Celebrating, win or lose

A police officer directs traffic (most of which is celebrating Spanish fans) with his Italian flag shortly after Spain defeated Italy in the Euro 2012 final on July 1.

It’s not often in this town that you see a police officer smiling and laughing on the job. Not because they’re evil or humourless, but just because they’ve been called on to do some rather serious stuff with some rather confrontational people. Many of them are overworked, tired, frustrated and otherwise not in the best of moods.

And yet, here he is, enjoying himself on a day you’d expect him not to be.

Last weekend, as thousands in Montreal were packing, moving and unpacking their belongings, and thousands more engaging in activities related to Canada Day, St. Laurent Blvd. was a sea of yellow and red Spanish flags, people honking and cheering after their national soccer team defeated Italy 4-0 in the final of the European championship, the second-most prestigious soccer event after the World Cup.

Combined, the two mean that every two years, people in Montreal (and elsewhere in the world) abandon the maple leaf and take up the flags of their ancestral homelands (whether or not they were born there, have ever been there or even speak the language) and, to varying degrees, follow and support that country in its quest for international glory. In some cases, couples find themselves at odds. (I noticed at least a few couples that supported each side of the Italy-Spain match.)

It goes without saying that most of these fans end up disappointed. Only one country can win it all. Then, like any true sports fan, they begin rationalizing that loss to dull the pain. (Italy wasn’t expected to win, it was down to 10 men, it put on a strong effort, etc.) But more importantly, no matter how fanatic about their chosen side, they know in the end it’s just a game, and they don’t take it too seriously.

Spanish fans celebrate their Euro 2012 win outside the Club Español on St. Laurent July 1.

After a Canada Day picnic in Mount Royal Park, I was heading home when I noticed a large crowd had gathered at St. Laurent near Mont Royal Ave. It didn’t take long to realize it was hundreds of Spanish soccer fans celebrating their Euro win over Italy.

If you’ve seen one of these celebrations, you’ve seen them all. Cheering, chanting, jumping and dancing, mostly by young people wearing team jerseys and carrying flags. (I was surprised how many Spanish flags there were – is there now a shortage?) It’s chaotic, spontaneous, energizing fun.

An Italian soccer fan is hoisted in the air by Spanish fans, shortly before he and a Spanish fan exchanged shirts.

At one point, I spotted an Italian fan being surrounded by the crowd. (I don’t know what he was doing there. Did he get lost on his way to Little Italy?) He was picked up by Spanish fans and held up in the air to cheers from the crowd.

They could have rubbed it in, or showered him in boos. But instead they took him in. He and his country had already suffered by looking at the scoreboard. There was little these people could do to make that worse. So instead they embraced him, let him join in their celebration. They revelled in his national shame, and so did he.

I’d seen this embracing of the enemy before.

A France fan embraces a Portugal fan in postgame celebrations during the 2006 World Cup.

It was July 5, 2006, and France had defeated Portugal 1-0 in the semifinal of that year’s World Cup in Germany. Zinedine Zidane scored the only goal. (He would distinguish himself in the next game, when France lost the final to Italy on penalty kicks.) The French fans were gathered on St. Denis St. near Rachel St. to celebrate.

Some Portuguese fans, whose gathering place was at St. Laurent and Rachel, made their way down to St. Denis. There, they were treated like royalty. Or, at least like visiting dignitaries. Some good-natured boos, but lots of hugs. It could have been taunting sour grapes, but it was instead an outpouring of sympathy for a heartbreak they were a couple of goals from experiencing themselves (and, indeed, they would just four days later at the hands of the Italians).

Many of the Portuguese fans left with the same heartbreak of seeing their national team lose, but smiles on their faces and maybe a few new friends among the bleu-blanc-rouge.

An Italian fan puts on a Spanish team jersey after switching shirts with a Spanish fan.

Back on St. Laurent in 2012, they went a bit further. The Italian fan and one of the Spanish fans exchanged shirts (a tradition among players in international matches) and took some pictures together in each other’s team colours.

They later switched back. Embracing your opponent is one thing, but your team is your team.

Cars – most of whom have Spanish flags – are stuck on St. Laurent below Rachel after the street was closed for celebrations.

Two blocks down, police blocked off St. Laurent at the corner of Rachel, causing a pretty serious traffic jam. But most of those stuck in their cars didn’t mind. They were honking and flying big Spanish flags, celebrating the victory with fellow cars and pedestrians on the sidewalks. They weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere.

Police officer directs traffic with his Italian flag, to the unending amusement of Spanish fans.

And then there was that traffic cop. Two patrol cars blocked access to St. Laurent, and he stood at the corner, occasionally asking people to stay on the sidewalk so cars could pass through. In his patrol car, a small Italian flag he would occasionally pull out and start waving to get a rise out of the crowd.

They ate it up. Each time the response was laughter on both sides. At one point, fans started asking to have their photos taken with this guy.

Spanish fans (and an Italian photographer) pose with a cop and his Italian flag on St. Laurent after Euro 2012.

The crowd was pretty solidly one-sided. One of the few times a car came up with Italian flags on it, the officer walked over and shook the hand of the passenger, prompting some good-natured boos from the crowd.

An hour or so later, the crowd outside the Club Español had thinned, and police wanted to reopen the street. A supervisor came over to give instructions. Rather than scold the officer for posing for photos instead of directing traffic, he seemed just as amused at the absurd assignment for an Italian traffic cop.

