Notes from a Canadian soccer pitch

Click to follow
The Independent Online

On the way back yesterday from holiday in Canada, I was reading a very funny book by two brothers, Will Ferguson and Ian Ferguson, called How to be a Canadian, which is a thinly disguised mickey-take of their own country.

On the way back yesterday from holiday in Canada, I was reading a very funny book by two brothers, Will Ferguson and Ian Ferguson, called How to be a Canadian, which is a thinly disguised mickey-take of their own country.

Clearly the brothers Ferguson never expected their book to fall into the hands of a foreigner, or they would not have been so frank and open about such things as the peak achievement of Canadian cuisine (sugary doughnuts), the secret of Canadian geography (everyone hates Toronto), the key to international relations (we must be ready for the war against the United States when it finally comes) and Canadian sport.

I was only two weeks in their country, but I think I may have spotted an error in the Fergusons' analysis. Briefly, they say that Canadians have very few sports. These sports are ice hockey, basketball and televised curling. (Curling, they say, is the only sport in the world where you can smoke and drink as you are actually playing, which suggests they don't know much about darts...)

And yet in the fortnight I spent in Canada I spotted another game which seems fanatically popular. Under-age soccer. In almost every park you could see several games of soccer going on between what seemed at first sight to be midgets but always turned out to be children, often only six or seven years old, turned out in immaculate kit and cheered on by savagely doting parents.

Near where I was staying in Georgetown, a town outside Toronto, there was a park called Cedarvale where there were often three or four toddlers' games going on side by side, and while I was watching one of them I gradually became aware that, just as the English language evolves differently abroad, so these eight-year-old girls were playing a game which one day may be seen to have taken a different direction from the game we know.

I don't just mean that they committed no professional fouls and never argued with the ref.

I mean that:-

1. At any given point 80 per cent of the players were within 10 yards of the ball, forming a bunch, like iron filings round a magnet. Clearly their coaches had told them that in soccer you all spread out and waited for a pass. Clearly the girls thought this was a crazy idea, and that it was best to go after the ball in person.

2. No player ever passed the ball to another. They preferred to kick the ball towards the opposing goal. This had a 50-50 chance of reaching an ally, or at least someone on the other side you were friends with.

3. No throw-in ever went to a player of the same side.

4. All corners were short corners. No girl seemed strong enough to loft the ball into the centre.

5. No one ever headed the ball. No one was strong enough to kick the ball head-high.

6. If any player found herself with the ball, but facing her own goal, it never occurred to her to pass back to another player facing the right way. She would set off backwards on a long circular run which would finally get her facing the right way, though often without the ball by then.

7. The longest runs were made by the goalkeepers, who, after a save, would often trot vast distances holding the ball before they saw someone they liked well enough to throw it to.

8. From time to time, just as in ice hockey, up to half the players in one team would suddenly leave the field and be replaced by the same number of girl midgets. At last, I suppose it was the same number. The referee never seemed to count them.

But the most extraordinary thing of all was that it was only children I ever saw playing soccer in Canada. Could this be the future of football? A game which people give up before they can hurt each other at it, or take it too seriously? It would be nice to think so.

Comments