CBC Digital Archives

When soccer fans immigrate

It's been called "the beautiful game." Soccer, the most popular sport in the world, draws an unwavering devotion from its fans. Yet soccer as a spectator sport has never quite caught on in Canada, despite growing youth participation rates and a series of professional leagues. Still, we've had star players and tasted World Cup play, and many immigrant communities have imported their passion to Canada. CBC Archives looks at soccer in the Great White North.

"What happens when soccer fans immigrate? Do they change their loyalties too?" asks the host in this 1983 radio clip. The question was inspired by recent games in Toronto between the Toronto Blizzard soccer team and two big-name European teams - Benfica from Portugal and Juventus from Italy. From the cheers, it was often difficult to tell which one was the home team. "The passions of the old country beat loud in the immigrant," explains the reporter. 
• When the Toronto Blizzard played Portugal's Benfica on Aug. 7, 1983, Toronto won 1-0. The game against Italy's Juventus three days later was a 0-0 tie.
• An Aug. 8, 1983, Globe and Mail article commented on the fans at the Blizzard vs. Benfica game. "The majority of the 28,479 spectators at Exhibition stadium last night were not there to see the Blizzard... In fact, for much of the game, the Blizzard drew boos and Benfica loud applause."

• The history of soccer in Canada has been closely tied to immigration. In Colin Jose's 1998 book Keeping Score: Canadian Encyclopedia of Soccer, he attributed much of Canadian soccer's growth in the early years of the 20th century to the immigration boom from Britain. He quotes a 1913 article on the subject, which stated: "Naturally the English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh people, who arrive in Canada, yearn to see the good old game which was wont to thrill them week after week at home."

• An influx of immigrants from continental Europe after the Second World War further helped to shape the sport in Canada. As Jose wrote: "Prior to the outbreak of the conflict Canadian soccer had been dominated by players either born in Britain or with British backgrounds… But particularly from 1950 on the old traditional teams began to disappear to be replaced by teams formed by immigrant communities." These groups came from countries such as Italy, Hungary, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Croatia and Serbia.

• A number of "ethnic" Canadian teams took part in Canada's professional soccer leagues throughout the 1960s and '70s, including the Toronto Italia and the Montreal Italica of the Eastern Canadian Professional Soccer League in the 1960s. And during the 1970s, an ethnicity-based Canadian team did very well on the North American stage. The Toronto Croatia team joined forces with the Toronto Metros to form a team called the Toronto Metros-Croatia, which won the North American Soccer League championship in 1976.

• Today (2006), The Canadian Professional Soccer League (an Ontario and Quebec league) has two divisions – a national division and an "international" division. Introduced in 2006, the international division was intended to capitalize on the nationalistic connections Canadians have when it comes to soccer. It consists of five ethnic Canadian teams, all based in the Toronto area: The Caribbean Selects, Toronto Croatia, Italia Shooters, Toronto Supra Portuguese and the Serbian White Eagles.
Medium: Radio
Program: Identities
Broadcast Date: Sept. 4, 1983
Guest(s): Dale Barnes, Clive Toye
Reporter: Alec Bollini
Duration: 6:11

Last updated: January 17, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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