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here they come...

being from north america, the world of “football” (soccer to me) was always sort of closed. i knew that it was a big deal just about everywhere else, but i was never exposed to it. my first exposure wasn’t especially pleasant, either. i was in england in the summer of 1990 and got to see some charming liverpudlian gentlemen in a pub enjoying the game under the influence of about 750 pints. so to me, soccer was a sort of frightening thing that morphed men into monsters a la ionesco’s rhinoceros.

my next meeting with “the beautiful game” came in 1998, during world cup. at this point, i was living in montreal at that point and, as it turns out, living in a cosmopolitan city changes your perspective on these things a little. instead of being invisible, soccer was everywhere, parading loudly with honking car horns past the window of my plateau-area apartment without regard to my desire for quiet.

during that world cup. i got interested. primarily, i was just irritated, because i wanted all those people with their car horns to shut the f**k up and leave me alone. so i got interested as a method of self-defence. i decided i was going to back croatia, because they were the only team who didn’t seem to have a cadre of honkers backing them. if croatia won, it meant that i would be left alone.

croatia came third, which made me fairly happy on the day of the “consolation match" (sweet silence everywhere). france, popular in quebec for obvious reasons, beat out brazil to win the cup. i have two memories from the afternoon of the final that will stay with me until i am very old. first, walking down st. laurent in the afternoon and finding it startlingly abandoned. it was empty, save for huge crowds of eerily silent people bursting forth from overcrowded pubs heads inclined to catch a glimpse of the television sets inside. i could have been naked and no one would have noticed.

second, at the end of the day, well into the night in fact, i saw the last stragglers from after-parties milling about as i walked up to meet my boyfriend at the mont-royal record store where he was working. there was one fan, wrapped in the brazilian flag, still howling out the soccer chants that had evidently lost their potentcy. i have never seen anyone as sad as that man at that moment.

i didn’t follow much since then, although as a lifelong champion of the underdog, i was quietly thrilled to see greece come out of nowhere to win the 2004 euro cup. now, when i remember the summer of ‘98, i realise that seeing the continuous parade of cultural pride following victories was not only annoying (although there were a few mornings when it was), but exciting. there was more going on than simple sports fandom, which is precisely why soccer is as popular as it is. (if you don’t believe me, go read this article.)

yesterday, i was at a pub on yonge street with a couple of friends when a parade of cars, british flags flying and horns blaring, flowed past on their way to downtown and i felt a little wave of nostalgia.

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