One might think it is difficult being an England football fan. With no major trophies since 1966, a couple of sniffs at finals and countless shootout heartbreaks England fans have a right to wonder where are we going. But I laugh at you. Try being a Canadian (with English roots) football fan.
Football (or soccer) and its fans are a special breed in Canada. We exist, in droves and we are very passionate. Some of us have English roots, some Italian, some Portuguese, some Japanese, some Australian. Pretty much if the country is in FIFA there is a fan in Canada somewhere. During the Euro 2012 final I planned to avoid downtown Toronto like the plague as I knew regardless of the outcome either Spanish or Italian fans would litter the streets clogging up traffic and honking horns if their team one, and that did happen. I would have done the same if England had won.
What makes the Canadian fan different is that because of various immigrant backgrounds we cheer for our European or Asian or South American heritage, but we cheer for Canada first and want them to win. If England ever were to play Canada, I would cheer for the Maple Leaf over the Three Lions.
England fans will never forget the 1986 World Cup, mostly for the wrong reason. It was also the only year that the Canadian Men's team made a World Cup. The only time. Think about that, in the history of the World Cup my home country of over 30 million people have made qualified for the biggest tournament in the world just once. As though Canada did not need to be kicked in the shins when down, but Canada is the only country in the history of the World Cup to have qualified and never scored. Three games, no goals.
Coming off a break in the Premier League for World Cup qualifiers there were other teams outside of Europe trying to make it to Rio in two years, and Canada was one of them. Canada plays in the CONCACAF region of FIFA, the region which covers all countries north of South America, and has an incredibly complicated qualifying process but gets easier if a team keeps progressing.
Canada had advanced through their first group and were now in the second qualifying group where just finish in the top 2 of 4 and Brazil becomes closer. Canada's group of four consisted of Cuba, Honduras and Panama. Each team would have to play the other once at home and once on the road, sounds simple enough. Or at least I thought. For those who are familiar with Canada, we are ranked 61st by FIFA (as of October 2012). Which is five places behind Scotland and seven behind Poland.
Most fans believed that Canada could advance through this group with Panama and Honduras being tough, but beatable teams. Like with most Canadian (and England to some extent) qualification rounds it was much harder than it needed to be. It began in June with a win 1-0 in Cuba, and then rather take a commanding lead in the group they decided to play terribly and draw at home with Honduras. The next game was arguably the biggest at home against Panama on a chilly, crisp Friday evening in September on the shores of Lake Ontario and they won. Canada were back in on top of their group and a couple of days later could advance with in a win or draw in Panama, but they lost their best player in the first ten minutes, played poorly and lost. Putting them back on the back foot.
Canada dispatched Cuba easily 3-0 to setup a big final game against Honduras.
On to the final game, Canada played Honduras. Canada had to travel to San Pedro Sula one of the most violent cities in the world, deal with a soccer crazy crowd enclosed by razor wire needing to just hold Honduras to a draw.
And Canada was humiliated 8-1. Thus ending their World Cup qualification round.
Oh well, at least I have England now to cheer for.
And they never cause heartbreak.