It’s been a long time coming for Vancouver lawyer Brent Loewen, who will be travelling with his sons to watch the World Cup in Qatar this fall.
Loewen describes himself as a “long-suffering fan of the Canadian men’s soccer team since 1986.”
“I still remember the 1986 World Cup qualifier played in bad weather conditions in Saint John’s where Canada qualified for the Mexico World Cup," says the Vancouver lawyer.
Since then, Loewen says it's been "disappointment after disappointment after disappointment.”
Loewen recalls a recent moment of disappointment for Canadian soccer fans: the 2012 qualifying match, in which Canada played Honduras and lost 8-1.
“My friends on the soccer team that I played on at the time, we were all excited for the game. And Canada lost. A huge disappointment. I legitimately thought that they had a chance this time around.”
So, as a major soccer fan, Loewen says it was a no-brainer to go to Qatar and watch Team Canada play. This game is a big deal for the country.
“It’s the first time in 36 years that they’ve come back to the World Cup,” he says. “At the beginning of the game, when I hear the national anthem, I will probably cry because it's been such a long journey for Canada to arrive at a World Cup again.”
And whatever the outcome Team Canada faces, Loewen says that in his opinion, Canada has already won.
“If they lose the game, it will have no effect at all. I'll be happy. If they win, I will be absolutely jubilant. And I may look to stay longer in Qatar to watch more games.”
Qatar World Cup: A 'multitude of matches' in one day
The World Cup is set to begin in November, and Qatar is about 11,700 kilometres away from Vancouver.
For people who wish to attend in person, this trip is a commitment.
At present, Faris Al-Mudaffer has plans to be in the region with his father, but he isn’t sure about whether he'll go to watch the games.
“We're planning to go to the region, not necessarily Qatar. I know I can get tickets. I’ve got a lot of friends who are in the sports business who can get tickets,” says Al-Mudaffer, who works in sports management, and runs 5 Aside Club in Metro Vancouver.
Like Loewen, Al-Mudaffer has been an avid soccer fan and player since he was a child.
“My parents couldn't care less. Being in Britain, the country's passionate about the game. That was really how it started. I remember watching games on TV by myself when I was six years old.”
His passion for the sport, alongside coaching and playing it, extends to his commitment to watching the big matches happening abroad as early as 4:30 a.m.
“On the weekends, not every weekend, but some of the matches do start at that time. If it's on at 4:30 a.m., I wake up at 4:20 a.m. It happens, I would say, at least once a month for sure.”
Al-Mudaffer hasn’t been to a World Cup, so it’s something he’d like to do while he’s in the area.
“I would really love to go. Qatar is going to be the most unique World Cup because you can go and watch a multitude of matches in one day. Because the proximity of all the venues. It would be a worthwhile experience because you can go from one match to another, compared to the North American one that's coming four years after,” he says.
If he does attend the World Cup, Al-Mudaffer says he will be cheering for England, the country that fuelled his love for the sport.
“Canada will be there trying to do their best, and I think they will actually do well. They’ve got a very, very good team. But I think they will be like, ‘Hey, we’re happy to be here.’"
Soccer culture creates life-long friends
While Canadians who love soccer exist, it doesn't compare to other communities around the world.
“Even though Vancouver is a big soccer city compared to other cities, I live in Montreal and Toronto. I don't think cities are really hooked into the World Cup,” says Vladimir Beciez, a senior planning analyst for the B.C. government.
Beciez has attended a World Cup before. But due to the time and expenses, he’s on the fence about whether he’ll attend this year’s event.
Beciez, who is originally from Mexico, remembers a time he went to a sports bar when the Seattle Seahawks were playing, all the while a soccer game between Canada and Mexico was happening.
“They didn't want to change the Seahawks game for the Canada-versus-Mexico game. I ended up leaving the bar and watching the game on my phone,” he recalls.
In contrast, Beciez says places like Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are "paralyzed" when a match is on.
“No one's on the street. It's a day off. People don't go to work. I'm asking for the day off when Mexico plays. I’m wasting some of my vacation when Mexico plays, even if I don't go to the World Cup. I want no interruptions during that day.”
And like Loewen and Al-Mudaffer, Beciez says that soccer has formed important relationships in his life.
“The friends I've made playing soccer are my best friends through the course of my life. And I'm 37. I think, overall, soccer is a great chance to to know new people and to spend time with your long-life friends,” he says.
When it comes to which team he’ll be cheering for, Beciez has his loyalties to his home country.
“(Canada’s) a direct rival to Mexico in the qualifying, so we wouldn’t cheer for each other. Not because I have something against the country, it is just that we're direct rivals. The U.S. does not want Mexico to be better than the States. I think same thing for Canada.”
It's not uncommon for fans to shed a few tears, too, win or lose. That's because many of them have watched the players grow up, Beciez tells Glacier Media.
“We as fans, most of us play the sport, we understand the frustration, but also the amount of effort and time players spend on this is huge. We follow them every week. We watch interviews with them,” he says. "So that makes it very emotional."