Happy World Cup, everyone

A huge crowd of France supporters flood St. Denis St. after World Cup semifinal win on July 5, 2006.

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.

A Portuguese soccer fan is welcomed to the celebration of France's win

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.

Fans from France and Portugal embrace each other

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.

9 thoughts on “Happy World Cup, everyone

  1. Kate M.

    But the offside rule isn’t stupid. It keeps the play behind the ball. The same rule applies in hockey for the same reason. Otherwise, opposing team members could all rush forward without paying attention to where the ball or puck is, and the games would be a lot more chaotic than they are, the goalkeeper’s job would be way more dangerous – the games would be fundamentally changed if you removed that rule.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      My issue with the offside rule isn’t the fact that it exists, it’s with how it works. In hockey, the position of the defending team’s players is entirely irrelevant to the offside rule. What matters it the position of the puck and the player with respect to the blue line.

      In soccer, there’s no offside line (so it could be anywhere between the centre line and the penalty area), and you can even have a situation where the defending team moves up the field to force their opponent into an offside position.

      1. Kevin

        Your hockey bias is showing. Given the size of the pitch, creating a blue line would be silly — esp. since good scorers can plant a ball in the net from tens of yards away, unlike in hockey, where it seems many players wait until they’re inside the crease to try and score ;)

        Without the offside rule, you end up with two players buzzing around the keeper like mosquitoes: one from the opposition, and another from the goalkeeper’s team.

  2. Maria Gatti

    Perhaps it is so special because it happens only once every four years. I was in Amsterdam during the last final; Netherlands was no longer in the running. I was mostly surrounded by France fans. (Confess that my Italian side runs more to supporting Argentina than Italy, as I think Italy play like a bunch of cautious chartered accountants); have lived in both Italy and France…

    There is an Argentina-supporter café-restaurant in St-Michel, Restaurant Argentino, at the corner of Beaubien and St-Michel, but I don’t know if that is where their street parties are. I didn’t see anything near the intersection of Bélanger and St-Denis, where there are often various Latin-American celebrations in this neighbourhood; did see quite a few cars adorned with Argentina flags parading along the Petite-Italie stretch of St-Laurent (many, many Argentines are of Italian descent, this is also the case in little Uruguay). At least one Argie friend is fervently for Spain now; she fled the dictatorship in her country to Barcelona, where she lived for 15 years until moving here, and Barça players are at the core of that side.

    I’m really neutral now. Sure, Spain are fellow Latins and all, but I also travel to Amsterdam at least yearly for professional reasons and along with Denmark, the Netherlands is one of the (western) world’s cycling heavens.

    Looking forward to seeing Nelson Mandela. Could be his last public appearance.

  3. wkh

    Did you SERIOUSLY just make a big huge I Heart World Cup post (and I agree with everything you said btw) and use four year old pictures? We expect better, Steve!

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I’m sorry, I can’t hear your whining over the sound of how much money I’ve been making with overtime over the past month that has prevented me from going out and taking pictures of people dancing in the streets.

      1. wkh

        well hey just to let you know I am ready at ANY TIME to write an exclusive feature on how heat effects dogs, dandelions, or the life of your car’s interior. Jesus Christ you’d think we’d never had a summer before.

  4. Bill_the_Bear

    There was an empty store front on St-Laurent, a bit above Pine, which was turned into a store selling World Cup flags, jerseys, etc., so maybe that’s where the Ghana Football Association flag came from.

  5. Dave Pinto

    ‘…turn the most incidental contact with an opposing player into a theatrical death scene. …
    Hmmm … you sure you’re not talking about an NHL hockey game?


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