World Cup: flying the flag for France, and 31 others


Bill Taylor lives in Toronto, Ontario but, as a former resident of Bishop Auckland, near Toronto, Co Durham and a Sunderland fan with strong Wearside links, is a regular visitor to this site. So how is his adopted city gearing up for a distant sporting event in which it will play no part? With a smile it is unlikely to offer all the flunkeys, fixers and functionaries due in town for a G20 summit …

Toronto supports… everybody.

A few years ago, the United Nations called this the world’s most cosmopolitan city. Which is why, everywhere you look right now (including outside the little shoe store at the bottom of my street), you see the flags of all nations.

All nations that are in the World Cup, that is. It’s certainly not in honour of the G20 Summit later this month which is turning downtown Toronto into an armed fortress, with photo-passes for anyone who lives or works within the fenced-off area and a bill for security that has passed the $1 billion mark and is still climbing.

It’s closing the CN Tower, the art gallery, several theatres and our retractable-dome baseball stadium, forcing the Blue Jays’ scheduled series of home games against Philadelphia down to Philly.

Many of the world leaders’ hangers-on – sorry, “senior advisers”; President Obama alone is bringing 500 of them – are already anticipating not having enough, or anything at all, to do at the summit and various secret services reportedly are scouting good locations for them to watch the soccer.

(“Soccer” is what we call it in Canada and what I’ll continue to call it here. Football to us is something altogether different.)

There’ll be no shortage of places to see each and every match. I can’t think of a pub or bar that isn’t bringing in big-screen TVs – even bigger than this one from 2006 – and extra staff.bill3

In a rare moment of civic enlightenment, opening times have been brought forward an hour so bars can serve drinks at 10 a.m. to accommodate the early games.

I’m looking forward to sitting in the morning sun on a raucously crowded patio, eating breakfast, accompanied by a nice rosé or perhaps champagne and orange juice, and cheering on whoever takes my fancy. Though, for the record, my true allegiance is with France.

Speaking of whom, the 1998 World Cup was a great illustration of why Toronto is the perfect place to be for the tournament – not only because it’s crazy about soccer. As an aside, Toronto FC, Canada’s first Major League Soccer (that’s what the league is called) team also has the country’s first soccer-specific stadium, where – progress! – the AstroTurf was recently replaced with real grass. BMO Field only has a capacity of 20,000 but “fan” is short for “fanatic” and the whole season is generally sold out in advance.

In the build-up to the ’98 World Cup final, the city’s huge contingent of Brazilian/Portuguese fans (they tend to switch loyalties temporarily when one or the other team is eliminated) were so confident of winning, they’d organized a street party to celebrate – in Little Italy, of all places, but that was never going to be a problem. They’d even persuaded the city to close several blocks and divert public transit.

There was just one snag: Brazil got clobbered by France.

Still, a party is a party and it went ahead as planned, only slightly subdued – until a large contingent of flag-waving supporters of les Bleus showed up.

The result was a riot, though not the kind you get when English fans go on the rampage. The two sides embraced one another as brothers and sisters and it turned into a French victory party instead. A good time was had by all. No fights, no broken windows, no arrests.

Diversity is taken for granted in Toronto. Looking at our ethnic mix as a whole, Caucasians are a minority. The Greater Toronto Area has six separate Chinatowns. We celebrate our differences. Street signs proclaim Little Italy, Chinatown, Greektown, Portugal Village etc. etc.
Though the demographic is changing as more Asians and eastern Europeans move in, my neighbourhood is still largely Portuguese and those are the flags flying from most of the cars on the street. Looking from my upstairs window, I can also see the red, black and gold of Germany and Italy’s green, white and red tricolour. But no one’s car will be keyed or tires slashed.

You’ll even see, once in a while, the red maple leaf, though Canada is years, possibly decades, away from having a credible national side.

You could say that’s actually a good thing, in that it frees those of us who don’t feel any ties to the land of our ancestry to cheer on whoever takes our fancy. And not put a bottle across the head of anyone who has the temerity to sport different colours.

The flags are everywhere. Some places are selling them, some places are flying them to try to attract business, some have them up simply because this is a city that loves sport and everybody wants to be a part of the action.

Look hard enough – for instance, seventh from the left in this picture of a local you-name-it-we’ve-got-it store – and you’ll even find the standard of North Korea. No cheap humour, please, about how low that standard may be.

We’ll leave any disdain for the North Koreans to the G20 political hacks who are causing so much disruption here. I’m wondering – seriously – if the pubs they choose for their World Cup-watching will find their regular customers displaced by armies of security men, talking into their ties and looking everywhere but at the TV.
The visiting national leaders, more’s the pity, have a lot to learn from our soccer fans about the philosophy of live-and-let-live.

NB Salut! Sunderland has exceptionally allowed all Bill’s North Americanisms to pass without hindrance. As a Bishop lad, though, he should know better. Check out more of his photographs at this link.

3 thoughts on “World Cup: flying the flag for France, and 31 others”

  1. I cannot remember being more disappointed in Algeria. That was a quick exit. I really expected that they had a good chance to do well in this years world cup. I guess I will have to wait. Maybe its time to jump on the Argentina bandwagon. Looks like Demichelis has already scored. Go Argentina. To make me feel better from that devistating loss by Algeria, I have been watching some funny jokes.. This one made me laugh really hard:

  2. Driving through Toronto yesterday a presenter from one of the local radio stations kept repeating “foootball” with emphasis on the “ooo.” As time went on he appeared to realise that he was sounding like a complete arse and started to pronounce the noun for the world’s favourite game correctly.

    As an aside, my son was playing in a football tournament (I realise that I am becoming North Americanised when I have to resist putting the word “football” in inverted commas! Whoops just did!). Remarkable as it may seem, and despite the fact that the kids playing the game came from a broad cultural and international spectrum including, English, Italian, Trinidadian, Dutch, Polish, Salvadorian, and Iranian, nobody even mentioned the World Cup.

    Canadians are prepared to put up lights and blow up balloons to celebrate just about anything, and do so frequently. Maybe the apparent indifference may be due to a lack of awareness of the significance of the competition, or as Bill rightly says means that they can simple enjoy it regardless of who wins. Celebrate and get the balloons ready for the victorious.

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