Island soccer fans primed for Euros

Many Canadians feel a tug toward their ethnic homelands and soccer provides the great cultural tribal dance.

There was the loudly passionate but good-natured back-and-forth of throngs across Elk Lake Drive between the Greek and Portuguese halls during the 2004 European championship game. In 2006, the festival of football moved to the Leonardo Da Vinci Centre in Vic West as the local Italian community celebrated Italy’s World Cup title. The Dutch agonized in their World Cup final loss to Spain in 2010 as they gathered at the orange-festooned Holland House in Royal Oak. The Edelweiss Club in James Bay was raucous with excitement, and the beer was tasty, in 2014 when Germany won the World Cup.

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The table-hopping celebrations at the Croatian Cultural Society centre in Gordon Head made the front pages of the Times Colonist several times in 2018 as Croatia made its breathless run to the World Cup championship game.

“It was amazing for a country so small to make the World Cup final and it meant so much for our Island Croatian community and the Croatian community around the world,” said Rudi Ranogajec, who helped organize the joyous Croatian viewing parties in Victoria three years ago.

But pandemic restrictions, and a 6 a.m. Pacific start time, have muted the celebratory mood for Croatia’s opener Sunday against England in the 2020 European championship, delayed a year due to the pandemic.

But you know Croatian and English fans will be up in the morning for the game.

“It’s breakfast with the Euros,” Ranogajec said.

With several of the pandemic restrictions expected to be lifted Tuesday, some of the Island ethnic halls are formulating plans for viewing options, especially for the 9 a.m. and noon games, as their teams advance through the Euros, and as guidelines allow.

“There’s talk of us getting back that 2018 vibe,” said Ranogajec.

Even if they have to be parking lot parties of 50 until indoor gatherings are expanded July 1. The tournament runs through July 11.

Fans wanting a communal experience for the 6 a.m. fixtures can still get it as some Island pubs will be opening for those early games, among them the Irish Times in downtown Victoria. It’s coffee, pop or juice until 9 a.m. but the doors will swing open for the 6 a.m. starts, regardless. The Irish Times has become the go-to bar for fans of several Premier English club sides, including Liverpool.

“I think there will be a lean toward England,” said Irish Times manager Connor MacNeil, of what he expects of his soccer-watching patrons over the next month.

As for the Irish in Irish Times – neither Ireland nor Northern Ireland qualified for the Euros this time around.

Prizing and promotions at B.C. bars and pubs is currently limited by provincial health orders, but official Euro tournament balls are among the soccer-themed items that will be won as giveaways at the Strathcona Hotel’s watering holes during the noon games, once that is allowed by health authorities.

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