By the time last week’s blog was posted we had already been in France for a week. So many lasting memories, and my word, so many games. In total, in twelve days we went to seven matches. When asked by locals how many games we were going to they seemed to be genuinely surprised when we told them. Their expressions gave away their thoughts, as in “you guys are nuts.” They could be right, but it’s like the old saying goes, go big or stay home. So we decided to go big.
When looking back on this trip years from now I’m sure some details will fade away but some will stand the test of time. Bravo to the French for putting on a magnificent event, under very trying circumstances. I must confess that just prior to leaving for France, I experienced some apprehension. Some forty eight hours prior to departing for France, the French Government released an app and the purpose was to notify you of an imminent terrorist attack or what to do in the event one occurred. So we downloaded the app, and silently questioned our sanity. The touch of angst and apprehension I was feeling prior to the trip lasted for approximately two days in France. It’s strange to be sitting on a patio in an outdoor cafe, in the center of town, and there walking among the crowds is the French Militia. They were in full uniform, with machine guns and other weaponry at the ready. The visual was disconcerting, yet comforting at the same time. The security and military presence sent a message, “you kill us…we kill you back.” Here’s hoping the rest of the tournament goes without incident.
Truth be told that while we were there, there was a greater risk from soccer hooligans. Ah, the hooligans were in fine form. The Russians embarrassed themselves on and off the pitch. Their team was dreadful, and their supporters acted like punk thugs. How bad were they? They made English fans look like victims. Then there were the twenty-five Croatian anarchists, who actually posted on Facebook that in the 85th minute of the next match they would disrupt the game by throwing flares onto the pitch. Their intent was to have Croatia thrown out of the tournament. Their “rationale” for doing this was that they don’t like who and how the Croatian Soccer Association is being run. Good lord, get a life. Wait, they don’t have one, and that’s why they do these sorts of things. So we were at the game when flares rained down onto the field. The mental giants who perpetrated this act were lucky to leave the stadium alive. Their luck will run out. Their names and pictures have been posted on Facebook. That’s the problem when everyone has a mobile phone; it means everyone has a camera. Croatian authorities stated these individuals will be apprehended at the border, and turned over to French authorities. What awaits these future Mensa Society members? Three Russian thugs who were arrested in France have already been convicted. The sentences ranged from two years to twelve months, magnifique!
The acts of idiot petty criminals will soon be forgotten. What I will remember is that France really is a beautiful country. We travelled by train from city to city, and you can appreciate its natural beauty. Even while traveling at 306 kilometers an hour on a bullet train. I’ll remember the quality of soccer played, especially the Croatia – Spain game. The Irish soccer fans. Win, lose or tie, their disposition does not change. They celebrate and are happy just being there. My Dad, at 78 years of age, what a champ! Always up for the next adventure. Lastly, my brother Tom. This trip doesn’t happen without his efforts. He had a room in his house set up that looked like something from NASA. Multiple computers, monitoring multiple accounts so that we could get tickets. Without the tickets? We don’t go.
So now it’s back to reality, watching the remainder Euro on TV. Equally as compelling will be watching the insane versus the sane in Great Britain on TV. Supporters of Brexit condemned England to a loss, by way of one goal.
Until next time.
Cheers,Read More Add a Comment
My word, it’s been a long time since I posted a blog. The reason is fairly simple – unmotivated, writers block and nothing truly compelled me to write one. I’ve come to realize that writing a regular blog is like going to the gym. Once you stop, it’s hard to get back into it. But like going to gym, something happens that makes you go back. Example, you see a picture of yourself, and you rationalize that the camera adds pounds, but my God; did five cameras take this picture of me? Back to the gym you go. As for this blog, it was walking past a display of Father’s Day cards.
This blog is about my father. I could use many adjectives to describe my father, but a simple phrase captures his true essence; he’s a good man. My father is like many dads. Worked hard all his life, and always put family first. Both of my parents immigrated to Canada in 1958 and they met here. They started a family and never asked for a handout. They provided for two sons, and gave them every opportunity to succeed. Our household growing up was not unlike other Canadian/European homes. Mom was the daily disciplinarian; Dad was the executioner. If he had to get involved, I was in deep poo-poo.
I still giggle thinking about the neighbourhood I grew up in as a child, predominately Italian, and how every household seemed to have the same playbook to get their sons to finally come home for dinner. It didn’t matter if the Mom was of Croatian, Italian, Hungarian or of German background; it was the same routine. The moms would come to front door, and call their sons in for dinner. This happened every five minutes, for about forty-five minutes. Exasperated, the moms on the street went to the heavy artillery, the father. Every father on our street had a unique whistle. As kids, we could identify each whistle by tone and number of bursts. When it wasn’t your whistle? You continued to play ball hockey. When it was your whistle? It didn’t matter if you were on a breakaway with a wide open hockey net in front of you; you dropped your stick and ran home. That’s just the way it was.
