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How a young Leaf fan found camaraderie up in the old 'greys' at Maple Leaf Gardens

What is happening to the old Maple Leaf Gardens has been in the news of late (maybe it's not as big news as the new "ownership", but news nonetheless).  In fact, I was invited by my colleague Matteo at  to chat about what is being done with the cherished old building.  (Those interested can listen to a part of our chat at

Some of you will also know that I’ve written previously on this site about sitting up in the "greys” for a few years back in the mid-1970s.

It started when, back in my early Toronto university days, someone we knew was friends (this is one of those someone who knew someone who knew someone stories, I guess) with Terry O’Reilly’s brother.  O’Reilly was a former Oshawa General who became a fine winger with the Boston Bruins.  His older brother was a young lawyer at the time in Toronto.  I don’t know exactly who, but somebody had seasons tickets- three seats together in the greys, behind the Leaf bench side of the Gardens, between the blueline and the net, way up in the old nose-bleed section.

Every once in a while we would get access to the tickets, and it was always great because three of us could go, and the seats were inexpensive ($4 a seat), even for the time.

Subsequently, when a buddy and I managed to grab a couple of season’s tickets ourselves (we saw an ad one morning in the Globe & Mail)  in the greys between the blue line and the red line, we were ecstatic.  In the maybe two years that we went to almost all the Leaf home games at the Gardens, we never really got to know anyone in the seats around us by name.  But the faces were familiar.

We weren’t yellers or screamers, but we were young and would sometimes say stupid things out loud, I’m sure.  But we mostly enjoyed watching the game from on high (it was a good perspective for watching the full play develop)- along with the fan banter we could decipher on occasion.

Two things stand out:  one was a fellow who sat up even higher than us in the greys, but a little closer to the center-ice red line.   Now, back in in the ‘40s and ‘50s one particular fan was known for yelling “C’mon Teeder” to inspire Leaf great Ted “Teeder” Kennedy.  Well, the fellow I am remembering today would yell “C’mon Thompson”.  It was his rallying cry for young Leaf forward Errol Thompson.  And it was always repeated, at least as I recall, in a well-timed moment—once a night only, when it was time for Thompson and the Leafs to get into gear and do something.

It must have worked, because during the 1975-’76 season, Thompson had his finest season ever, scoring 43 goals playing primarily with Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald, if I’m not mistaken.  (I remember that Thompson, a left-winger, also played a fair bit with George Ferguson as his center during his time in Toronto.)

I also remember fondly we sat behind two people – a woman and her dad- every night that we were there.  The father would have been in his 70s by the mid-1970s, and virtually never spoke during the games.  He would sit, and observe.  They never stood up.  Never cheered outwardly, as I recall.

The only time there would be a commotion is when the dad would be upset with something that happened down on the ice, usually what I perceived as his believing the referee had messed up in some fashion—always against his beloved Maple Leafs.  Then he would begin to react, become physically agitated and make an utterance that would lead to coughing outburst.  His daughter would have to slap him on the back, and eventually he would calm down—and be able to stop coughing.

It was sweet, in its own way.  We rarely spoke to them, but I vaguely remember a discussion where the daughter indicated they had been at every single Leaf game at the Gardens since the 1950s.  Afterwards, they would go home and write up an official scorecard of that night’s game.

For that brief period of time, sitting up in the greys and seeing familiar faces every night was like being part of a special club.  Not first-class members, perhaps, but members nonetheless.  I felt then, and still feel to this day, that many of the real fans sat in the greens and the greys at the old Gardens.  They were the ones that cheered loudest, who made the noise, who really lived and died with the team, because the Leafs were part of their identity.  I believe it is that way even now at the ACC.  The higher up you go in the building, it is likely the more devoted the fans are.

I remember back in that time, in the 1970s, my brother-in-law Peter explaining something to me I’d never heard before: this European club concept that if you were part of a soccer “club”, for example, no matter what level you played at, you were indeed a part of the greater “club”. Everyone—every player, every fan—felt a kinship, and had a genuine rooting interest.

It’s never been quite that way in the hockey world, I guess.  But being a hockey fan is no less passionate a pursuit than being a soccer supporter is across the ocean, I don't imagine.  And being a Leaf fan back then was plenty good enough for me- and sitting in those seats was indeed like being part of a club, one with a proud history and heritage.

It remains a fond memory to this day.  I hope young people who have the opportunity (at more than $4 a pop, I realize!) to see the Leafs at the ACC nowadays will have their own warm memories 35 years from now...


  1. There were some pretty die-hard fans in the end blues, too!!
    As I wrote the other day, when we leaned over the rails in front of our seats, we were virtually hanging over the rink, the incline was so steep. And the same fans showed up for virtually every game. So there was very much that "family" feel, even though we never exchanged more than game pleasantries.
    I particularly remember the fellow directly in front of us. He had four seats, and he and his wife would rotate the other two between family and friends. I watched his kids grow up! And also saw his business life prosper, as he and his wife dressed better and better through the years.
    He had one friend who, like all of us, really had a hate-on for the mid 70's Flyers. As I said, we were so close to the ice surface that the players could definitely hear us. It was the 1977 playoffs, and we had a history of being beaten by the Broad Street Bullies. Fan frenzy was at an all-time high. As the players warmed up, you'd think we were-mid-game, the Flyers being targets of countless insults and endless invective directed to their family heritage, their team ethos, and their playing ability.
    That was the year that the Leafs won both games in Philadelphia to start the series. Finally, we had a chance to vanquish our hated foe! We lost game 3 in OT - no problem, we could still get the upper hand with the next game. The atmosphere for that game was unbelievably intense. I particularly remember a friend of the guy in front of us - who always showed up for Flyers games. He was screaming at the Flyers so apoplectically that his face was purple, his eyes were bloodshot, and his neck veins were bulging out about three inches. And this was during the warm-up! I was sure he was going to have a pre-game stroke. As I recall, the Leafs had a 5-2 lead with about 7 minutes to go. The Flyers had pretty well tossed in the towel. Never were there more jeers and catcalls for the Flyers as we lorded our in-the-bag victory over them.
    I can still see Bobby Clarke on the bench, banging his stick furiously against the boards as his team floated through the final minutes. He comes on the ice, next thing you know, it's 5-3. Then 5-4. Then 5-5. And then 6-5 Flyers in OT. Just as the fans created an electric atmosphere to fuel the Leafs in the Gardens with our cheers and jeers, I've never felt the life sucked out of a building as I did with that 6th goal. Our Gardens family was thrown into immediate, numbing shock.
    We didn't win again in that series.

  2. Great post, Gerund O'...I remember that game so well. You set the scene perfectly. The Leafs (as I recall) also had a lead in Game 3, but couldn't close the deal in the dying seconds (bad Salming clearance attempt?). Flyers won in OT, setting up the night you mention from your perch in the end blues.

    I totally agree that Clarke was the catalyst again that fateful night. He refused to let the Flyers give up.

    Awful feeling as a Leaf fan, but you described it so well. Thanks.