Canada in Qatar: Who are Les Rouges? – Sports Gazette

Sports Gazette
by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London
“It’s all Canada, baby.” Ryan Tune – chairman of one of Canada’s largest Bayern Munich fan clubs – speaks to the Sports Gazette about his passion for football, his support of Bayern Munich and Canada, and the growth of the sport in his home country.
The last time Canada featured at a World Cup, Diego Maradona was football’s most expensive player, the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ was debuting across London’s West End, and the Soviet Union had not yet collapsed.
In 1986, Canada’s World Cup campaign ended abruptly after an underwhelming 2-0 loss against the Soviets in Mexico.
Three games played, three games lost: a meagre participation on football’s most sought-after stage.
It must be said, however, that the footballing sentiment in Canada in 1986 was unequivocally different to that of the present day. This is a country where football is on the up.
“It wasn’t until it started to look like Canada might actually pull this off – that was the only time that anybody started talking about ‘86” Tune told the Sports Gazette. “To be honest, the overall population didn’t really care.”
Fast-forward to 2022, where a win against Jamaica would seal their qualification. An emphatic 4-0 victory in front of a home crowd of nearly 30,000 meant Les Rouges would, amongst all the trademark footballing nations, compete in Qatar this Winter, ending a 36-year drought.
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Ryan was only three years old when Canada last qualified for a World Cup, and this is the case for most Canadian soccer fans. Football has only just started to plant its roots in Canadian soil, but now that it has done so, it will be difficult for those people who have fallen in love with the beautiful game to shake the soccer bug.
“I think once soccer is your number one, it’s always your number one. It’s a different type of passion. It’s a culture within a culture. There’s just something to it – it’s hard to explain” Ryan said.
It’s hard to explain but it’s easier to understand.
It’s safe to say that Ryan’s affinity with football isn’t going to end any time soon. His devotion to Bayern Munich exemplifies his credentials as a football fan. Südkurve Toronto – Ryan’s fan club – meet for every single one of Bayern’s games, be it for the Champions League midweek, or for a preseason friendly against D.C. United. The level of competition may vary, but Südkurve’s unwavering support doesn’t.
And Ryan’s support for Bayern mirrors that of many football fans in Toronto: “This is a niche in a city that’s full of supporters of anyone from Barca, to either of the Manchester teams, to any of the London clubs.”
While the main sport in Canada is still hockey, football is starting to creep up the ranks. Why? That’s a fairly loaded question that needs a multifaceted answer.
Speaking purely in terms of demographics, almost 22% of Canada’s population are immigrants; the migrant population has more than doubled since the last time Canada qualified for a World Cup. In a metropolitan centre like Toronto, these figures are concentrated. This concentration brings diversity, and this diversity brings football. It’s not all as simple as that, but you only need to look at the Canadian men’s football roster to see this effect in play.
“What you have here (Toronto)… is a lot of diversity.
“There’s a lot of people coming from countries where soccer is number one” Ryan said.
Almost all of the Canadian national team have dual heritage, and their – or their parents’ – passion for football may not have originated in Canada, but it blossomed in the Great White North. Alphonso Davies is a perfect example.
Davies – the jewel in the crown of Canadian football – currently plays at Ryan’s beloved Bayern Munich but started his career at Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The industrious full back has won German league titles, domestic cups, and a Champions League all at the ripe age of 21.
His level of stardom in Canada is rapidly approaching superstardom.
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“What I’ve noticed big time, is how many Bayern Munich jerseys I see now. These aren’t necessarily hardcore or even legitimate fans of Bayern. They just want to rock a Davies jersey.”
Though, Davies isn’t the only player who’s been making noise in Europe.
“Soccer has grown, and that growth has led to players being exposed to the rest of the world a bit more” Ryan said.
Case in point: Stephen Eustáquio, 25, is turning heads in Portugal, impressing in the league and in the Champions League for FC Porto.
Jonathan David currently plays his club football at Lille in Ligue 1. The 21-year-old forward has scored nine goals in 11 appearances for the French outfit.
Ryan himself has tipped Club Brugge’s 23-year-old, Tajon Buchanan, to star for Canada this Winter.
But to only focus on the younger contingent of the squad would be to do an injustice to this flourishing group of players. John Herdman has managed to contrive a fabulous balance of youth and experience through which this Canadian team thrives.
Atiba Hutchinson, 39, and Milan Borjan, 34, are but two examples of those in the squad who provide a sensibility and prudence that perfectly supplements the rawness of youth within this team. That combination will surely be invaluable going into this World Cup.
So, while the kids in Canada might now be playing football with ‘Davies’ on the back of their kits instead of ‘Messi’ or ‘Ronaldo’, the more senior players in this team deserve just as much recognition.
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The collective success of these players has lit a spark amongst football fans in Canada. They can now cheer on their countrymen at international football’s most prestigious tournament.
“Now you’ve got a team that actually represents the country you were born and raised in, it’s a whole different feeling – there’s a different sense of pride,” said Ryan.
“When you see those guys out on the pitch together… you can’t make that up. There’s no acting that would bring that sort of enjoyment and camaraderie” Ryan said.
The brotherhood that Ryan is referencing is testament to the diligence of the manager. John Herdman – a Newcastle United fan from Durham – made the switch from the women’s national team to the men’s in 2018. This highlights a pertinent issue already tackled by the Sports Gazette.
Many questioned if Herdman would have the necessary grit to make that switch. And those incredulous doubters have been proven quite spectacularly wrong.
“It always seems like he’s got the right mix of communication, mentorship, coaching, and also enthusiasm and passion.”
These ingredients have been part of a winning recipe. Since Herdman took over, Canada have climbed from 72nd in FIFA’s World Rankings to 41st – a remarkable rise.
There’s no doubt that football’s slow rise to fruition in Canada has run in tandem with the success of both the men’s, and women’s national teams, who under the tutelage of Herdman – past and present – have reached unparalleled heights.
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And what does all this do for Ryan’s expectations for Qatar? Belgium, Croatia, and Morocco make up the rest of Group F, so progression won’t be a formality.
Canada’s game against Morocco seems the most likely in which Les Rouges can pick up points.
As Ryan says, “Belgium and Croatia… that’s a different class of football.” But if Canada manage to sneak a draw against either of the two, and beat Morocco, Canadian football fans could have even more to be excited about.
But Ryan possesses something us English historically haven’t ever had… a level head.
While expressing his overt pride and his sheer excitement throughout the interview, Ryan isn’t a proponent of blind faith: “I realistically just want to see competitive football.”
‘Where’s your English spirit, Ryan?’ I asked him before receiving a sobering reminder that football probably won’t be coming home this Winter.
“Whether or not there’s any achievements this time round, I think it’s exciting to believe that all of this is building towards a consistent team that should be competing for a spot in the World Cup going forward” Ryan concluded.
I admire his collectedness, and his zeal for the growth of Canadian football, but more than that, I’ve found my second team for this Winter’s World Cup.
Follow Südkurve Toronto on socials –
Instagram: @suedkurvetoronto
Twitter: @SuedkurveTO
Facebook: @suedkurvetoronto or search Südkurve Toronto
Ryan’s socials: @tunemortgages
Mike, 22, is predominantly a football journalist, with experience in writing, reporting, and social media content creation. @mikej_24
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