I still remember my teenage years and thinking, how did these two, my parents, ever survive without my council and knowhow? It was only when I moved out of the house at nineteen that I realized that maybe they’re not so dumb after all. After six months on my own? I believed my parents were the smartest people on the face of the earth. It was only then that I stated to think about the sacrifices and risks my parents took. Meaning, I started to look at them through a different lens, one of respect and admiration. I’m still taken aback at how proud my Dad is to be a Canadian. It’s deep rooted and it’s based from being so thankful. My father escaped from a communist country, one which was oppressive and treated him like a second class citizen. He’s never taken for granted that Canada gave him the opportunity to live a free and fulfilling life. It’s why when I ask him if he would ever contemplate moving back to his homeland, his answer is always the same, never! For him Canada is his home, and this is where his life is. It’s one of the reasons why when I hear the Canadian national anthem I get a lump in my throat.
One of things I am most thankful for is that my dad taught me about my ancestry, and where our family was originally from. I was born in Canada, but I share DNA with family in Croatia. My parents taught me the language and I’m grateful that I can converse in two languages. My dad taught me that when asked what nationality I was, the answer is Canadian, with Croatian heritage. But Canada always comes first. But one thing that Canada has never excelled at is the game of soccer, at least not on a global scale. My dad introduced me to the game of soccer at an early age. I was taken by it right away. The tension, the crowd chanting and singing, and over time I realized the game of soccer was more than just a game. As an adult I decided to thank my father for introducing me to the game of soccer, so we embarked on a soccer journey together.
It started some eight years ago, Euro 2008, in Austria. For those who may not be aware, the European Football Association holds a championship tournament for European soccer teams every four years. It’s soccer at the highest level, and I always believed it was a better brand of soccer than the World Cup. No patsies or soccer fodder can qualify for this tournament. The number of teams that qualify for the Euro is limited; therefore, every team can win on any given day. So as a family we went to Austria to watch three games, all involving the Croatian National Soccer team. The second game we witnessed is still burned in my memory, Croatia versus the mighty Germans. Germany is to soccer what Canada is to hockey. The depth of Germany’s talent pool is so deep that they could probably field two teams for the tournament, and play themselves in the finals. So this game was truly David versus Goliath. Croatia is a country of 4.5 million people; they produce an astonishing number of world class players for such a small country. But still, it’s Germany we’re talking about. Our seats were in the end zone, among the Croatian supporters. Croatian supporters were badly outnumbered by German supporters, but they were loud in voice. I remember looking past my brother to get a glimpse of my Dad as the Croatian National Anthem was being played. I was thinking this must be an extraordinary moment for him. His place of birth became an independent country in 1992, after a brutal war, and today he gets to witness the raising of his homelands flag, and the freedom to sing the anthem without the fear of his former oppressors watching. More importantly, that they couldn’t do anything about it. Back to the game, at best we were hoping for a tie, and silently praying that we wouldn’t be embarrassed. Then in the 24th minute Croatia scored first. To say the Croatian supporters went nuts would be an understatement. Shame there was so much time left on the clock because we all knew the Germans would keep coming. So now we’re into the second half of the game, and then the unthinkable happened, Croatia scored in the 62nd minute. Now we’re going insane, including my Dad. We’re up 2-0, against the Germans! Then in the 79th minute the Germans scored, and I instantly knew that the last 11 minutes of the game would be excruciatingly long. Our seats in the second half were located behind the Croatian net, so we witnessed wave after wave of German attacks. They were relentless, and we got the sense that only time could stop them now. The match clock finally reached 90 minutes, but two minutes were added for “injury” time, or if you wish Academy Award performances for the time wasted by players acting as if they were hit by sniper fire. I swear I stopped watching the game after the first minute of “injury” time. My eyes were glued to the referee, silently and not so silently, imploring him to blow the final whistle. And then it happened, game over, Croatia 2 Germany 1. It was sheer bedlam after that. Total strangers embracing, high fiving each other, you just wanted to celebrate. I looked over at my Dad while a total stranger was hugging me. I could see him squeezing past my brother to come to me. I told the stranger that we would have to continue our love affair later, and excused myself. My Dad approached me, cupped my cheeks with both his hands, looked me in the eye and said, “thank you so much; this is the best gift anyone has ever given me”. He kissed me on the cheek, and hugged me as hard as he could.
It was at that moment that I decided I would do whatever I could to give him this moment again. If it meant having to take a part time job scrubbing toilets so I could afford to do this again, then so be it. I am blessed and fortunate that I did not have to purchase rubber gloves or a toilet scrubbing brush so that I could share these moments with my Dad again. In 2012 we went to Poland for Euro 2012. As you read this, we are in France for Euro 2016. My Dad, my brother and a family friend, who went with us in 2012, decided that the evil, which is far too prevalent in the world today, would not stop us from living our lives. When we started this journey back in 2008, I thought I was doing this for my father. I have come to realize that I have been doing this for myself. If I was to lose every material possession I have tomorrow, the one thing that could never be taken away from me is my memories.
To all Dads, especially mine, Happy Father’s Day.
Until next time.
