As jeer leader, Blast's super fan is a real force

E-mail exchange with GM stokes Cleveland rivalry

Pro Soccer

April 02, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Blast fan Don Bonn is easy to pick out of the crowd at 1st Mariner Arena. He's the one with the megaphone in his hand and the soccer-ball hat on his head.

He has season tickets at both ends of the field, seats he uses every game so he can change ends after each quarter and try to distract opposing players on the field.

Bonn, 53, a real estate salesman, was simply expressing his opinion in late December when he wrote an e-mail to Cleveland Force president and general manager Paul Garofolo after the team hired coach Omid Namazi.

Bonn took issue with Garofolo's characterization of Namazi as "a first-class individual," with criticism that included the information that Namazi once apparently punched a young Blast fan - who may have provoked Namazi - through the back of the goal here when he was a player-coach with the Philadelphia KiXX.

But Cleveland, the Blast's opponent here tonight in a game filled with playoff repercussions, and the Blast have a long history of off-the-field confrontations. So though it is unusual for a team executive to get in an e-mail exchange with an opposing team's fan, it is not all that surprising that Garofolo decided to respond at length to Bonn's note. Over two months, he wrote a series of dissertations on fan etiquette and made insulting remarks about Bonn and other Blast fans.

In the e-mails, Garofolo said the group of Blast fans behind the nets "are the National Enquirer of fans" in the Major Indoor Soccer League. He said their cheers are laced with obscenities and they are "an embarrassment" to Baltimore. He said he has complained twice to the MISL, asking to have them barred from games.

"Never in my 25 years in sports have I ever witnessed a group of fans so consistently obnoxious as your group," Garofolo wrote to Bonn in the second of four e-mails. "Remember, the word `fan' is short for `fanatic' and it is usually fanaticism that starts problems around the world, i.e., English soccer hooligans, Jonestown, Waco ... anything taken to the extreme at whatever level. My mother taught me, as a rule of thumb ... `most things are OK. In moderation!' Your group should practice moderation."

Garofolo did not return a call from The Sun.

Bonn, who has developed friendships with many of the players he harasses during games, including Force goalie Otto Orf, was taken aback.

"Most of the players know it's all in fun," said Bonn, who is known as Megaphone Man.

Milwaukee Wave coach Keith Tozer, who brings his team to town for the final game of the season tomorrow night, said he has no problem with Blast fans.

"They don't bother me or my team," he said. "The guy with the megaphone? Yeah, he yells ... but as long as fans are not endangering players, not crossing the line swearing, it's a free country."

Last week, at the Blast's fan club dinner, Bonn showed the correspondence to owner Ed Hale, who became incensed.

Hale called and wrote Cleveland's majority owner, Richard Dietrich, to complain about Garofolo.

"Now he wants me to apologize for what I said," Hale said.

And what did Hale say?

"I said to the effect that I didn't think it was right that he'd characterize our fans as National Enquirer fans, write voluminous letters and badmouth them," Hale said. "I sent it and faxed it around the league, and Richard felt I owed Garofolo an apology for calling him an incompetent and a know-it-all. But I stand by what I said.

"The league knows ... we have a model group of fans and a model franchise. That's how we're viewed. When it gets down to a personal attack at the fan base, it's absolutely not right. And Don Bonn is a terrific fan and a nice man. He doesn't use obscene language, and we should encourage characters like that, not berate them."

MISL commissioner Steve Ryan said he'd received Hale's correspondence.

"This is just one more episode in the rivalry chain between these two clubs," said Ryan, who said he would not reprimand anyone in this exchange. "At this time of the year, with the race for the playoffs, clubs are playing mind games to gain advantages. It's not surprising to me that this would happen at this time."

Bonn said he will be at tonight's game early to spread copies of National Enquirer on seats behind the goals.

"During introductions, we can hold them up and rattle them," he said. "We're going to have fun with this."

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