There is a genuine dearth of books on soccer in Canadian publishing.
It’s the first book of its kind detailing the complete history of TFC, with Kloke doing a ton of research and reporting, conducting countless interviews and writing over an intense six-and-a-half month period – all the while his wife Jess was pregnant with the couple’s first child.
Kloke spoke to Sportsnet about what went into writing the book, why he felt it was important to tell this story, and what he learned about Toronto FC.
Full disclosure: I played a small role in putting Kloke in contact with publisher Dundurn Press, which led to him securing his book deal. Also, Kloke interviewed me for “Come On You Reds,” and I am quoted in the book.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Sportsnet: Why did you write “Come on You Reds”? What was your motivation?
Kloke: You look at how bad this team was, and how much of an afterthought they were in MLS and how quickly they were becoming an afterthought in this city and in a very crowded sports market, and then how quickly they turned it around, that doesn’t happen very often. To me, that’s a pretty incredible story.
The passion of TFC fans is inspiring, so I felt they deserved to have more of their club to be a part of it and closer to it. This was a pretty dramatic turnaround, and people are aware of it, but I don’t think many were aware of everything that went on behind the scenes to put all of the pieces in place.
What was your approach to writing the book?
In terms of the storytelling, I wanted to remove myself from it and let those who lived it tell it. I probably waited a little longer than I should have to put pen to paper. I spent a lot more time trying to get the reporting done, and working to get as many people as I could involved. I’m proud of that. I got a lot of people who were there, either on the pitch or behind the scenes. So, in terms of the storytelling, it was letting the voices tell the story and getting out of the way. This is a club that’s lived many lives, so you don’t sugar coat anything, and you cover all the ebbs and flows.
How many interviews did you end up conducting for the book?
Sixty-two in total. It’s a lot, but it’s part of that whole approach about getting yourself out of the way, and let the reporting speak for itself that I mentioned before. It was important for me to track down as many former players and people involved in the team as I could.
Who was the best interview?
Tim Leiweke [former president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment] was never shy with his thoughts on how the club evolved and grew, and what was needed to take the club to new heights. Fans will probably enjoy reading his quotes, as much as I did hearing them.
It took me a very long time to track down and get [former coach] Ryan Nelsen on the phone. His time in Toronto, I think a lot of fans maybe don’t look back on it fondly, but his insights and side of the story was important.
I talked to Michael Bradley for four hours at pre-season training camp this year. He also wrote the forward for the book. Earl Cochrane and Paul Beirne [former team officials] were there in the beginning of TFC, and the club would not be around without them, so to hear what they went through was really interesting.
[Former forward] Danny Koevermans was pretty forthright, and I think it was probably cathartic for him. [Former coach] Preki dropped bombs – he didn’t hold back.
Was there anything that you learned about TFC during the process of researching and writing the book?
I didn’t know that they were so close to being called Inter Toronto FC. But bigger than that, I didn’t know how flagrant decisions were made. I didn’t know how many decisions were made on a whim. I didn’t know how the lack of footballing knowledge determined this club’s fate. I wasn’t aware of how the lack of football expertise really hurt this club in the early years. Everybody who worked at the club early on wanted it to succeed, but it was pretty clear they weren’t given much lead time.
[Former MLSE executive] Tom Anselmi was given this club to look out for it, and how they were going to look on the pitch. But Tom Anselmi himself admitted that he didn’t understand the intricacies of Major League Soccer and the football world like he would have liked. You needed MLS people involved early on, and they really didn’t have that. A lot of people told me that Tom’s lack of understanding of the league hurt the team early on. They didn’t have MLS people, and the league is so hung up on its own minutiae, and without an understanding of that, you’re flying by the seat of your pants, and Tom kind of admitted that in our interview.
You didn’t talk to Mo Johnston, the club’s first coach and GM. Why not?
It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Really, he was probably the one key guy who I didn’t talk to. I tried to get him involved in the book because I thought his voice was really important to have. He turned down my initial email request; he said he didn’t want to talk about the past, but he wished me good luck. I went back to him months later after I spoke to so many people about him to give him one final chance to have his say and address what others had said about him. He emailed me back and said he didn’t want to take part, and he said, “Please don’t contact me again.” What can you do? [Laughs]
If Toronto FC didn’t win MLS Cup and have the historic 2017 season that it did, would this book be as interesting? Would the story you tell in “Come on You Reds” be different than the one you ended up telling?
Honestly, I don’t know what this book is without that. I can remember waking up the morning of the MLS Cup final thinking, “Geez, I hope I get the ending to my book today.” [Laughs] I don’t know how you end the book losing two finals in a row, to the same team and both times at home. I’m not saying every story has to have a happy ending, but that would have been a really depressing ending.
I can remember in the post-match press conference after TFC beat Seattle in the 2017 final, I was sitting next to you, and you turned to me and said so nonchalantly, “Well, you have the ending to your book.” [Laughs] And you were right, because it would have been difficult to spin the ending to the book had they lost. Had they not won, I don’t know. I really don’t.