Wow. An article from the Toronto Star! That already tops last year's output. That bat nailed to a board story carries on. Perkins used it last year. .....................................................................................................................

Kelly: CPSL hoping to cash in on ethnic teams
Mar. 2, 2006. 08:33 AM
CATHAL KELLY

Canadian Professional Soccer League commissioner Cary Kaplan is only stating the obvious when he points out that soccer is a tribal sport, one that appeals to nationalistic impulses some Canadians are uncomfortable with.

"Listen, nobody ever walked around waving a Vaughan flag," Kaplan said. "Maybe it's not politically correct to say it, but that's the way it is."

This spring, the CPSL will capitalize on those tribal bonds by launching a new international league. Teams will include Toronto Croatia, the Italia Shooters and Toronto Supra, a Portuguese side. Rosters will be filled out primarily by natives, hopefully with plenty of their countrymen paying to watch.

"If you draw just from within your ethnicity, that's fine," Kaplan said.

Last week, the CPSL welcomed a rejuvenated Serbian White Eagles team into the league. Before folding in the '70s, the White Eagles made a big splash with Serbs in and around the GTA. As if to reinforce Kaplan's point, the White Eagles unveiled their new team last week at a west-end Orthodox church.

Dragoslav (Seki) Sekularac, who trained the team 30 years ago, has returned to coach them.

Sekularac is a legendary Red Star Belgrade forward who starred for Yugoslavia in the 1962 World Cup. Since his time in Toronto, he's coached in Colombia, Australia and Mexico, as well as Serbia. What brings him back now?

"Sentimentality," Sekularac said, smiling broadly.

Sekularac has brought a former Red Star coach to act as his assistant and five young players from the Serbian first division to pad out the roster. It begs the question how does a rookie Toronto soccer club afford to splash out like this?

"This is no money-making business," the White Eagles marketing man Voja Jurisic said. "It's not money, it's pride."

Thirty years ago the White Eagles and Toronto Croatia acted as proxies for Yugoslav immigrants nursing old world grudges in their new homes. Those matches were restive affairs, sometimes marked by violence in the stands.

After one game, an unhappy fan nailed a bat to a plank and dropped it on Star reporter Jim Kernaghan's doorstep.

"I spent a week or so peering back over my shoulder," Kernaghan recalled in an email.

The memories of those wild encounters live on for many still involved with the clubs.

"Oh yes, I remember those games," Toronto Croatia secretary Theo Krajacic said. "I remember the police on horses, the fans separated into east and west."

But Krajacic can't see the same sort of problems now.

"We're here in Canada. We're going to act civilized."

These days, Toronto Croatia draws a few hundred spectators to their Streetsville field. That figure is sure to jump with the rebirth of their greatest rivals.

"People talk about security issues, about intense crowds. But we think that's a positive," Kaplan said. "The thing you have to able to do is manage that intensity."

Therefore some games will be held at yet-to-be-determined neutral sites.

"There will be a significant security presense at those matches," Kaplan said. If anything does happen, he promises "extremely significant penalties" for the team whose fans are the offenders.

"It's not about politics, it's about soccer," Kaplan says.

Well, of course, it's about politics, too. But Kaplan's strategy is in keeping with the average Toronto soccer fan the older sort who never misses a Serie A match and has never seen a Lynx game; the younger sort who waves a flag out his car window every four years, but couldn't name four players on Canada's national side.

The fans are out there. It's been done before. Will it work again?

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