Part three of four of the Ottawa soccer question below the jump.
Football Vs. football
The history of Canadian football (gridiron) pre-dates the history of Canada. In 1861, at the University of Toronto, the first documented game took place. It’s been a part of the Canadian sports fabric ever since. At times it’s been at the forefront of Canadian culture, at others it’s been close to extinction. But, no one can deny that it’s a part of us and has been for a long time.
The history of soccer in Canada is two years older. Yet it’s never talked about in the same way that Canadian football is. Even though there has been periods of high popularity (like the CFL) and pockets of strong support – and areas of indifference -- (like the CFL) soccer is forever dismissed as being “illegitimate” in the eyes of many Canadian sports fans, particularly those of a certain age.
However, it’s important to remember that soccer has a history every bit as long as Canadian football when framing the current stadium debate in Ottawa. Canadian football fans will pull the heritage card out at all opportunities. Canadian soccer fans will slowly burn as they have their patriotism called into question.
Allow me a moment of personal disclosure here. This debate makes me uncomfortable. You see, I love both sports. Long before I was soccer blogger boy I was CIS football blogger boy. Being in the stands watching my Alma matter (Wilfrid Laurier University. GO HAWKS!) win the 2005 Canadian university football championship is a memory I will take to my grave. I follow the CFL. I would be devastated if the game were to ever disappear from the sporting landscape in Canada.
But make no mistake. It is a debate. Ottawa has a choice to make and that choice is between our football and their football. Sadly both can’t win. The Hunt group may say that its Lansdowne Live project could host soccer, but there is literally no way that MLS will come into Ottawa without a soccer specific stadium. The league may make allowances with a Seattle, but Ottawa’s bid needs to be perfect to have a chance. So, it’s Kanata or bust for Capital City FC.
Here is where the debate needs to turn local. I can sit in my den in Toronto and tell people in Ottawa what’s best for them (it would certainly feed a stereotype), but the truth is Ottawa needs to answer this question for itself. What sport does it want more?
Speculating, it’s difficult to think that soccer can win the day. As stated above, the sport is still viewed as being outside of the mainstream, in spite of having a history just as long as Canadian football. One of the reasons for that is that soccer experienced a dead period in its popularity that ran from about 1945 to 1970 – the baby boomers formative years. The boomers -- God love ‘em – still hold most of the influence in the country. They hold the money and they are in positions of power in the media. And to this generation, soccer is a non-starter.
There are exceptions to that, of course, but those exceptions usually have accents. And, as much as people don’t want to talk about this topic, that makes a difference. Accent bombers don’t need a soccer team because they already have one. In Manchester. Or Glasgow. Or Milan. Or...
As those of us in Toronto heard for years, those fans won’t turn out to watch MLS. Except some did. And it turned out that we didn’t need them to turn out anyway. Boomers have little to do with TFC’s success. That’s mostly on the Xers and Yers, fans that grew up expecting soccer on TV, hanging out in pubs watching the Champions League and wishing that they had a team of their own. One they could see in person and not just on the tube.
And here’s the thing. Just as soccer had a dark period that ran from ‘45ish to ‘70ish, the CFL had its own black period. It ran from about 1970 to 1995, when it was next to impossible to find the CFL on TV and a generation – about the same generation most likely to look at soccer as a legitimate sporting option in Canada – was lost.
So the debate in Ottawa can almost been seen as a battle of the generations. The old versus the new. What’s the best bet for the city moving forward?
As stated, I love the CFL. But, is it really the better bet for Ottawa. Really? In 2025 will there be more CFL fans in Ottawa than soccer fans? I know what my money is on.
But I don’t matter. The question is what Ottawa wants to bet on. Maybe after watching the CFL fail twice before (and I fully acknowledge that the last failure had everything to do with ownership. I just don’t think that matters when you are talking about people’s perceptions), Ottawa’s about done with Canadian football.
Maybe it’s time to embrace a new, old thing.
Type rest of the post here