Soccer made in Canada | CBC schedules grassroots broadcast spanning B.C. and the Maritimes

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An excerpt from “Hockey: An Affectionate Look” broadcast on Camera Canada on 30 Apr 1962 helps show how Canadians became “the world’s most sophisticated hockey audience.” As Canadians, according to this clip, “we know the game. We played it. We were lectured on strategy. And like sparrows on a fence, we listened and cared.” (CBC Archives, The Spirit of Hockey | Instilling the Passion)

Toronto | First there was Hockey Night in Canada. Now there is Soccer Day in Canada, a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. production that aims to fill two hours on Jul 8 with reporting on the grassroots game, tied to the ongoing FIFA U-20 World Cup. The broadcast begins at 3 p.m. Eastern (also available online, although it is unclear if the stream will be available outside Canada).

As in the United States, football in Canada shows an international influence. The CBC, in addition to live segments from grassroots matches in Newfoundland and Labrador, Québec and Vancouver, plans pre-produced features on the influence of the Laurentians side in St. Lawrence (see 5 Nov 05), on a women’s team from Prince Edward Island, on the Canadian side competing in the Homeless World Cup in Copenhagen from 29 July–4 August, on diplomats’ football in Ottawa, on a soccer mom from Saskatchewan, on immigrants in Winnipeg and on a youth team from Nunavut, the province created from the Northwest Territories in 1999.

CBC has invested heavily in the U-20 event, enlisting 375 journalists and technicians—“numbers comparable to a network crew producing an Olympic broadcast,” writes William Houston in the Toronto Globe and Mail (“What if Canadians Don’t Care,” Jun 29). Houston writes of the U-20 tournament as “the flip side to the world junior hockey championship, which has enormous appeal here, but is largely ignored elsewhere.”

Yet Canadians have been paying attention, as they did during the FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship in Canada in 2002. The U-20 event already has set a record for drawing more spectators, more than 1 million, than any single-sport event in Canadian history. Chris Irwin, executive producer of the CBC’s U-20 coverage, speaks of soccer as a “sport that does reach a greater variety of people than hockey. While hockey does touch all communities in Canada in some way, soccer does it in a different way.” CBC, according to the London Free Press of Ontario, with its programming is fulfilling a promise to FIFA that it would promote the tournament in a nation that provides turf for soccer’s expansion (Rob Brodie, “Soccer Gets Its Due from CBC,” Jul 6).

Canada’s U-20 team, however, is facing elimination in its match against Congo on Sunday. In two previous games against Austria and Chile it has yet to score.

CBC’s feature on the Laurentians illustrates the hidden history of soccer within Canada. The first recorded game in St. Lawrence took place in 1904, when seamen would contest matches while their ships were at anchorage. Workers in the fluorspar mine would play after their shifts, while a town of emigrants from Scotland, England and the Republic of Ireland organized themselves in church leagues. The town’s main pitch, Centennial Soccer Field, is listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places in recognition of an area “that thrives on its soccer, past and present.”


As of mid-July, much of the Soccer Day in Canada content remains embargoed online, but three features can be viewed on the CBC Sports video player: “Soccer in Nigadoo, New Brunswick,” about a new indoor-soccer facility; “Saputo Soccer Family,” about the popularity and legacy of Montreal Impact; and “Island Soccer,” about the Prince Edward Island women’s team. The island won the silver medal on Jul 5 at the NatWest Island Games in Rhodes, Greece. They lost 0–3 in the final to the Finnish archipelago of Aland.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

Comments (3)

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  1. Brian says:

    I’m intrigued by what’s happening in Canada. There seems to be a genuine buzz about soccer that started with the U19 WWC. The women’s senior national side is now one of the top handful of teams in the world. Their men’s team did well at the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup, being unjustly denied a late equalizer in the semifinal vs the eventual winners USA. It’s unfortunate their U20 men’s team isn’t doing so well as the US really needs more serious competition in CONCACAF besides Mexico. But soccer appeals to certain segments of society that isn’t really touched by hockey.

  2. Gail says:

    The performance the Canadian U-20 squad has exhibited was abysmal. They showed very little skill, heart, composure or flair. The crowds in Edmonton were a paltry handful of folks. The commentators made subtly racist remarks about admiring the Congolese players’ “natural talent.” They knew how to play the game. Nothing more. The Canadians looked like buffoons, unable to string together three or four consecutive passes mostly because they simply gave the ball away in 90 percent of their limited possession. It reminds me of another weak team—Scotland. And that, fair Canadians, is what’s wrong with soccer development in Canada—Scottish men leading the charge.

    The Scottish and English men who immigrate to Canada and set up their Old Boys’ Club, also known as the Canadian Soccer Association, have run the upper echelons of amateur soccer into the dust. When was the last time a Scottish team made it to the quarterfinals of European Champions League play? I’m sure the English are ready to point to Beckham, Rooney and the boys as proof that they know how to play. Well the English haven’t fared well in World Cup soccer in decades. English players and English clubs do well in European play because they’re finally exposed to and influenced by brilliant players and coaches from other countries who compete alongside them. The Scottish barely register on the global scene … at any level … because they’re intent on playing kickball.

    I’m sure people would also point out that the Canadian women’s side is not in the same state, yet [is] led by the same villains. Truth is, the CSA has paid so little attention to the women’s development that when they finally did, they made the most sensible move—hire the best coach money could buy. At the time, that man was Even Pellerud, who led the Norwegians to the dominant level they still enjoy. Add to that, 90 pecent of our women’s junior team(s) develop in the amazing “farm team” system in the NCAA. They get an education and a chance to compete regularly against some of the world’s best female players—Americans—for four years.

    If the CSA were to pay Jí¼rgen Klinsmann to lead the junior and senior mens’ teams, I’d give Jí¼rgen four years to bring Canada to a level of success that many countries have only dreamed of. But that’ll never happen because Klinsmann isn’t English or Scottish.

  3. James says:

    Although CBC has done a lot of work covering the U-20 World Cup, they’ve done one thing that is maddening. They’ve launched a channel called Country Canada that is only available to Digital Cable subscribers, for a fee! For a public broadcaster to do something like this is really inexcusable. My tax dollars support the CBC and, in return, I expect to see as many games as possible on my tax-supported stations. Making me pay again is despicable. As well, other games are only broadcast on GolTV, another paid digital cable channel.

    So, although I’m glad the event has been getting coverage, I’m still not able to see many (most!) of the games live.

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