(Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)
Earlier this afternoon, I mentioned that the attendance for yesterday's Canada - Cuba Olympic qualifying match in Vancouver exceeded the attendance in Toronto for all three Canadian men's World Cup qualifiers this cycle. There were 12,417 fans at BC Place for last night's name, while the men's games ranged from 10,235 (the finale against St. Kitts and Nevis) to 12,178 (the middle game against Puerto Rico). The last game in Toronto to outdraw last night's tilt was June 1 in a pre-Gold Cup friendly against Ecuador, where 14,356 filled the stands (a large part of whom were Ecuador fans).
So am I going to talk trash to Toronto over Vancouver's superior passion for the nation? Nah. Toronto's had lovely crowds for the women's team: 10,255 fans showed up for a friendly against the United States in May 2009 and an impressive 13,554 made it to a friendly against Brazil on October 7, 2008. They have also supported the men's team well, although better in 2008 than today.
All I want is an end to the most preposterous argument in Canadian soccer today: that Canada is somehow better served by having their national teams based in the Windsor - Quebec City corridor. That the support is obviously better, that playing almost every home national team game there of any gender will cause that support to go, and that Canada will therefore improve on the pitch.
Prior to Thursday, Vancouver hadn't hosted a Canadian national team game, men's or women's, senior or junior since September of 2005. All of Western Canada hadn't seen a game since 2008. The West has been neglected by the Canadian Soccer Association, but when given a chance Vancouver proved itself Toronto's equal for an uncompetitive game against the lowest-ranked team in the tournament in the middle of January.
It's proof, once again, that the trick to ensuring nation-wide support for Canada's national teams is to actually give the nation a chance to see them. This has already been demonstrated time after time but here it is again, on national television for all to see, with attentive reporters and social media showing how much the players appreciate it. I know nothing will stop certain eastern pundits from trumpeting their eternal superiority but that just makes it incumbent upon us, who have eyes, ears, and brains, to always be ready to point out when they're wrong.
I admit that I'm ignoring some arguments against hosting games in Western Canada that are almost too stupid to discuss; Edmonton and Vancouver are further away from Europe, for example (I guess there's some space vortex which means they're not also further away from San Pedro Sula), or that BC Place and Commonwealth Stadium both have artificial turf (apparently some fans really believe that when Canada plays on plastic, their opponent magically plays on billiard-table-perfect grass).
In truth, the reason most eastern pundits prefer games in Toronto is because they're close to home. Fair enough; I'd like to see every Canadian game in Vancouver for the same reason, and I have no complaints with those who are honest about it. We all like traveling to far-off cities to watch our boys and girls, but we also all have finite chequing accounts and only so much time to fly across the country.
What bugs me isn't people who cheer for every Canadian game to be at BMO Field because they can take the streetcar over, or at Stade Saputo because it's ten minutes drive from their house and there's plenty of parking. What bugs me is people who try to make up competitive reasons that every national team game should be in their backyard: excuses that just don't hold up to even cursory scrutiny.
People from Ontario love to smirk at the idea of Western alienation, even to dismiss it outright. But the idea that of course it's necessary to focus the national team in the east, in spite of all facts, statistics, or reality, just because there's more of them is precisely the sort of arrogance which leads to alienation.
The greatest crowds, and some of the greatest results, in Canadian soccer history were at a U-19 women's tournament in Edmonton. To give the oft-neglected Atlantic their due, the most important victory in Canadian soccer history was in St. John's, Newfoundland (and why hasn't King George V Park seen a game in so many years?). The whole of Canada wants to support this team and only the North hasn't proven they can do so. Restricting our national teams to the Corridor, or to the Lower Mainland, or to anywhere else is petty, ignorant regionalism that deserves nothing but constant scorn.