In case you haven't noticed the change in the overall atmosphere felt everywhere and the sudden uptick in patriotism, I’ll let you in on a little secret: it's World Cup time.
This global phenomenon takes place once every 4 years, so you are bound to experience at least one tournament during your university degree. Though the physical location where the tournament is taking place, Qatar, is quite far away (and even saying that is an understatement), there are ways to enjoy said celebration here in the land of maple and poutine.
However, we do not care about how the World Cup is being experienced in Newfoundland or the Maritimes at the moment; though I’m certain they are having their fun cheering for Canada (or France in Quebec), it is more relevant in this case to focus on the experiences attainable to us as students at UBCO.
While the unique nature of celebrating a summer tournament in the winter has a considerable impact on the experience as a whole, it still can be a great time.
Granted, the biggest challenge to the matches lies in the timing. Most games run in the day's earliest hours, well before the rooster cock-a-doodle-do, and especially well before any bus service runs. So, a pro-tip is to check which early dawn games you are interested in so you can buy snacks, or at least a hot chocolate, and that way you can experience them on TV; though there aren’t really more of those games after the group stage is over.
However, for games that occur a bit later in the day, at the bustling 10 or 11 am window, there is quite a joyous corner on campus to enjoy them: The Well. That's right, the favorite student pub is perhaps the only establishment of its kind opening its doors earlier than usual east of the Orchard Park Mall—or downtown for that matter. For their part, they had quite the ambiance for the games with their many screens, superb audio system and comfy chairs, and a selection of delicacies that offer a comfortable alternative to stadium food in both price and quality. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to view a couple of 90 minute odysseys at said precinct, and it was a great time, mostly thanks to the aforementioned reasons.
In the interest of comparison, I decided to attend both a game played by Canada and a game played by other countries as a means of gauging the local interest and delimiting parameters between the different game day atmospheres.
It was most interesting to cover the first game of the tournament for the Canadian team in which the maple leafs (not the Toronto kind) were pitted against the always competitive Belgian squad. After all, it was the first world cup Canada had qualified for in this century. The last time they had qualified was back in 1986, far before UBCO was even conceptualized.
In any case, the Well was as packed as sardines in a can. Seldom have there been any occasions that I have borne witness to, as a senior, where there was such an agglomeration of students, even less so in the interest of watching a soccer match in Canada. While the cheers were noticeably loud and the palpable hope for a Canadian victory (or at least a tie) permeated the spirits of the attendees, unfortunately, the Canadian squad did not seize their clearest shot on goal (a penalty by Davies, saved by Courtois) and the Belgians scored on the 44th minute (Batshuayi). When that happened, it was akin to a pin dropping. Only the TV noise echoed through a momentarily quiet pub that continued cheering for Canada for the remaining 45 minutes or so.
As for the other interesting match that I had the opportunity to watch at the Well, it was the clash between the powerhouse Brazilian squad and the tenacious Serbian side. While the pub was not as packed to the brim like in the Canadian bout, around 70% of tables were filled, which is a pretty good turnover at this point of the year. If you don’t believe me, take a stroll by some classes during a lecture.
If I had to assume before the match, I would have guessed most people were cheering for Brazil, a suspicion that was confirmed by the loud cheers of GOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLL when the Canarinha scored its two goals. Regardless of the result of the match (Brazil won 2-0), it was joyous nonetheless to partake in such a celebration of sports with my university peers from around the world.
So, what remains clear is that there are ways to experience the world’s party as the semester winds down and finals begin, even on campus. Though games will naturally be moving on later in the day, which means that there are more places to experience said matches, there is still praise to be lauded upon the Well for providing such a great experience for students seeking both refuge from the snow and a place to enjoy the football matches with like-minded individuals.