One of my pet peeves about the sports media in this country is that they have no idea what a Canadian football fan is like.
Seriously. Open up the pages of a major daily and even a respected reporter like Stephen Brunt will burst into generalization and errors of fact when Canadian fans come up. Generalizing Canadian supporters from Toronto FC or Vancouver Whitecaps fans or the guys at the pub in Liverpool jerseys are like assuming all NHL fans are basically Toronto Maple Leafs diehards with different laundry. But football's heritage in this country is far weaker than hockey's, and the media hacks flower into cliche because they simply don't know better.
Never fear, mediocre sports scribes of our glorious dominion. I, Lord Bob, despite never having been further east than Montreal, have taken it upon myself to do the generalizing for you. Merely refer to the 2,000 largely inane words below, and you will understand what it is to be a Canadian football fan.
Quote: "Who's that Canadian on Manchester United again?"
Knowledge Level: Wouldn't recognize Mike Klukowski if he saw him on the street.
Tell-Tale Symptoms: Owns at least one of an Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, or Liverpool kit. Could tell you how many goals Wayne Rooney scored last year but thinks the New York/New Jersey Metrostars still exist.
By far the most common football fan in Canada, the casual is exactly what he sounds like. He'll tend to support one of the English Big Four, and perhaps he'll go to a Major League Soccer game before leaving in the seventy-fifth minute to beat the traffic. This is the sort of guy who's dragged into a supporter's section by his buddy, will listen to the singing and chanting and say "this is cool" but not ever, ever join in.
The casuals are perfectly respectable, reasonable people. Many of them are thoroughly decent men and women with rewarding jobs, loving families, and many hobbies besides football. Though they have decided not to arrange their lives around a game, if anything they deserve more of our respect for keeping their priorities so keenly in order.
Real supporters avoid these guys like the plague.
Quote: That tuneless yelling you get when you don't quite know a chant yet.
Knowledge Level: Would recognize Mike Klukowski on the street.
Tell-Tale Symptoms: Renews his passport early "just in case". Buys a Canada kit in the wrong colour because the red ones were out of stock, then feels guilty and spends twice as much to get a red one as well. In the latter stages, becomes genuinely alarmed at how much time and money he's spending on a losing team that plays in Canada once every two years. Liable to become The Voyageur without swift psychiatric help.
If anybody deserves our pity, it is the apprentice. Lacking the cynicism borne from years of failure, the apprentice is often the most gung-ho member in any supporter's section. Those casuals who enjoy the supporter's section a bit too much become the apprentice. When you're at a sparsely attended match, a person wanders into the supporter's section, has a beer, has a laugh, and winds up cheering and roaring and chanting and standing on the rail hurling epithets at the referee's country of origin, you just witnessed the birth of the apprentice.
These guys are prone to lapses, both major and minor. Whether it's thinking Canada has a midfielder named Maxime Bernier or thinking the movie Green Street was a documentary and trying to start a fight with the opposing supporters, no apprentice gets through his first year as a supporter without doing something unbelievably embarrassing. Usually, though, he'll be the only one who wasn't embarrassed by it.
Quote: "Marc Bircham was all right, but he was no Carl Valentine."
Knowledge Level: Would recognize Mike Klukowski's extended family on the street.
Tell-Tale Symptoms: Passport has more stamps than a hyperactive kid's scrapbook. Can recommend cheap hotels in Honduras. Knows where Phillips Bakery is.
Every country has its bloc of guys who care just a little bit too much. In Canada, these guys are the Voyageurs. For those not up on their Canadian history, back in our colonial days voyageurs were Canadian fur traders renowned for hiking vast distances through unknown country filled with hostile natives while carrying two-hundred-pound packs and portaging canoes before plunging through white-water rapids, killing some beavers, and then doing the same thing in the other direction. They were few in number but highly respected and more than a little crazy.
Replace "carrying huge packs and canoes" with "drinking buckets full of beer" and "killing some beavers" with "cheering on Canada and occasionally fighting Hondurans and Costa Ricans" and that's basically a modern Voyageur in a nutshell.
Most Voyageurs are very normal people in their non-soccer lives, except that once or twice a year they take time off to travel across the continent to stand in a half-empty stadium and cheer for whichever mediocre eleven-man lineup deigned to show up at the match without defecting. They're the sort of people who'll stand in Commonwealth Stadium, in Edmonton, at the end of autumn until ten at night and then say "do you know what we need? More beer." They also know every player in every league in the world with so much as a Canadian grandparent, except for Dominic Imhof.
Normal people avoid these guys like the plague.
Quote: "You guys don't understand football like we do in the old country."
Knowledge Level: Irrationally resents Mike Klukowski for something Poland did in the war.
Tell-Tale Symptoms: Looks at North American supporters groups like a particularly cute puppy who just piddled on the rug. Drinks more than anybody else at the pre-game gathering. Sings words that match no known chant but sings them with so much gusto everyone else has to join in. Knows more than two players for the Serbian White Eagles.
