Bill Taylor reports with laptop and lens from his temporary second home, the Little Italy quarter of Toronto. Is he really watching three games a day, as his stream of comments to Salut! Sunderland suggests, and will it make him go blind? …
Also: Join the debate on Kaka’s invisible assault
I learned something during the Brazil-Cote d’Ivoire game – that TV sports commentators don’t ALWAYS talk drivel.
During the later stages of the game – before it almost deteriorated into a gang rumble beyond the referee’s control – the guy doing commentary for CBC said something to the effect of: “Leaving aside their own supporters, Brazil is pretty much every soccer fan’s second-choice team.”
He could be right. It’s a while since I was in the middle of a crowd of Brazilian supporters and I’d forgotten what a fabulous example they are to the world.
This was in the Little Italy section of Toronto, which was closed to traffic for an Italian festival – the World Cup was coincidental. But Brazil fans had pretty much taken it over.
I was on the patio of the place I’ve adopted for my al fresco spectating, a bar and restaurant called Public.
Earlier in the day, Public and the larger Café Diplomatico across the street had been packed with fans of the Azzurri, taking advantage of the gorgeous weather and the fact that, thanks to a temporary Toronto bylaw change, they could watch the big-screen TVs and have a drink at 10 o’clock in the morning.
The waiter at Public told me the atmosphere had been funereal as New Zealand held Italy to a 1-1 draw. I read on the Toronto Star website later that only one person had dared to cheer for the Kiwis – and was told by several opposing fans to “get the f*** outa here”.
I’d say 95 per cent of the people at Public and the Diplomatico in the afternoon were yelling for Brazil. Some had come out with their faces and bodied painted and their hair dyed, wearing outlandish costumes and carrying huge flags. It might have been the final, rather than a first-round match.
There were a handful of Cote d’Ivoire fans, also yelling themselves hoarse to be heard over the Brazilians’ drums.
But nary a single word said against them nor a dirty look directed their way. Good play from their team was warmly applauded. And when Drogba scored, the whole street rose as one to cheer him. I saw a couple of Brazilian fans who didn’t immediately get up prodded to their feet.
Yes, Brazil had a commanding lead and a stranglehold on the game. The reaction might well not have been quite the same had Drogba been putting Cote d’Ivoire ahead.
Nonetheless, this was a heartfelt salute to a brave man who was playing at considerable risk to himself and deserved his goal. The Brazilians’ reaction was spontaneous, generous and utterly genuine. There was pure delight on the face of the guy sitting next to me.
Toronto has a massive Asian population – the evidence is that many of them support Brazil. Out on the street after the game, it may have been an Italian festival but there were far more Brazilian flags and shirts to be seen.
But I saw at least one of almost everyone’s flag, including a local psychic whose sign was flanked by the English and Italian colours. I don’t think I’ll be going there to have my fortune told.
There was no animosity, no taunting, no sneering, not even at devotees of the beleaguered French team. It was a party. We’d seen a good, hard-fought contest and that was reason enough to celebrate. We shared a love of the beautiful game and it was – at risk of sounding maudlin – quite beautiful.
As for the French…. my wife Lesley and I came across a stall selling very unusual and eye-catching stylized team T-shirts.
I talked to the people and they’re local designers who wanted to do something different for the Cup. Nor were they profiteering. A custom-designed T-shirt for 20 bucks in Toronto is a steal.
I bought one celebrating les Bleus. For good or ill, France is still my first love. But the TV commentator was right. Brazil is now my second.