Chapter 2: Calgary
The trip to Calgary was spontaneous off the hop. Still glowing from the madness of a dominating performance at the Coffee Grounds (aka Tim Horton’s Field) in Leg 1 – that somehow only yielded a one goal advantage – I decided I couldn’t miss Leg 2. History, was on the precipice. Promises were made to my partner, and last second tickets purchased. I decided to Swoop into Edmonton on the cheap and find a way in to Calgary once there. My man Harvey, was living in Airdrie, so close to Calgary. He agreed to pick me up at the airport and put me up in his home. What a gem. I brought him to his first soccer game ever as a reward. And what a match to start with.
But we are not there yet. Let’s see. I packed some flags, and so did some of the other intrepid Forge followers. I decided to go Full Kit Wanker for the Finals. I’ll try to stay focused on the highlights of the day. The Friday before the finals was a CPL-wide celebration at the Cavalry supporters club. All were welcome. The commissioner was there, fans of both teams, and a few from others. Much camaraderie was shared.
I missed all of that. I arrived in time for the day of the game. That was a slightly different scene as I recall.
Firstly, the city was not exactly abuzz for the Finals. We were still so new, and had yet to capture the zeitgeist of the nation. More paractically, I had flags but needed poles. We headed to the Canadian Tire downtown. People stared as Harvey and I selected plastic broom handles and zip ties. Not strange purchases at all. But of course, the high socks, orange shorts and shirt and rainbow scarf of the guy paying for them, were a look. I remember explaining my get up to the cashier. “This is the armour of the mighty Forge FC”, I said to a blank stare.
“You now, we are playing your home team Cavalry FC for the first ever CPL Championship!”
Was it possible her eyes grew blanker?
“It’s game time in a couple hours. You should come if your off in time, it’s gonna wild.”
The line-up behind me remained quizzical, but the cashier became a bit more alive as she seemed to be forming the perfect response in her head, I was all bated-breath and anticipation. Her eyes locked on mine, she inhaled, and her lips parted to inquire of me, “So did you…like…see the Flames game last night?”
An opportunity missed? Perhaps. But the rest of the queue regaled me with tales of hockey heroism from early season action as I sighed and paid for my items.
From there it was off to the bar that, only hours before, had hosted the league in such spirits of friendship and jocularity that it seemed a Public House from the days of yore. En route I got a text from friends already there. A single word. Hurry!
As we were about to enter the bar, Harvey, the one-time Hamiltonian now a Calgary local, took the time to remind me not to poke the bear. A quick refresher of what was off the table when it came to banter. No mention of Trudeau, Ontario in general or electric vehicles specifically. I advised him to relax a little, soccer in Canada wasn’t Green Street Hooligans, or a Danny Dyer doc.
S. 2 Ep. 05 – Canada Conquers Courageous Curaçao – FC13 Podcast
The door opened, and this bit may be a bit flavoured by my fevered imagination, but boisterous singing seemed to stop to the sound of a distant needle scratch. From the corner of my eye I saw two our friends in the corner of the pub trying to hide their tops under their coats, scarves in their pockets. All eyes turned to the idiot in the full kit. (that was me as you may recall). And then a Beatles sing-a-long began at full volume, to the tune of Yellow Submarine, but the lyrics were along the lines of no one wanting to live in Hamilton. Of course, I immediately pipped up with an “except me!” at every line break, while doing a little jig. Harvey looked at the door, wondered how much this friendship really meant, and whether it was really ever worth it. It was a little intimidating, sure. But we moseyed over to our friends to join them. Still waiting on a couple others the waitress suggested a larger table in a second room off the main bar. Perfect!
The second room was the flippin’ football factory, complete with the Millwall-meets-Chelsea-casuals-in- a-tunnel vibe. Ok, it was more likely 4 or 5 West Ham fans in flat caps and Docs, but still, close enough. And our groups collective telepathy seemed to suggest that discretion was the better part of valour. So, a quiet round or two it would be.
Oh yeah, and I forgot why we came to this pub specifically. There was a drink-and-bus to the game special. Harvey decided we’d be taking his truck after all. No one felt the need to argue. The pints seemed to go down faster than usual, and when everyone else headed to the bus, we made our way across the parking lot. I was a bit cheeky now with couple really quick pints of Guinness in me. Barbs were thrown. As the bus headed out we counted our troops and came up one short. One pal had missed the message and was on the FootSoldiers (Cavalry FC’s Supporters) bus.
In true Hamilton form we flanked them on the way to the stadium, feeling much braver. Flags out the car window, trash talk started flowing and promises of thrashings and parties on oil rigs commenced. I still do not have a good grasp of where Alberta’s oilfields are, but I am assured that they are not in downtown Calgary. I am also now aware that neither is ATCO Field. We drove for what seemed an eternity before arriving in Spruce Meadows. I ran out of banter for the bus and the energy to care and took a nap long before our arrival. My beard grew. (Our friend on the bus sent many texts requesting we stop anyway, as talk on the bus was apparently less receptive to my brand of humour than I imagined).
