Messi, not Messier
It is my mom’s 70th birthday this Friday (with the party that involves most of the town it seems 🙂 on Saturday) so party prep has been preventing me from boring you with my thoughts on the internet… but the party is getting under control so hoping to write a little bit over the next few days and get back to regular missives next week.
As part of the festivities I flew into Regina and we stayed at the Hotel Saskatchewan. As my niece said, the hotel where the queen stays when she is in town… It had one of those fancy hotel brunches to die for – and a great cocktail lounge. But I have now been indoctrinated into European football sufficiently that I was looking for a place to watch the 2012 Euro Cup on Canada Day.
Not something I would have ever expected to happen in my youth… it all started with a guy… don’t so many things in life? 😉 The journey that took me from someone who knew nothing about soccer to someone who was obsessed with watching the Euro Cup final is a long one. It started 10 years ago… in 2002, when I went to the Jazz Festival with my friend Keyvan and he was talking about the World Cup. At that point, it was merely a term I had heard – with no knowledge of the history or meaning behind it.
He is from Iran. And I had my first inkling of the importance of what North Americans call “soccer” in world culture. He went to the World Cup. And seemed a bit obsessed with the game. At that point I was just impressed with his passion. And the international flavour of the sport. All he had done was pique my interest.
It took a number of years before that kernel grew into a seedling. That was 2010, two World Cups later. I was in New York City for a magical weekend that spanned both Canada Day and the 4th of July. And the World Cup! It happened the hotel I was staying in had a beer garden and each day there was a chalkboard announcing the World Cup games.
It all meant nothing to me but Keyvan had piqued my interest in the concept. And everywhere that I went guys were talking about the World Cup. Especially Italian guys. And New York is full of them. But it’s the most international sport there is. And New York is a very international city. So all sorts of people were talking about the World Cup. And given Keyvan’s enthusiasm, I took an interest.
At that point, I was also involved in some crazy flirtation with a Dutch guy… and the Netherlands made it through to the World Cup final that year. And I watched the game from a bar in Calgary during the Stampede… texting Engelbert at the appropriate moments. I barely knew what the players were doing… but I liked the atmosphere of the crowd. And their enthusiasm. Even in Canada where no one cared about soccer…
So, last year, when my friend Rodz and I decided we would try and watch as many Canucks games as possible once they were in the playoffs… and during game two the topic of Whitecaps season’s tickets came up… I decided that would be my new project. I would buy season’s tickets for the inaugural season of the Whitecaps – and invite guys (or girls) to games who knew about soccer so that I could learn how to watch the game… and in 2014 I would be able to watch the World Cup – and actually know what was going on!
My friend Alex (aka Alessandro, actually born in Italy, where the gene to watch a football match involving an Italian team with the passionate intensity of a love affair is given at birth) has been my biggest coach in learning to appreciate “the beautiful game”.
And he has done a spectacular job. He is the one who taught me how incredible Messi is. I’ve had conversations with European guys about soccer. I really wanted Italy to win on Sunday because it was Alex’s birthdays so a win by Italy would have been spectacular. But he is a very gracious guy and accepted Spain had played a beautiful game.
And he would have been proud. I rushed through brunch, paid the bill and left my mom and niece to finish at their leisure. I went to the lounge and said to the server, “I thought you would be playing the game.” (They had had TSN on the night before.) He said they would so switched channels so I could watch the pre-game show. When I said I would have to go to my room cause I couldn’t watch it without sound, he turned up the volume.
I was one of the tiny minority watching a soccer match in Regina. A few people drifted in and out of the lounge but I was the only one watching the entire match. My mom came to find me near the end and I explained to her the Spanish style of play and why Italy was having trouble getting the ball. I also tried to explain the historic importance of that game and what Spain had accomplished.
I’m ready for the World Cup ahead of schedule. Now when the commentators say stuff or the guys run around on the field, I am not ONLY thinking, “wow, lots of cute, super fit guys in tight shorts.” I am also thinking, “wow, I know what they are doing.” Thanks, Alex, Rodz, Peter and any of my other soccer coaches 🙂
Mark Messier was very impressive but Lionel Messi… check him out 🙂