Sunday, July 29, 2007


In Edmonton we saw a lot of central-European soccer during the FIFA U20 World Cup, including a quarter-final between Austria and the Czech Republic. I cheered for the Czechs, based on a long-held fondness for Czechoslovakia/the Czech Republic. I studied East European history at university and rejoiced when the Velvet Revolution and Vaclav Havel tossed aside Soviet oppression in 1989. But I've never been there - no Prague, no coasts of Bohemia. So cheering on the Czechs feels a bit false, a bit forced.

This false feeling reminded me of a novel that captures the feeling of not belonging - of wanting to be somewhere else. Arthur Phillips' 2003 novel, Prague, is about a group of young American and Canadian expatriates who go to Eastern Europe in the 1990s in hopes of finding themselves. All the action is in Prague, but this group ends up in Budapest, Hungary, and the feeling of displacement - that they are missing out on something - is palpable. An inciteful and quite readable book.

Friday, July 13, 2007


It has been a perfect storm of soccer around my house these past weeks. One kid in Edmonton City Finals, another reffing, and the FIFA U20 World Cup juggernaut in town since July 2. This week the family has trundled down to Commonwealth Stadium for two Round of 16 games and still to come is a quarter-final on Saturday (Spain v Czech Republic).

It has been really amazing having FIFA in town. Really – I get off work, go down to Commonwealth and see world-class soccer right here! The superstars of tomorrow, right here! The crowds have been bigger here in Edmonton than anywhere, including Toronto, but with our giant stadium (63,000+ seats) the crowds have appeared sparse. And the TV cameras are aimed at the sunny side of the stadium, when a lot of people (like me!) switch to the shady side because of the unusually hot weather.

But still, I thought Edmonton would do better. The seats are cheap, the soccer outstanding, the beer cold, the sun warm (mostly). I tell friends in Ontario one of the special things about Edmonton is “we show up.” Need help with something? We show up! Need thousands of people to watch obscure sports events like the Universiade? the Masters Games? We show up! There are two games left here in Edmonton – a quarter-final Saturday and a semi-final July 18. Let’s fill the place!

And pick up a soccer book:

Soccerhead by Jim Haner
Haner tells a familiar story: how a suburban, American football-loving dad becomes obsessed with the beautiful game – a “soccerhead” - just like millions of other North Americans in the past decade or so.

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinnis
McGinnis tells the Cinderella story of an Italian soccer team, Castel di Sangro, that played its way from the lowest ranks all the way up to the second level. Travelling with the team for a season, McGinnis shares funny and sharp insights on Italy, including the corruption afflicting Italian soccer.

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
Hornby’s great novels have been made into some great films (High Fidelity, About a Boy). But his first book, a memoir of his youthful obsession with Arsenal, an English soccer team, has been adapted twice into not-so-great films. Most recently Fever Pitch was Americanized, with baseball’s Boston Red Sox replacing Arsenal. The book remains the place to go for a funny, moving look at the absurdities of being a sports fan and growing up.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day

Happy Independence Day to our pals down south. No, no – not Calgary, further south, the US of A. Stuck in Iraq, Toyota #1, a Vice-President inventing new branches of government, a new Michael Moore movie pointing out the problems of the US healthcare “system”: things seem a little grim down south. But America and Americans seem to shake it off. I’ve been in Chicago and Washington, DC in the past month and, as usual, was impressed with the vigour and confidence of our continental partners. Certainly the touristy areas of big city America may not be representative of all of USA, but life seems pretty okay down there.

A fine fictional look at American life in the late 20th century is Richard Ford’s trilogy of novels about everyman Richard Branscombe. He first appeared in The Sportswriter in 1986, then in Independence Day in 1995 and finally in The Lay of the Land in 2006.