I love the World Cup.
After a month of the most important sporting tournament on Earth, I still think watching soccer on television is incredibly boring compared to other sports. And it shows no evidence of supplanting hockey as the No. 1 sport in this city. The game is badly officiated, mostly because its governing body doesn’t want to enter the 20th century, much less the 21st. And many of the players are overpaid whiners whose sole purpose, it sometimes seems, is to turn the most incidental contact with an opposing player into a theatrical death scene.
And I still think soccer’s offside rule is stupid.
But there’s something about the way the World Cup takes over Montreal’s fans. Because Canada isn’t nearly good enough to make it to the final tournament, there is no home team, and everyone is free to choose sides. Many go with countries of origin, or maybe the team of their favourite player, or the country they once lived in.
No matter what country wins a game, whether it’s a big player like Brazil or Germany, or a tiny speck on the globe like Uruguay or Ghana, there’s always a parade of elated fans, honking their horns and waving their flags like they just had sex with a supermodel and realized they won the lottery.
During the 2010 cup, I spotted more than one Uruguay flag, and even once caught a flag that I later determined was that of the Ghana Football Association. I have no idea where that one came from – do they even sell them here?
Like during 2006, there were unofficial headquarters for the various countries based on their ethnic ghettos. Some were obvious (Italy, Portugal, France), while others weren’t so much (Ghana, Uruguay, Argentina). Sadly, because of work I couldn’t visit any of the postgame celebrations. They’re truly fun to watch.
But what I love even more about the World Cup is that the fans here aren’t fanatical.
It was July 5, 2006, and France had just beaten Portugal in the semifinal off a penalty kick by a guy named Zinedine Zidane (whose name would become infamous a few days later). While the Portuguese fans were consoling themselves on St. Laurent Blvd., the France fans were cheering and waving flags on St. Denis.
Eventually, some fans with Portugal flags came by. Instead of being made fun of or yelled at, they were invited to join the party.
They were celebrating France’s win – and hence Portugal’s defeat – but they were also celebrating the kind of great soccer event that comes only once every four years. They were celebrating because it’s fun to celebrate.
Today, the 2010 World Cup comes down to one game between two countries that have never won the great tournament before. One of those countries will experience the kind of joy and national pride that will be spoken of for years (at least four, anyway). The other will feel the crushing disappointment of having come so far and fallen so short of ultimate victory.
But whether it’s the Netherlands or Spain that comes out on top, somewhere in Montreal there will be a parade of fans leading us to a party. And everyone, no matter what colour their flag, will be invited to share in the celebration.
I just wish it could happen more often than every four years.