We arrived at Spruce Meadows. We wanted to mock it, and did at first. But it just kept revealing more and more…well, awesomeness. Truly!
We parked on grass fields and then walked through a park with other fields and stadiums and carousels and statues of horses. It was a bit surreal. We had to remind ourselves that we were here for footy, not dressage.
But as we arrived at the actual stadium, it was festival time. There was soccer darts for kids and a marching band. There were outdoor café-like tables. And this is where it gets a bit hazy, but when I lined up for my first of more than one beverage, someone handed me socks. Seriously. A lovely woman handed me socks. Her son won Cavs socks in a draw. I did not have official Forge socks. It was a conundrum. Dare I? I dared. Did I mention drinks. Other things to have happened in that line: I discovered a warm mulled wine drink (possibly); Someone asked me if I knew Nathan (turned out to be Nathan Mavila he was asking about as I had surmised – they had played together in youth football. But it did raise the question of whether he thought I was an out of shape, over-the-hill CPL soccer player and how little he thought of the league’s potential that I might be); several families happy to take pictures with the weirdo from Hamilton. Awesome-ness.
I’d be remiss too if I failed to mention that Cavalry was class as an organization. How class you ask? We had a concierge. I kid you not, dear reader. He provided us with a separate gate/entrance to the grounds. Found us assistance to carry our clearly not allowed, hard plastic flag poles, and up to this point, best of all, he took us to our section on a grassy knoll, where the seating had been removed because he knew we were a standing section, sigh. What a touch of absolute elegance. It pays to play in an Equine Park. I love the high life.
We watched a tight first half, sang songs, and beat a drum loaned to us by the Edmonton Supporters who came and hated Cavalry along with us. Half-time was scoreless but allowed me the chance to obnoxiously stand behind the OneSoccer panel and wave to my family back home watching on TV. It also allowed me the opportunity to try some local brews and be booed by seemingly everyone.
The second half of course brought glory and when Choiniere netted on the two-man breakaway (I know that is not a soccer term, but that remains the only way to describe it) we went nuts. A pitch invasion was momentarily considered, but we’d promised Hank* our security guard we wouldn’t. *Hank may not have been his real name. Choiniere jumped into Harvey’s arms, we all went nuts.
But remember, this is a class outfit. Our concierge came over to me in the bedlam and pulled me aside at the final whistle. As Harvey was pulling players up off the pitch on onto our hillside, I was given an opportunity.
“Kevin”, said our concierge (We were on a first-name basis…class!). “Do you know which four other fans want to join you on the field for the trophy presentation?”
I don’t believe I spoke. Rather some clouds parted, and a shaft of light fell on the shoulders of my closest friends. Of course, most of them were Grand River Union Supporters Group members from K-W who didn’t have a CPL team yet, who still travel to the Coffee Grounds until their day comes. (One day soon, Galt Reborn FC, one day soon). And so we were led by our concierge, who I knew by name that day, down to the pitch.*
*Here there was an odd quirk. For reasons not quite clear to us, we weren’t walked directly from our corner to centre circle. We were instead paraded before the main grandstand with some other dignitaries to the opposite corner of the pitch. Aka, the FootSoldiers Section. To say that the fans in the main grandstand were displeased with the manner with which one Hamilton supporter seemed to gloat, even offering a rendition of Yellow Submarine claiming trophies wanted to live in Hamilton, would be an understatement. But that paled before the glares and obscenities of the FootSoldiers. They seemed to seethe with malice and vitriol. Some words were scarcely fit for human use! And I will tell you this, winking at them did not calm them nearly as much as I’d expected.
Anyway, we watched Cavalry players receive their second-place medals with quiet dignity. I actually shared a hug with a gracious Jose Escalante, something I’ve never shared with a soul in the Hammer. Class.
But watching the confetti explode (Still have my baggie of it – thanks James!) was like heaven.
And then, I still don’t quite believe this, the players took turns holding the shield aloft until the Captain brought it to us! We the fans, were rewarded with the chance to hold and kiss the hallowed microwave plate! The footy gods smiled on us that day.
Harvey took us out to the best eateries and microbrews in the city and we celebrated a game that no one else in the city seemed to know had happened. Though we did meet some Wanderers fans at the second microbrew because, of course you would. Those friendly Haligonians are everywhere.
I won’t bore you with the phone call that I received from a Forge staff member inviting us to the after party. Or the truth of whether any shots were poured down the Shield into anyone’s waiting gullet. And I’ll leave you to decide if two fans were given winner’s medals by Frano and Dom to wear around the pub for a while.
But no one will deny that at least one corner of Calgary was painted orange that night.
And there’s no denying Bekker’s Elbow was on the loose.
We are Forever First. And the memories of that night will always last.
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