As the road reopened, celebrations continued. Fans on the sidewalk outside the Club Español cheered cars as they passed by. Many of those cars continued north, all the way up to Little Italy.

Cars with Spanish flags pass by Italian fans in Little Italy after Spain’s Euro 2012 win.

Near St. Laurent and Mozart St., the mood was much more relaxed. Partly because it was later in the day, and partly because people don’t stick around much after a loss. For the cars that came all the way here (this couldn’t have been conveniently on the way home for all of them, could it?), there was a bit of sour grapes. One car burned some rubber at the corner, creating a giant cloud. But happier celebrations continued to rule the day here. A couple of Italian fans waved their green white and red flags at passing cars with Spanish ones, and were even disappointed when they got no reaction.

At one point, a car stopped, and the passenger offered $10 for the small flag the man in the photo above was carrying. He accepted the deal (they had a larger flag to wave around anyway). Even after such a loss, it seemed some people were so eager to show off their Italian pride they bought a flag off the street from a stranger for an inflated price.

Italian fans commiserate after Italy’s Euro loss.

It’s because of stuff like this that I love this city and its seemingly infinite cultural communities. For its reputation as a place that riots after minor hockey victories, it can also party respectfully, it can have fun without becoming stupid. It knows that there many things in life more important than a soccer game half a world away, but that it’s fun to pretend that there isn’t.

Even though my ties with Europe disappeared generations ago, and I’m really not a soccer fan, I’d like to see more of this city come out during major sporting events. Regardless of the result of the game, these Italian and Spanish soccer fans set examples for us all.

Here’s my full set of photos from the July 1 soccer celebrations:

Euro 2012

11 thoughts on “Celebrating, win or lose

  1. Marc

    Hmm, were they aware that all this fun on the streets was, in fact, illegal? There was certainly more than 50 people…

  2. Cat

    Well. This story just made me really happy. Thanks for posting something positive and sort of heartwarming. ;)

  3. josh

    Hockey fans should learn how to celebrate peacefully. Jubilant soccer fans in Montreal show how you can have fun without vandalizing streets. It was showcased in 2006 when Italy won the world cup and last Sunday too. It’s a beautiful game. Beautiful fans too.

  4. Diane

    HelloFS! Great photos on your soccer fans piece! Always love your take on Montreal events. By the way, as your report was, I gather , on Canada day, and is all about flying the flags for the soccer teams, I have to add that it is poignant to me, in the face of all that jubilant nationalism, that we did not see a single Canadian flag (that’s the one with the red maple leaf, not the red square:)on the Plateau or anywhere downtown..
    Until we got to the free cake ceremony on the Vieux Montreal Quays. They were giving out free Canadian flags, and exchanging lunies for a commemorative looney. Which I did, then forgot about it later and spent it.
    The Montreal Canda day festivities on the Quay consisted of more than a thousand people standing in line for a free piece of cake, and a handful of friends and relatives watching the new citizens getting their papers. Army cadets in sweltering wool uniforms waiting till noon to play O Canada.. while other cadets fended off the Montreal Public trying to swipe a piece of free cake before the Signal: a noon gun salute and national anthem.
    I suppose the Canadian Flag will fly over Montreal someday in the future when the Canadian Soccer team wins the cup.. Go Saputo Go!

  5. Captain Obvious

    Naturally, soccer fans are quite easy to control. If they start to act up, all the police have to do is swing a baton within 5 metres of their shins and they’ll instantly flop over, writhing in mock pain, crying for their mamas… ;)

  6. Kevin

    Was it illegal? It was a legitimately spontaneous demonstration, unlike those that take place on a regular schedule with the same people night after night, leaving from the same spot with no ‘official’ route planned in advance ;)

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Was it illegal? It was a legitimately spontaneous demonstration, unlike…

      Unless I missed something, the law does not distinguish between “legitimately spontaneous” and organized demonstrations.

  7. Jean Naimard

    What do you mean by “because they’ve been called on to do some rather serious stuff with some rather confrontational people.”???

    Do you mean pepper spraying and clubbing and grenading students who don’t want to have a rawer deal than their parents got???

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Do you mean pepper spraying and clubbing and grenading students who don’t want to have a rawer deal than their parents got???

      I mean pepper spraying, clubbing and arresting students who are throwing rocks and beer bottles at them, yelling at them and otherwise being confrontational.

  8. lagatta à montréal

    Yes, I saw the match with a friend, at neutral territory (Massilia, the Marseille side supporters’ pub on Parc) and then cycled up from where the Spain fans were celebrating to back home in La Petite Italie (where, as you know, there are now many residents from different Latin American countries as well. In general it was good-humoured.

    I don’t think most of the “casseurs” throwing stones and beer bottles at police at the end of les manifestations nocturnes are students, actually.

    The police definitely over-reacted against an utterly peaceful cacerolazo by the Villeray and Petite-Patrie casseroles. I joined in with that; I knew many of the people (of all ages, and absolutely no “casseurs”). Someone up high was so paranoid about the Grand Prix (or Grand Pricks) that they would not let the casserole march towards St-Laurent (Petite Italie section).

    It was ridiculous, a whole wall of riot cops almost surrounding a not-very-big and not at all menacing groups of gens du quartier (many of us over 50 years of age).

    Though of course it is true that police do see the uglier side of life – “On n’appelle pas la police quand ça va bien”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *