Prior to Canada’s World Cup quarterfinal against England, the Canadian Soccer Association and local Voyageurs moved heaven and earth to assemble a proper supporters’ section on next-to-no notice. Fans abandoned pricy tickets already purchased and plunked down in an improvised mob behind TSN’s set with the anything-for-our-ladies attitude that defines the Voyageur. It was a feat of improvisation that did credit to both the officials and fans of Canadian soccer. TSN and the British press had run articles criticizing Canada’s church-like atmosphere and the players themselves had put out a video calling for drums and chants; this was no time for half-measures.
Unfortunately, a family of four in front of this section was uninformed of this. First they objected to the drum, with ominous words about “making an issue out of this,” and in the spirit of kindness it was moved back. Then it turned out they objected to noise full stop. While stewards sought to move them elsewhere in a sold-out stadium, the father claimed that chanting for 90 minutes was stupid, embarrassing. The aforementioned video calling for just that was mentioned, whereupon the gentleman attempted to fight a Voyageur. Cooler heads prevailed that time, and another Voyageur, one who’d literally bought this section on his personal credit card for the sake of Canada, tried to reason with this fellow. This fellow naturally suckerpunched the Voyageur in the penis, and praise God that was it for him at last.
There is a point to this story. Most of the 54,000 fans in BC Place were all for the Voyageurs, or at least benevolently neutral. Two people were not, and those two held up the whole show. By the time they were finally removed, and the supporters could focus on supporting, it was 2-0 England and in spite of a gallant pushback our World Cup was ending. Were I a believer in this sort of karmic energy, and when it comes to soccer I sort of am, I’d say that was no coincidence.
It’s useless saying who was right or wrong, at least until a father decided chants were so embarrassing he’d try to fight two strangers in front of his children. But we’ve all seen this sort of thing from many Canadian fans in many grounds. It’s cultural. As undeniable as Canada’s love affair with its women’s national team is, the culture hasn’t really changed. And as long as the culture is so parochial, we’re going to have big problems.
There. Now does it sound more generally applicable to Canadian soccer?
I leave today as I leave most Canadian soccer campaigns, hoarse and traumatized and broken and tired. It’s hard to say where this falls in the pantheon of awful Canadian moments, but bombing out of the World Cup in a quarterfinal at home before a record crowd to a team we ought to defeat and, indeed, outplayed takes some beating. Yet there are so many little joys to take. A thousand fans stuck around for half an hour after Canada was eliminated, cheering and crowding the rail and showering their heroines in love. Christine Sinclair is still in all the Coke commercials, but the cheer for Kadeisha Buchanan tells me she’s no longer the only player Canadians can name. And the country fell in love with these women all over again – more than that, we’ve seen thoroughly decent crowds in far-flung cities for completely neutral games. It’s not just the women’s national team that can work in Canada, it’s women’s soccer.
Many people are viewing this game with a cynic’s eye, knowing that we would go wrong, and telling us all why. This is well and good and some of those pundits are right, but honestly? I attended every Canada game at the U-20 Women’s World Cup last year and every Canada game at the senior World Cup this year, and I just don’t have the energy. I really thought Canada would have a good tournament. Fourth place, I said it again and again, and we were one mistake in central defense from it coming true. And the women who played for us are such wonderful representatives of their country that… well, there’s no point saying a team deserves anything for that reason, but if ever a team did, it was this one.
Christine Sinclair apologized to Canada for the result through coach John Herdman. There’s no way Sincy’s reading this but if she is, come on. Nobody has ever less owed an apology. Canada should apologize to you for not cheering hard enough, for not packing the stadiums enough, for not supporting our programs enough years and years ago when it could have made a difference and gotten you the silverware you so deserve. Sinclair will retire as the greatest female player to never win a World Cup or Olympic gold medal. And we – you and me – could have helped prevent that. 2012 was far, far too late.
I leave with one thought for the future. There’s been talk of how the proposed Canadian national soccer league can work in competition with three MLS and two NASL teams. But the solution is self-evident: make it a women’s league. Put that on TSN every week and maybe the next World Cup won’t end in tears.