I had the opportunity to take in a few unique experiences over the past few weeks that I thought worthy of sharing, so please forgive the first-person narrative and the temporary aside from the hustle and bustle of the MLS conclusion. This will be the first of two such asides in the coming weeks – the second will recount a day spent at the 2016 Sport Chek National Championships covering the U18 Girls competition.
On Wednesday, September 28th, Toronto FC welcomed some 1300 new Canadians from Syria to the match against Orlando City at BMO Field.
It is unfortunate that it was not a better affair – having ended in a rather dour 0-0 – and that the building was so lacking in vitality with the supporters’ protest in effect, but perhaps the uneventfulness of the occasion was perfect symbolism.
There was very little fanfare about the Syrian Eagles, a football team that brings together Syrians adjusting to their new lives in Canada, being guests at the match, while the larger group that made up the majority were able simply enjoy a night out at the football match under the lights – a simple, comfortable distraction in an uncertain and complicated world.
Too often we seek to celebrate these little gestures in bold headlines, when such displays of humanity are really the least the more fortunate can do to comfort their fellows in times of strife.
The previous Monday I had the chance to head up to the Kia Training Grounds to take in the training session that TFC put on for the Eagles.
It would be wrong for me to associate the horrors of the Syrian War with the men I saw take to the pitch on a blustery evening as the Fall sun dipped beyond the horizon – I do not know their stories, I do not understand their experiences. But what I can say is what I did see.
I saw a group of young men simply playing – the 'session' was quickly abandoned in favour of a small-sided match. I saw smiles, lots of them, the occasional good passage of play, and the odd argument, as is only natural when goals are on the line, but most importantly I saw fun.
It was reminiscent of a very Canadian tradition: the pickup hockey game, where strangers come together, regardless of class or creed, in order to have a good time.
The players arrived in small groups, some having to wait until the working day was done before they could partake, but as soon as they changed, they just jumped right into the fray. The ability to play, the right to, is something we all can enjoy.
I think it is safe to say a good time was had by all.
MLSsoccer.com commissioned a special feature on the group which can be read here, and also put together a video of the game-day experience, where readers can see some of those smiles for themselves:
When the clock approached the next item on their itinerary – a tour of the grounds and dinner – another familiar echo resounded... 'five more minutes'.
That is a sentiment I think we all can relate to, when a good bit of fun is interrupted by the impending ring of the recess bell, the setting of the sun, or dinner nearing the table.
To say the least it was a heart-warming and perspective-inducing hour spent well north of the city proper. I consider myself fortunate to have had it.
After squeezing in a few more minutes, and another chorus of pleas for more, a final response of 'Yalla!' pulled the group from the field.
'Yalla', I later learned, is a common Arabic phrase that roughly translates as 'Let's Go' – a message both TFC, at a crucial time of the season, and the wider world, should take to heart.
Another such motto that would serve well at times such as these: if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.
All together now.
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