Not to be confused with the faux European (see below), the European is from some country where they play football in ninety-year-old stadia with rivalries determined by genocide instead of a Voyageurs Cup match and who is deadlier with half a beer bottle than most people are with handguns. Though they always view the Canadian game as a pale imitation of what they're used to, these guys are universally popular because they have the best stories out of anyone, they'll drink so much that their doctors buy a new Mercedes after every World Cup, and even if they say that the Canadian game is small-time and parochial they'll throw themselves into it with such unreserved determination that even a Voyageur has to take half a step backwards.
If you're ever at a pre-match gathering and you want to hear things you'd never heard before, find the oldest guy with the weirdest accent and just start buying him drinks.
The Toronto FC Diehard
Quote: "JIMMY BRENNAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Knowledge Level: Thinks Mike Klukowski would already be playing in Toronto if BMO Field had grass.
Tell-Tale Symptoms: Thinks that Canada's best players are, in order, Brennan, De Rosario, and Serioux. Is irate whenever one of those players is actually called up to Canada. Evaluates all national team members by considering if they'd make a good designated player.
Say what you will about the Toronto FC diehards, but they're real fans. Most of them became real fans very very quickly, going from "the Toronto Lynx? Aren't they a women's lacrosse team" to "THIS IS OUR HOUSE!" in ten seconds flat. But if they needed the hype and attention of MLS to get drawn in, at least they got drawn in eventually.
I like the Toronto FC crowd. They packed BMO Field to the gills when the national team last played there, which was a pleasant surprise and made the Montrealers look really stupid a month later. That wouldn't have happened without Toronto FC, because when those fans got into the game, they didn't do it half-assed. Seeing a pro-Canadian crowd, even if it was just on television, hearing chants for our boys... that's not something I'll forget any time soon.
But let's be honest, guys. They do get the blinkers on a bit. The recent Julian de Guzman excitement was a case in point, where these newly-minted hardcore fans mumbled vague wonderings about where Canada's best player would go, sat straight upright when it looked like he might go to Toronto, pounding talk radio and blog comments with more material than they see in a month, then mumbling some more when the furore passed. They do their research enough to know what a guy like Julian de Guzman means, but not enough to care when he's not at BMO Field.
Plus they cheer for Amado Guevara, which gets them a reserved table at the sports bar in Hell on its own.
The Faux European
Quote: "Oh, I don't watch the Major League, I'm a Serie A fan." (insert pretentious smirk here)
Knowledge Level: Thinks Mike Klukowski played right back for Juventus back in the mid-nineties. Is wrong, of course, but doesn't expect you to catch him.
Tell-Tale Symptoms: Non-ironically referred to the Toronto - Real Madrid friendly as "the match of the season". Thinks two of Canada's professional teams are the Montreal Impacts and the Toronto Effcees. Has never actually been to Swangard, BMO, or Stade Saputo. Will ramble on about how the dogfight between Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga will turn out. Will always specify that Barcelona and Real Madrid are in La Liga as if he thought you wouldn't know that. Knows much, much less about football than he lets on.
The faux European is one of the only truly loathsome parts of the Canadian footballing world. They are plastic supporters for countries they've never even been to. They cheer for some major European powerhouse and always have some bullshit reason like "oh, my dad was born in London so of course I cheer for Chelsea" (he was probably born under the shadow of a League One team's stadium but that doesn't matter to these glory-hunting fuckfaces) while trying to defuse criticism by saying they have a favourite "lower-league team", usually considering "lower-league" to mean Serie B or perhaps the bottom-middle half of the English Premiership.
People like this are the reason why, whenever somebody says "my family is from Manchester", you can assume they're a United fan and can't give a shit about City (and don't even get me started on FC United of Manchester). They'll refuse to watch any North American league because it's "beneath them" - obviously football isn't interesting when it's not Cristiano Ronaldo flopping across the pitch like his hamstrings were pieces of Silly Putty.
And the worst part is, for all these assholes talk about Wayne Rooney and Marco van Basten and Francisco Totti, none of these guys actually know shit about football.
Seriously. They'll talk your ear off about how Didier Drogba is fat and slow and whatever else the colour commentator helpfully told them, but take them to a match and probe them a glimmer of original thought and they'll freeze up like Chad Barrett with an open header. The thing is, none of them are football fans. They're fakes, simulacrums of what they think the cool European is, pale imitations of an archetype that never really existed.
If you go to the Kop at Anfield, yank out a diehard, drop him into a Conference North stadium and tell him to watch a match, he'll still have a ball because the only thing he loves more than Liverpool is football in general. He has nothing to prove. He doesn't have to shit on the rest of the world for you to know he's a Liverpool fan. But his Canadian brethren don't give a damn about the game. They just want you to think they do, and so they put on their ridiculous facade and prance about like they're not living a lie.
Close your eyes for a moment and think back to 2004 or so, and all the idiots you met at your local football pub who went to school near Newcastle and pretty much had to become a Magpies fan. Now think about the number of Newcastle fans you haven't met this year. That'll tell you all you need to know.