There. I said it. Regular readers of the blog will probably have figured this out by now, but it's probably best just to come clean with it for the rest of you. I'm from Winnipeg, and have lived in Manitoba all my life but for a one year European sojourn.
Don't start writing me letters of condolence quite yet. This may come as a surprise to some, but I like it here. Winnipeg is a great and quirky city, with friendly people. For anyone who enjoys the outdoors, there's a variety of attractions within a short drive. It's a city where you actually get to experience all four seasons, unlike the European country in which I lived, which had a month or two of summer and 10 months of "grey". As explained by one of those canadian guys, on their most recent podcast, it is a city that isn't so bad when on its best behaviour, questionable perogies notwithstanding.
But if you've never been to Winnipeg, you might not realize just how isolated the city really is. It's really the only city of any significance in Manitoba (sorry Brandon!). The closest city of over 100,000 people is more than 5 hours drive away, and it hardly counts since that city is Regina.
Sometimes Winnipeg can feel a little ronery.
All of this is my way of explaining, perhaps apologizing for, the fact that I've only ever attended one Canada match live. June 11th, 2000, was the date. Cuba the opponent. Canada had won 1-0 in Havana a week earlier, and the 0-0 draw that day at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex (a glorified practice field with leftover bleachers from the '99 Pan Am Games) was enough to move on to the next stage of yet another ill-fated qualifying campaign. There was little memorable about the match. Someone, and right now I'm thinking Jason Bent, hit a crossbar, and someone else, possibly Peschisolido, dribbled one off the post or just wide. I recall sitting near a group of old guys engaged in a passionate debate about a Euro 2000 match (Germany, I think) they had watched earlier that day. I recall briefly watching Stalteri and wondering why all those internet guys hated him so much.
Yes, international football was actually played here.
The other best chances for me to watch Canada live were two matches in my hometown, the 'Chicago of the North', the same year, and the only other two matches ever played in Winnipeg by the national team. Both wins. In fact, Canada has never lost in Winnipeg, a fact that might be of some usefulness if there was somewhere for Canada to play. Being still in the early stages of my soccer addiction, I didn't take advantage of the opportunity to see these matches. I might not even have been aware of the late May friendly against Honduras (a 3-1 win), and if I recall correctly, the weather for the Panama match (a 1-0 win) was too miserable to bear, considering the game was the last bit of detritus for a campaign at that point already doomed by math.
Is it possible for me to be a diehard Canada fan, a Voyageur, without having been to more than one match? I did miss a 'gimme' when the 2005 U20 World Cup was held in the same country I happened to be living in at the time, but given the results, perhaps it was best I spent those days travelling elsewhere in Europe. Any match that has taken place in Canada over the last 10 years would have required commitments of time and money that I was not in position to make, due to various combinations of school, work, and lack of funds. The closest I came to seeing Canada in person again was serious consideration of an epic train ride to Edmonton to watch Canada-Mexico in October 2008, a masterpiece by Radzinski and one of my favourite Canada matches.
So in weeks like these, with two matches in central Canada over 4 days (yes, I'll give you central Canada, even if the real centre of Canada is 50 km from my house), I am envious. Envious of those who, for reasons of geography, comfortable wealth, or mental illness, are able to go out and watch these games. It's a bit disheartening to read the full range of excuses for skipping out on these friendlies, but it's a bit hypocritical coming from a guy who watched his second favourite national team in the World Cup final on tape delay because he was sitting in a canoe in Ontario when it was played live.
It won't get any easier. While I'm now established in a career that gives me all of July and August off (take a guess!), it seems Canada rarely plays at home during those months. Perhaps a Gold Cup roadie could be in the works. But now that Edmonton, because of a new artificial surface at Commonwealth, is out of the picture, I'll have to jump half a continent away to watch Canada play at home. Does it make me less of the fan if this only happens once or twice? I'm not sure.
I am sure that I'm missing something of the live experience, the diehard support that will make its presence known at BMO and Saputo, but didn't really seem to be present that evening in June 2000 on Waverley St.
After all that, I will be making a long drive this weekend to watch a sporting event in a big city. Twin Cities in fact. What New York is to Toronto, Minneapolis is to us denizens of the Murder Capital. But all I'll get is baseball. Does that count for anything?