the British umpire

It began within minutes of the ignoble elimination of Canada’s team from the NHL playoffs at the hands of the ultimately quite vincible New York Rangers.

“Hockey is done,” more than one friendly Facebook post read. “Now to the World Cup.”

Fair enough. Hockey was in effect done with the end of the Habs’ overachieving run. Tonight, it may well and truly be done — and just in time for the World Cup.

So I understand the sentiment. Especially now that the most ridiculous part of soccer — i.e., deciding games by throwing away the rules and resorting to penalty kicks/shots — is now a reality in the best game you can name. (Though for the latter, significantly, not come playoff time.)

Yet, I cannot but think these hockey fans will be crestfallen when they realize Canada has no chance of winning the World Cup either. Cheering for the hometeam is, alas, not an option.

Yet cheer we will. Most of us will simply pick a country to root for, perhaps based on family history, cuisine or spiffy uniforms. We’ll be anxiously watching. And while I have no idea whose voice we will trust to bring us the play-by-play, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it will be someone who hails from England.

It’s a Canadian tradition, you see, to rely on an Englishman for expert advise on the fairly attractive game.

Why an Englishman, you ask?

I’ve asked myself the same question. I mean, nothing against the English (see reference to family history, above) but — and correct me if I’m wrong here — the last (and only) time England brought home the World Cup of Soccer, the Toronto Maple Leafs were preparing to embark on a Stanley Cup-winning season. That’s right, since 1966 England and the Leafs have won precisely the same number of championships. And that includes the Euro Cup (which neither England nor Toronto has ever won).

By contrast this year’s host country, Brazil, has won the World Cup five times — three of those victories coming since England’s lone Cup triumph. Surely, if no Canadian is available to call play-by-play for the tournament, there’s a Brazilian announcer willing to give it a go. After all, to most North Americans the most exciting thing about soccer is the cry of “Gooooooooooal!” closely associated with South American announcers. Can’t we at least have that? Or perhaps an Italian or German announcer? You know, someone from a nation that knows how to win the World Cup.

I contacted CBC and Sportsnet, broadcasters for the Cup, to ask why soccer on telly relies so heavily on English accents. A CBC representative issued a telling reply: “The actual games are called by FIFA’s own people, so we have no control over that.” Sportsnet has yet to respond, but is presumably in the same boat. That means having to turn to FIFA for answers. And, uh, I won’t hold my breath on that one. The most likely explanation, I suppose, is that FIFA limited its search for English-speaking announcers, to England. Makes sense, really. You win this round, FIFA.

And so Canadians prepare to immerse themselves in the games, despite having no hometeam to root for. Not unlike the Super Bowl, or Wimbledon (though there’s hope for tennis). And if there’s a curious Eurocentricity to soccer coverage in Canada — the Africa’s Cup of Nations, for example, is routinely ignored, as is the Copa América, while the Euro Cup gets plenty of attention — perhaps we should take it up with FIFA. After first making sure FIFA is in a good mood.

For now, with Canada’s quest for the Cup foiled, let us bask in the rest of the world’s quest for the Cup. After all, as supporters of the game never tire of telling us, soccer is wildly popular everywhere but on this continent. Thankfully, they do not employ the same logic to encourage us to endure the Eurovision Song Contest. Or Snow beer.

So bring on the players, the matches, the accents. We will be watching. And listening.

And properly shouting “Huzzah!” along with the announcer as each goal is scored.

After all, hockey is done.

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