Why Barca? I asked.
“I hate Barcelona. My club is Chelsea.”
In front of a local carwash, this Labour day early morning, John and his two colleagues were waiting for the first customers to arrive. As I passed by I just said “Nice shirt” with my thumbs up. “No, not really.” he replied to my surprise. After he told me that Chelsea is his team I asked, obviously, why Chelsea. “Anybody can play in Chelsea… black, white, you can be green, anybody. Not in Barcelona.” He got this jersey from someone as a gift.
John’s been living in Montreal for a few years now. He comes from South Africa.
Why Ecuador? I asked.
“And I’m not even from Ecuador… I got it as a gift a few years ago.”
The rain had just started and I only had my phone on me (‘the best camera is the one you have with you’ as someone famously said) but I decided to stop Camil anyway. He grew up in Montreal but his parents come from France and Morocco. He supported France in the World Cup. I sensed his sympathy for Spain as well as he claimed that ‘Spain will bounce back’.
Camil then asked me how did Liverpool play earlier in the day since we met a couple of hours after LFC match with Tottenham. It gave me much pleasure to report the score and a nice Balotelli debut. As we parted, just a block further into my walk, I ran into an advertising display at the local bus station. There was Mario Balotelli, larger then life, unreal, in this hockey city. This unexpected encounter must be a good omen for the season to come.
Why Argentina? I asked.
“I have many friends that are from Argentina.”
I walked into a store and there was Yanick, working. He was kind enough to step outside so I can photograph him. Yanick is from Montreal but has a strong connection with South America, his girlfriend is from Peru. Along the way he befriended a few Argentinians and started following their national team. Our chat was brief since he had to go back to work and I needed to go and get some flowers.
Why Venezuela? I asked.
“A friend from the States sent it to me as a gift. He liked Chavez and sympathized with Venezuela while Chavez was still alive.”
Venezuela’s national team, nicknamed La Vinotinto, has never qualified for the World Cup. I imagine, there is not much space for football in the nation crazy about baseball. But La Vinotinto jersey made it all the way to Sarajevo. Boris is my brother and these days our Bosnia and Herzegovina team plays in its first World Cup tournament in Brazil. So will Venezuela one day, I hope.
Why Stoke City? I asked.
“I like Stoke.”
Then, after I insisted on more, he added “I like them all (teams), I like football.” Which explains it all. It was the first time I met someone wearing the Potters‘ jersey and I was trilled. Koffi and his family arrived to Montreal, from Ivory Coast, only two months ago. I quickly reminded him how Bosnia and Herzegovina beat Ivory Coast just a couple of days earlier in a friendly warmup match before the WC. He wasn’t concerned.
Why Marseille? I asked.
“Always, always, from when I was a kid, always only Olympique de Marseille!”
Frederic didn’t mind the rain and was happy to show his colours for the camera. He is from Togo and came to Montreal 5 years ago to study economics and is just finishing his last term. He was to young to remember his team playing Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup final in 1991 but I made sure to remind him of that match. Frederic intends to stay in Montreal – it’s a beautiful city, we agreed – and plans to work in real estate. May you sell many homes Frederic!
Why Liverpool?, I asked many times and got always the same answer in a language I don’t speak with the attitude I understand perfectly. There is no need for translation – a raised eyebrow and a pose of someone who will never give up speak volumes.
I know Khun Suarez for many years. He is one of tough motorcycle taxi drivers working in my street and he wears his football shirts to work. Most of the time it is one from his vast Liverpool collection although recently I’ve seen an Atletico Madrid emblem under his taxi vest. He takes me through the madness of Bangkok traffic almost every day – without people like Suarez (not his real name but we both like it) I would be just another miserable passenger stranded in what often looks like one huge parking lot in the streets of a monster city.
Our conversation, always short but pleasant is a combination of gabbling in my non-existing Thai and his equally understandable English, with important elements of pantomime. The words we understand are always the same: Liverpool (followed by his smile, a rare moment in the world of Bangkok’s taxi drivers), Manchester and Chelsea (with a face expression of someone who is about to vomit) and number of goals from last night’s matches. At the end of the day when I come back home and when he had already taken off his taxi jacket, we share a few glasses of poisonous Thai whiskey, rarely a beer. The conversation however remains the same, about football. It’s been like this for years and I don’t want it to change. He is one of very few things that can make me feel Bangkok home.
Tomorrow morning I will be again on the back of his decomposing 125cc Yamaha and he will wear a Liverpool shirt. There is a slim chance Liverpool is snatching that trophy tonight but that will change nothing. Some things are just bigger than anything money can buy, including the title.