Canadian brothers make like Mounties on 'once-in-a-lifetime' trip to World Cup

The Mounties are at the World Cup, thanks to Canadians Geoff, Graham and Stephen Rawlinson. The trio, making their first brothers' trip in more than 10 years, range in age from 48 to 56. Geoff and Graham are from Toronto, while Stephen calls Edmonton home.

Abundant Canadian support in Qatar includes Les Voyageurs, friends and family

Canada fans cheer as the team arrives on the field for warmups ahead of the opener against Belgium. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The Mounties are at the World Cup, thanks to Canadians Geoff, Graham and Stephen Rawlinson.

The trio, making their first brothers' trip in more than 10 years, range in age from 48 to 56. Geoff and Graham are from Toronto, while Stephen calls Edmonton home.

They got their tickets some six months ago via the FIFA portal lottery, with Graham in charge of the logistics. That included assembling facsimile Mountie costumes for the "once-in-a-lifetime trip."

In real life, the brothers are a banker, lawyer and in the oil and gas business.

"We actually put the [basic] trip together in about 10 days, but it's been taking us four or five months to put everything else together," said Geoff.

Once they got match tickets, booking accommodations came next in the form of an apartment through the tournament organizers. Their Doha digs are costing close to $10,000 for two weeks, although the three came up with different cost estimates when asked.

"Is my wife going to read this?" one of the brothers asked with a laugh.

They splurged on a direct flight, paying some $3,100 each, and are taking in nine games over 13 days.

They say they have several other Canadian-themed costumes, including Toronto Maple Leaf gear.

And while the advance logistics were somewhat complicated, the brothers report things have been "seamless" since their arrival in Qatar.

And the fun quotient is high. They are already thinking of the next brothers' trip.

Miller beaming at fan support

The day after Canada's World Cup opener, defender Kamal Miller was still marvelling at the loud and proud Canadian contingent at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.

The crowd of 40,432 seemed filled with Canadians celebrating their team's return to the men's soccer showcase after a 36-year absence.

"It was incredible," said Miller. "Surprising as well, just to see the amount of travellers we had and the amount of Canadian flags. It was tough to spot the Belgian fans.

"Right away they carried us through the whole game. From when we first walked out on the pitch, to the reception from warmup, 'O Canada' was ringing through the whole stadium, echoing. It gave us all goosebumps. And it felt like a home game, honestly — we felt like we had that 12th man. And the crowd definitely did their part to push us through the whole game."

Added coach John Herdman: "They were brilliant."

And resourceful in plotting the 10,000-plus kilometre trip to Doha.

After a 1-0 loss to second-ranked Belgium in the opener, the fans' next chance to cheer on the team comes Sunday, when the 41st-ranked Canadians take on No. 12 Croatia at Khalifa Stadium. A loss and Canada will be eliminated from advancing out of the preliminary round.

WATCH | CBC Sports' Soccer North previews Canada-Croatia:

Preview: Canada taking on Croatia in World Cup must-win

2 months ago
Duration 2:49
Host Andi Petrillo is joined for by former Canada Soccer player Jimmy Brennan ahead of the Canadian men's national team's upcoming match against Croatia in the World Cup.

Enthusiastic support

Even without a team to support, Canadians have long been enthusiastic participants at the men's World Cup. Canada was the top non-participating FIFA member association in terms of ticket sales at the 2010 tournament in South Africa and ranked in the top 10 in 2014 in Brazil.

Global Affairs Canada estimates this World Cup will draw 20,000 to 25,000 Canadians to Qatar.

There are several ways to get tournament tickets, with Canadians benefiting this time from having an invitation to the party.

For games involving Canada, Canadians had access to eight per cent of the stadium's "purchasable quota" — which is what's left when tickets allocated to FIFA, sponsors and the media, among others, are taken out.

Fans could also take their chance through FIFA's worldwide ticket lottery.

The Canada allotment covers what FIFA calls the PMA (participating member association) Football Community Allocation and PMA Supporters Allocation.

At Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, the Canadian football community — including the team's so-called friends and family — was behind the Canadian bench. Others, many from the Voyageurs supporters group, were in a bank of seats in a pumped-up corner on the opposite side.

"They're really looking to create that atmosphere that you'd feel that the country is behind you," Sandra Gage, Canada Soccer's chief marketing officer, said of FIFA's stadium ticket blueprint.

WATCH | Post-match analysis of Canada-Belgium on Soccer North:

Canada vs. Belgium post-match reaction show | Soccer North

2 months ago
Duration 35:08
Watch as Andi Petrillo takes a look at the Canada vs. Belgium game at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with guests including Ariel Helwani!

Family, friends throughout

Herdman had his wife and two kids two rows behind him at the Belgium match Wednesday, relaying later how he turned around and locked eyes with 18-year-old son Jay, a New Zealand youth international (he was born there while Herdman was coaching in New Zealand) when Canadian midfielder Stephen Eustaquio nutmegged Belgian star Kevin De Bruyne.

"It was an amazing moment to share that moment with my son," said the Canada coach.

"You realize the impact this is having on people," he added. "My wife was showing us pictures of the fans leaving the stadium. I mean these are going to some amazing memories. I'm privileged to be part of it."

Canada star Alphonso Davies also has his parents here. Captain Atiba Hutchinson had his brother and sister in the stands.

Canada Soccer promises that every dollar collected is "reinvested into Canada Soccer programs that benefit our national teams as well as development initiatives across the country."

Canada Soccer worked with the men's players association on the friends and family package, which is part of the ongoing labour talk with the men's and women's squads.

Canada Soccer staff were seconded to support the program, which offers access to accommodations, support for air travel, access to tickets, Canada Soccer House and local excursions.

Gage says there are some 275 so-called friends and family in Qatar.

Canada Soccer will offer the same program for the 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

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