In 1990 I went to the World Cup in Italy. My buddy Alex and I had tickets, courtesy of my uncle, to see a couple of Scotland’s round robin games in Genoa. It was a newly built stadium, still used today by both Genoa and Sampdoria, and it wasn’t huge but it was compact and, by our standards, quite steep.
After watching Scotland lose to Costa Rica (I actually still feel pain writing those words 21 years later) in the first game we went to the Scotland vs Sweden game knowing that a win was the only result that would keep Scotland alive (but with their last round robin game against Brazil it was really just life support). The stadium was two thirds Scots and a third Swedes.
To this day, that game defines for me what true atmosphere is at a sporting event. The noise was pulverizing. When Scotland came out the tunnel led by a piper and the crowd roared beyond anything I could have previously conceived of, I knew that I was fortunate to be there to experience it. I don’t know how, as a player, those suited up for Scotland that day did not have their hearts explode during the anthems. It was like nothing you ever see at any event in North America. It was not orchestrated. It was not bottled or canned. It was not made TV and radio friendly. It was not part of a ‘make some noise, show your bank card’ marketing campaign. It was 20 000 Scots, 15 000 of whom probably really couldn’t afford to be travelling to see their team play, 10 000 of whom sleeping very rough in the streets of Genoa, all of whom had already seen their team lose to a country many had probably thought was a principality next to Costa Brava rather than a Central American country all singing Flower of Scotland and it was as magnificent a time can be when you’re squished in amongst that many people.
When Scotland scored on a penalty to go up 2-0, we all went from still, quiet and tense to absolutely mental in half a second flat. A kid, about 16 years old, came tumbling down in those celebrations from who knows how many rows behind me, cuffing me in the head before coming to a thud a few rows in front of me. He had a suspected broken leg and it took an eternity for the medics to get a stretcher in and pry him out of the crowd.
Fast forward to this year. I’ve already taken some pot shots at the energy vacuum that is Rogers Arena at a regular season Canucks game. It’s dreadful and insulting. But the playoffs is different. Especially last night’s game that saw the Canucks propelled into the Stanley Cup Finals on the back of a bizarre goal in the second period of overtime. Someone in the crowd captured that moment from the cheap seats far from Bieksa’s winning goal. This is easily the closest thing I’ve seen in Vancouver to that moment in Genoa when Scotland came out onto the field to play Sweden and when they went up 2-0.
This is what makes being a fan great and what makes cities come alive. We got a taste of it during the Olympics and now we’ve got a chance to get the one prize that has always eluded Pretty Girl City: A Stanley Cup. I think we’d all trade the Economist Magazine’s Award for Most Liveable City for Expats or any of the other generally contrived pats on the back that various agencies and magazines have bestowed upon us for four more wins and four more nights like last night.
Against my better judgement (as determined by my bank balance in this case), I’m now looking at trying to get tickets for one of the games in the Final so my eight year old can experience something along the lines of what I was able to in Italy in 1990 courtesy of my uncle.