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Island pubs, bars and halls gearing up for World Cup

The time difference from Qatar makes it less than optimal, but local establishments are still gearing up for World Cup 2022 watch parties.
Joel Chudleigh attaches a sign on the front facade of the Strathcona Pub and restaurant as they ready themselves for the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Members of the local Mexican community have already booked their own special section at the Bard and Banker in Victoria to watch their beloved El Tri at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Even though the time difference from Qatar makes it less than optimal Pacific Time, local establishments are gearing up for watch parties.

“We’re getting calls all the time and people are really excited about it,” said Stephanie Gruber, manager of the Bard and Banker.

From pubs to halls, the World Cup is Canada’s most expressive quadrennial cultural dance in a land of immigrants. Every four years, people gather at places such as Holland House in Royal Oak, the Portuguese Hall on Elk Lake Drive or the Edelweiss Club in James Bay to cheer on their ancestral homelands in the World Cup. The scenes in the Croatian Cultural Centre in Gordon Head were epically jubilant and giddily joyful four years ago as people whooped, hugged and even danced on tables after Croatia reached the World Cup final in Russia.

Similar scenes happened at the Edelweiss Club when Germany won in 2014 and in the Leonardo da Vinci Centre in Vic West when Italy won in 2006.

But this time it’s different. Canada is finally back in the World Cup for the first time since 1986 when Island players Ian Bridge, George Pakos and Jamie Lowery represented the nation and the viewing parties can finally have a red and white tinge for the first time in 36 years with a dynamic, exciting and young Canadian team heralding a new era.

Island-based Canadian Premier League pro club Pacific FC will be hosting World Cup watch parties at three venues downtown for the Canada games.

“This is massive for the sport in our country. It’s been 36 years and two generations have grown up not experiencing watching Canada play in the World Cup,” said Brad Norris-Jones, vice-president of operations for Pacific FC.

“Why I took this job with PFC is because Canada will be co-hosting the World Cup in 2026. We just got there earlier. This will show Canada is not just a hockey, baseball or basketball country.”

Joel Chudleigh, sales and catering manager for the Strathcona Hotel’s myriad watering holes, agreed: “Soccer in Victoria is popular and has been doing well and I’m noticing a real uptick in interest this time with Canada in the World Cup.”

It’s the communal experience that makes sports.

“This is a big deal to a lot of people and it’s about communities coming together,” said Gruber.

Even when those communities are conflicted.

“I have mixed emotions for sure,” said Rudi Ranogajec of Victoria, a Canadian of Croatian descent, when it was announced in April that Canada would play Croatia in its second World Cup game in Qatar next Sunday at 8 a.m. He said he wished both teams well and will be rooting for a draw.

Whoever patrons are cheering for, the Bard and Banker will hand out flags and special passports that will be stamped with emblems of the various nations every time a drink is ordered. The game start times are between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. PT. The Bard and Banker will open at 7 a.m. through the World Cup. Pubs and bars in B.C. can begin serving alcohol at 9 a.m.

“There will be lots of coffee on brew until then,” said Gruber.

The Strathcona Hotel is going all out for Canada’s opening game Wednesday at 11 a.m. against world No. 2 Belgium with a Canada Brunch featured during the game.

“If Canada can upset Belgium, who knows how big this could get?” said Chudleigh.

Chudleigh said sports viewing, the staples being NFL and NHL games, are an important part of the pub/bar business in B.C. Then you get those one-off spikes such as the World Cup, Olympic gold-medal hockey finals if Canada are in them or Canucks and Seahawks runs.

“The Raptors run to the NBA championship in 2019 was brilliant for us,” said Chudleigh.

Whether club or country is playing, it seems many people just want to be around other people for the big sporting moments.

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