The quadrennial World Cup that kicks off today may be the planet’s biggest excuse for a party, and Canadians will be joining in with gusto.
With its ethnic diversity and soccer-crazy immigrants, cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver become unique places to experience a month-long spectacle that dwarfs the Olympics.
“Canada is a wonderful place to watch the game, partly because people shift allegiances as they go along,” said Pablo Idahosa, a social science professor at York University.
“People, once their team is out there’s that disappointment, but then they can go on to cheer for another team.”
Despite the absence of Canada in the tournament, sports bars across the country have been gearing up for boisterous crowds of fans pontificating on the “beautiful game” as they celebrate their victories or drown their sorrows.
“It’s a month of bliss,” said Allen Fox, owner of Kelly’s, a British pub in Montreal’s West Island.
“I wish we had the World Cup every year.”
The last two World Cups drew standing-room-only crowds for England, and excellent turnouts for other high-profile squads like France, Portugal and Spain, Fox said.
South Africa was barred for decades from international soccer before 1992 because of its racist apartheid policies and is the first African country to host the globe’s biggest single sporting event.
As a result, the tournament has particular resonance for one group of hyphenated Canadians — South Africans.
Not surprisingly, they’ll be cheering for the home side — the underdog team nicknamed Bafana Bafana (a translation of Boys, Boys from Zulu).
“We’ve got a group of South Africans all getting together at one house,” said Dianne Hunnam-Jones, who comes from Johannesburg but now works in Toronto.
“We’ve all got our Bafana Bafana hats and T-shirts and the tattoos and the whole deal.”
Many bars have permission to open early, given the time difference with South Africa.
Christine Da Silva, manager of the International Sports Bar and Eatery in Mississauga, Ont., expected to be serving breakfast to aficionados cheering for Portugal, Italy and Brazil.
“We’re bigger on soccer than hockey,” Da Silva said. “We’re anticipating it will be quite busy.”
Nick Devine, owner of Vancouver’s Cascade Room, is reprising a special drink served for the Winter Olympics in February: four full shot glasses in a hand-carved bobsled.
This time, the shot glasses sit in a mini-substitution bench and come with a soccer trivia card for $12.
“I’m England all the way,” the British-born Devine, 32, said with a laugh.
Across the country, Ford Cooke was waiting for posters and other swag Thursday with which to adorn Erin’s, an Irish pub in the heart of St. John’s, NL.
“I know who we’re not cheering for,” he said with a laugh.
In Edmonton, soccer coach Bernhard Brinkmann said he’ll be donning his German jersey as he heads to a German cultural centre to watch.
“Everyone’s really excited about it,” said the 52-year-old Brinkmann. “It’s kind of like the Stanley Cup, but it only happens once every four years.”
Even the oft-frozen north will see soccer diehards getting their communal fix.
A taxi-dispatch office in Inuvik is getting its once-every-four-year makeover into World Cup central, so cab drivers and local residents can don team jerseys and watch the festival on TV.
Nicastro’s Neighbourhood Pub in Calgary — one of 73 different pubs in Alberta with permission to serve alcohol early during the tournament — draws fans of all nationalities for the games.
Italian fans are especially rabid, said manager Becky Van De Syte, who recalled a mob scene when Italy won four years ago.
“I’ve never seen so many men crying,” Van De Syte said.
“It was wild: people falling off their chairs, laying on the ground crying — you can’t even imagine.”
Because South Africa is six hours ahead of eastern time, the games will mostly be played during the Canadian work day.
For self-professed soccer fanatic David Lejeune, that’s going to mean a lot of juggling.
With two children under the age of four, he usually watches in his Montreal living room, but there will be many early mornings at cafes and bars around town in the coming month.
“I like to be out watching with other fans,” Lejeune said.
“To just be part of the atmosphere, these people love the game and I wish North American fans would be more into it like the rest of the world.”
Hunnam-Jones said bosses can use the World Cup to boost workplace morale by offering some flexibility to employees who want to watch games. CBC is showing the games on TV and the Internet.
“Sporting events, regardless of culture or country, pull people together,” said Hunnam-Jones, who is a district manager for staffing company Robert Half Canada.
“They can be a positive effect if done in moderation and if facilitated.”