Quick: Where’s the best city to see the World Cup? No, it’s not London, where the game originated. Nor is it Rio de Janiero or São Paolo, where the game was perfected. You don’t, of course, want to go to the World Cup itself, in Johannesburg, unless you enjoy wading across rivers of lager, imported prostitutes and crowds full of British hooligans and Australians. Still don’t have it? The answer is much closer than you may think, and obvious to everyone who lives there. Toronto is the greatest place in the world to be during the World Cup—the most fun, the most exciting, the happiest.
The reason is simple. No matter who wins, Toronto gets to hold the party. Since the 1982 final, when Italy beat Germany 3-1, the city has turned into carnival every fourth summer. The party doesn’t have to wait until the finals, either. When a smaller country, with less likelihood of winning the Cup itself, manages to triumph during one of the opening rounds, they drive around in cars honking and screaming all night until every last Torontonian—through sheer lack of sleep—is aware of the victory. If Mexico beats France, or if Greece beats Argentina, nobody in the city of Toronto will have to check the sports pages the next morning to find out who won. In 2002, when South Korea and Turkey both made the semi-finals, they closed down Little Korea in the Bloor and Bathurst neighbourhood in order to hold a spontaneous parade. It worked out beautifully; both nations’ colours were white and red. This is Toronto at its best: Turks and Koreans together drunkenly celebrating their shared bragging rights, throwing cabbages around (it’s a Korean thing), and generally living their brief flash of glory to the max.
Toronto during the World Cup owes its splendour to certain unique conditions that are replicated nowhere else, not even in Montreal or in Vancouver. For the purposes of soccer, Toronto immigrants come from the right places and in the right numbers. There are thousands upon thousands of people from Italy and Portugal who have formed virtually semi-autonomous communities within the city, who speak little or no English, and whose free time is consumed with soccer. The sheer number of countries represented by Toronto immigrants also helps the party. You just don’t realize until the World Cup how many people from Côte d’Ivoire live here, or Slovenia, or Honduras. And these groups live together in relative harmony, which means that nobody intensely hates anybody else’s triumphs.
Unlike in other global cities, like London, we don’t have the tension and anxiety of dealing with our own nation in the tournament. I, for one, am entirely happy with Canada never having scored a goal in World Cup competition. As it stands now, nobody has to wait until Canada is kicked out to start the party. Nor do we have to deal with the permanent depression that haunts the second-tier powers of the international football world, always within reach but never able to grasp the ultimate prize. Have you ever met an English football fan after yet another World Cup disaster? I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. I would much rather celebrate with whomever happens to be winning at the moment. It’s so much healthier.
But failure is the other major reason why Toronto is such a delicious location to watch the World Cup. Unlike Montreal and
Vancouver, Toronto doesn’t have a real hockey team, which is why we need soccer. Over the past three decades, Toronto has become the definitive North American city for losing at sports. The powers that be have decided that the sports fans of the city are such hot suckers that they don’t need even the occasional glint of victory, and so all of our teams are cheaply bought, poorly organized losers, non-competitors, the bottom .500. New York, Montreal and Vancouver can afford to be relatively blasé about the World Cup because they have horses in other races: the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup. Torontonians are gagging for a victory party, and we’ll happily join in at somebody else’s as fully as if it were our own.
This year the partying will start early. Italy has the easiest group in the tournament—its opponents are Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia—so it will almost certainly advance into the final 16. That’s got to be worth shutting down College Street for. Portugal is in the group of death—Côte d’Ivoire, North Korea and Brazil. Every victory in that round will be a genuine triumph, more than enough of an excuse to block all traffic on the corner of Ossington and Dundas.
Mexico faces South Africa in the first match. My ears are already ringing from the honking. It’s going to keep me up all night. I can’t wait.