Cheers,Read More Add a Comment
Every day we hear about athletes earning, or about to earn, mega millions for service rendered. It’s so common today that most sports fans speak of contract values or the terms of a player contract long before individual performance. There was a time when the only discussion would be about goals, assists and team standings. Today that’s secondary to the economics of sports. Sports have changed dramatically over the last 20 years.
From my perspective I can’t think of anything more contemptuous of fan base than a league which has a salary cap. The unintended consequences of a salary cap are being felt by many professionals sport leagues, of which the NHL (National Hockey League) is one. The NHL just finished its regular season, and not one team in Canada will compete for hockey’s Holy Grail, the Stanley Cup. However, at least three of the seven Canadian teams probably could have qualified if they were free to spend at will. Based on published reports I have come across, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto have the financial wherewithal to buy talent. Yet the current NHL collective barging agreement precludes them for doing so. In essence the CBA was negotiated to ensure parity amongst all the teams, and to ensure that all franchises would be profitable. So if you’re a fan of the Canucks, Canadians, or Maple Leafs you should be willing set aside your passion and allegiance to your team for a higher and nobler aspiration. Like the profitability of team playing hockey in the Arizona desert or the Lone Star State. How sporting is it that for your team to get better, and maybe one day challenge for the Stanley Cup, you first have to gut your team, and try to lose. Today it’s about shedding player contracts and drafting kids, that’s code for cheap labour. Today teams are built to lose, and then wish upon a star that one day they will come out stronger on the other side. Of course there’s no guarantee that “tanking” works. Just ask the poor fans of the Edmonton Oilers. The NHL is not alone in this. Have a look at the Philadelphia 76′s of the NBA, (National Basketball Association). Their record this year is 10 wins, against 70 loses, as of writing this post. Last year their record was 18 wins versus 64 loses. A record this poor has to be intentional, because there’s no other explanation for this level of ineptitude. Frankly, the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) has more integrity than many of the Main Street sports leagues. The WWE at least is open and admits that the results are predetermined.
My passion for hockey has waned over the years. That has a lot do with the fact that my childhood idols, the Toronto Maple Leafs, have been abysmal for decades. When I do pay attention I’m floored by (more…)Read More Add a Comment
Uber Technologies (funny how they don’t refer to themselves as having anything to do with the taxi industry) is reported to be worth an estimated $51 billion. It took them a whooping 5 years to reach this mind boggling value. This is the reality in the new digital economy. Massive evaluation seems to happen today in what feels like a blink of an eye. Companies like Uber are the new frontier. They innovate, challenge conventional practices, defy you to stand in their way, and if need be they have no qualms about poking the bear in the eye. Über is the poster child of an industry provocateur and disturber.
For those who have not heard of Uber, they’re a technology company that connects people who have cars, with people who need a ride; sounds a lot like the taxi industry – but not in Uber’s eyes. That’s the essence of what makes Uber a disturber. You look like a duck, you walk like a duck, and you quack like a duck, so you must be, well, not a duck according to Uber; just a technology company. Many jurisdictions have tried to regulate Uber out of their markets, and in some cases Uber has been told to cease and desist, but Uber has demonstrated that they will scratch and claw to protect their turf. A lost battle for Uber in the courtroom is a setback, not a final resolution. You know what it means to have a company worth $51billion? It means you can employ a lot of lawyers.
Full disclosure, I’ve been using Uber for about a year. I love the service, and I’ve never had any issues. I have no dog in this fight, meaning I have no financial interest in Uber’s success. Maybe I should. The reason I continued using Uber was that I enjoyed being driven in a clean car. I like the fact that the driver is not on the phone while driving. I like the fact that the sounds of screeching brakes don’t puncture my ear drums. (more…)Read More Add a Comment
“I’m great! Okay, enough but me. So what do you think of me?” In my mind that’s how the conversation went between President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau at last week’s State Dinner at the White House. I’m sure trade issues, environmental concerns, and Canada’s military support in the Middle East all came up in conversation; but I can’t help but think that at some point the two leaders exchanged winks and knowing head nods. The body language spoke volumes, like, this is really cool. Sure, we might have economic issues to deal with, a refugee crisis, security concerns, an obscene amount of national debt, but that should never get in the way of having a good party; and what a party they had.
In fairness, a state dinner at the White House is not a common occurrence for Canadian PM’s. If I’m not mistaken the last time the head of state from Canada was the guest of honour at the White House was in 1997. President Clinton warmly welcomed Prime Minster Chretien for an evening of Pomp and Circumstance. Let’s see, Clinton and Obama, Democrats; Trudeau and Chretien, Liberals. I find it deliciously ironic that the intelligentsia always campaigns on helping the impoverished, working for the middle class, saving mother earth, but would never dare using photos of a state dinners when campaigning to the masses. That would be too difficult to square. The all-knowing and chosen ones are best fit to suspend reality. There’s no point trying to square the lavishness because it is too complex for simpletons to understand. It’s something that’s always done, and that should be enough. Oh wait, Prime Minister Harper never had a state dinner in his honour. I’m sure it was simple oversight and had nothing to do with political ideology. (more…)Read More Add a Comment