It was a day 36 years in the making, and while it didn’t go quite as fans hoped, it didn’t stop an outpouring of pride across British Columbia.
Packed into pubs, movie theatres, school gymnasiums and yes, even hockey rinks, fans gathered to watch Canada’s Men’s National Team contest its first World Cup game since 1986.
Luke Vandurand, one of about 600 fans at Vancouver’s Hollywood Theatre to watch the match, said he was eight years old when he watched Canada play in that last tournament and has rued the country’s drought since then.
Read more: FIFA World Cup: Canada loses 1-0 to Belgium
“Seeing this, and seeing a refugee like Alphonse Davies come to Canada and be successful, it’s what we’ve been waiting for. It’s a beautiful day; it’s like a healing moment for us,” he said.
High school student Tobyn Rootman wasn’t even born the last time Canada made it to the World Cup. A young soccer player himself, he told Global News there was no chance he was going to miss the chance to see his heroes — just a few years older than him — play.
Just before kickoff, Rootman and a group of friends did “shots” of maple syrup to get into the spirit.
“I told all my teachers like, there was no chance I was going to be at school today. My dad took the day off. It wasn’t even a thought in my mind — 100 per cent was going to be here,” he said.
“A lot of people, a lot of my friends, a lot of international students at my school have made fun of Canada for years and don’t take us seriously on the international stage, so it will feel good to have that taste of victory and show the world what we can do.”
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At Aldergrove Community Secondary School, students packed into the gym to watch the game over the lunch break, while those lucky enough to have PE in the earlier block got to catch the kickoff as well.
The school has a special connection to the game — one of its former students was on the field Wednesday.
“We are extremely proud to know that one of our graduates from ACSS … Joel Waterman, successfully made the team and we as a school and as a community are extremely proud,” ACSS principal Mike Palichuk said.
“We think that his inspirational example of reaching his goal of playing for the national team in soccer, and then beyond that, actually getting to the World Cup, only the second time Canada has been able to get to the World Cup.”
The lesson wasn’t lost on students, who told Global News it was exciting to see someone from their school reach the pinnacle of sport.
“It proves that every dream can happen. He was just like a student at this school and he made it way up there,” Grade 11 student Toqa Abualkas said.
When Canada made that last trip in 1986, it turns out an ACSS alumnus was there too. Palichuk said Randy Ragan’s jersey still hangs in the school’s hallway.
In the end, despite a rollercoaster of emotions and at least one solid gold penalty chance that didn’t go Canada’s way, the national squad fell 1-0 to top-ranked Belgium.
Nonetheless, Canada carried the play for much of the game, and back at the Hollywood fans left the theatre with their heads held high.
“Super proud of our team,” one told Global News as he filed out of the venue.
“We played our heart out and there’s more to come, there’s more to come. We’ve got two more games.”
— with files from Emad Agahai