no soccer, only football? Did my team have to enter a groundsharing agreement to help split costs and free up funds for better players?”
The Spirit did not answer and pointed to a wall. The signage read “Welcome to BMO Field. Home to the Toronto Argonauts”.
“Why is there no mention of Toronto Football Club Spirit?” asked Scrooge. “Did they move to a new stadium?”
Again the Spirit spoke not but pointed to a small walled section in the car park which Scrooge now found himself in front of and staring at. There was a stone plaque, overrun by grass and weeds, the growth of vegetation’s death, not life. The Spirit stood beside Scrooge and pointed towards it.
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “Answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only?”
Still the Ghost pointed at the stone by which it stood.
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”
The Spirit was immovable as ever.
Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave the words – “The now defunct Toronto Football Club played at this stadium from 2007 to 2017.”
The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again.
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!”
The finger still was there.
“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if it is past all hope!”
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
“Good Spirit,” Scrooge continued. “The message is clear. If other fans do as I have done and give up on going to watch Toronto FC, then they will die a slow death. Is that correct?”
The Phantom gave an affirmation.
“And Spirit, I need to know. Will I and others get to see TFC in the MLS playoffs?”
The Phantom shook his head and Scrooge accepted the answer in a resigned fashion.
“For now, I know what I must do. I will honour the correct football path in my heart. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. And that lesson has been loud and clear and understood by me.”
And with that, the Spirit shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.
THE END OF IT
Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!
“I’m back and alive and in one piece. And now I know what I must do. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees! Thank you for helping me see the proper way.”
“I don’t know what day of the month it is!” said Scrooge. “I don’t know how long I’ve been among the Spirits. I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!”
Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!
“What’s today!” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy.
“Today!” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”
“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. They could help Canada qualify for the World Cup if they so chose. Or maybe that’s stretching things too far.”
Scrooge shouted back to the boy below. “Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.
“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.
“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! He must be from the West Coast. Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there? Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”
“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.
“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”
“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.
“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it and tell ’em to take it to BMO Field. Tell ’em to look for a sad sap called Tiny Tim who is sitting all alone trying to find his latest crutch.”
Scrooge took out a black marker pen and hurriedly wrote a note for the boy below to attach to the turkey.
It read – “Dear Tiny Tim. Add this turkey to all your others from the past year. I’ve overpaid for this and won’t get my money’s worth. I’m sure you know the feeling. At least you and the turkey can have the same thing in common. You can both go and get stuffed.”
Scrooge threw down the note and the money and the boy hurried off to complete the deed so as to earn the half a bottle of Crown Royal whisky he was promised for doing the task in a timely manner.
With a spring in his step, Scrooge got dressed in his best outfit and rushed out of his house on his way to the home of his nephew Fred. On his way he passed the two season ticket reps that had come to his door merely a few hours earlier.
“My dear sirs,” Scrooge exclaimed as he brushed past. “Did you get the numbers you were looking for yesterday?”.
“Unfortunately not sir,” replied the fatter of the two gentlemen. “It is a hard sell, even at Christmastime for you cannot polish a turd.”
“Do you still have my season ticket billing invoice with you?” Scrooge enquired.
“Why yes,” said the other tubby with a smile.
“Good!” said Scrooge with much frivolity. “Then on this day of giant birds you can have a lot in common with a pelican.”
“A pelican?” both men said together with a puzzlement.
“Yes,” laughed Scrooge. “For you can both stick your bills up your asses.” And with that Scrooge continued on his way to Fred’s house.
His nephew was surprised to see him.
“Fred!” said Scrooge.
“Why bless my soul!” cried Fred, “Who’s that?”
“It is I. Your uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in, Fred?”
Let him in! It is a mercy he didn’t shake his arm off. He was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier. His niece looked just the same. So did every one when they came. Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!
“Fred, I have been a silly old fool and wasted these past eight years. Can you ever forgive me for being a TFC fan” asked Scrooge of his nephew.
“Forgive you Uncle? For there is nothing to forgive. I feel you have been punished more than any man should in his lifetime for the inglorious failures your eyes have had to endure. It is a suffering no man deserves.”
“Thank you Fred,” said a relieved Scrooge as he fervently shook Fred’s hand. “I have seen the light. Three of them you could say. I have seen the errors of my ways and was shown the path to true happiness involves not shunning football, but shunning Toronto Football Club and following Canada’s chosen team. Your team Fred. The Whitecaps. I want to watch a successful team and they are clearly the only option. Always have been, always will be – past, present and future. I see that now. My eyes have been opened.”
“Oh Uncle!” replied a delighted Fred. “We’re glad to have you aboard the good ship Vancouver.”
“I will be putting my house on the market in the New Year, moving West to Vancouver and buying a season ticket for the Whitecaps. And I can’t wait!” said Scrooge with an unusual adornment on his face, that of a smile.
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more. And the successful times he enjoyed were like no other times of his life.
As for Tiny Tim, he did not die, apart from a little bit inside every day he stayed within the TFC organisation. He soon saw he was on to a losing cause and jumped ship to another sports team in another city. But his golden boy image was tarnished forever and he was never the same again.
Toronto FC were not to be so lucky and in their 20th straight season of failing to make the playoffs, and with the fans clearing out faster than snow off a dike, the MLS bigwigs, or should that be Fezziwigs, had enough and put the franchise out of it’s misery.
Scrooge had no further intercourse with Spirits, but did enjoy some on his Cascadian travels in Portland. Well you know what those Timbers girls are like. But after his ghostly visitations, Scrooge knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge, and was truly grateful to that time of year for putting him onto his part of correctness.
And Christmas time brought Scrooge special reasons to celebrate every December, with the MLS season wrapping up and Vancouver Whitecaps becoming dominant in North American football.
Every Christmas Scrooge would gather his friends and fellow Whitecaps supporters for a big ball and toast the ‘Caps successes for the year gone by. Glasses were raised and the assembled cheer filled the air – “Whitecaps fans the world over. May the football gods continue to bless us, every one!”