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Canadian Soccer

Canada, Football Nation

The 2011 MLS season is months behind us. While the 2012 season is just a few weeks ahead. And, cruising through the winter giddily anticipating more live games at BMO, I’ve been doing some reflecting about my love of this sport.

As a kid, growing up in Kingston, I was an avid and competitive player. From 5 to 18, I played in summer leagues. I had at it for the schools I attended. And, eventually, I even played for the city I called home. Lots of my peers did as well.

Back then, however, it was nearly impossible to catch a professional match on TV in this country. The NASL went big and fizzled out. There were few knowledgeable coaches around to really teach us. It was only older siblings who seemed to really see what we did in a game that was totally overshadowed by hockey, baseball and football.

Oh, then there were the transplanted foreigners. They all seemed amused and appalled by our poor relationship with the world’s sport. Some even volunteered to help. Enough to give us some hope and direction.

It wasn’t until I spent a year in the UK with my family (mid-1970s, dynastic Liverpool years), that it sunk in just how big a deal it was everywhere else in the world. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of being in small towns in Europe and Latin America during the Euro and World Cup, and watching these worlds stop just to catch one game live.

Sadly early, I ditched soccer for other sports – among other things. Wide as my travels and as curious as I am about everything, I can’t quit it. I’ve just never lost the thrill I get anytime I can find football on the tube. Let alone the pleasure of watching live on a field in front of me. And that brings me to…

Today, I can’t believe how much footy I can watch here in a week. Sometimes it feels like it might be more than I was able to consume as a viewer through my entire soccer playing career. Premier League. La Liga. Seria A. Bundesliga. English Championship. The Brazilian and Colombian leagues. International matches. Champions’ Leagues. The FA Cup. And the MLS, of course, which so cleverly fills the slim gap between Old World soccer seasons.

Considering how meagre my childhood supply of live top calibre games, it all seems like an embarrassing bounty of riches. I couldn’t possibly watch it all. I can barely stay on top of what interests and inspires me. Not to mention what it would take to consume and digest it all.

This winter, it hit me. The Wall is gone, finally and totally gone. Whatever barrier it was that had held back the soccer wave flooding the world, it is no longer there. Finally we are awash in football. Year around. Canada no longer lives in the footballing world wilderness.

My kids, if they come to share my passion for the game, will never know that feeling of isolation and exclusion. That’s an exciting development, and it has come about much more quickly than I would have imagined possible. For people who have come of age during this era of football adoption, the profundity of this shift may not be that clear.

Shortly, we will all become immersed in the ‘woulda, shoulda and coulda’ of another TFC season. Of course, we’ll all become obsessed with the immediate and our own critical perspectives. It will be easy to forget how lucky we are now to have this sport established at a top-tier professional level here.

So, I feel a need to honour my gratitude. I think it is worth noting something totally and universally positive about Canada’s current football culture.┬áIt brings me great satisfaction and pleasure to see how much more this sport has been integrated in our home and native land.

This can only bode well for the future of football in this country at all levels.

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