Fans catch World Cup fever

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:39 PM ET

OTTAWA - Rob Smith will have Barrhaven’s best seat in the house for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Well, maybe it will be the best seat outside the house.

The 47-year-old is a soccer nut. Talk to anybody involved in the local soccer scene and they’re quick to point you in the direction of Smith, who plays, coaches and watches the game endlessly.

As teams prepare for the opening of the World Cup in South Africa, the father of two made a trip to Audiotronics to buy a 52-inch HD big screen so he can watch the game in style.

“I even set it up (in his living room) so I can watch from the hot tub,” says Smith with a laugh.

Not only did he take a kids’ team to Liverpool for a tournament a couple of years ago, he’s also organized weekends in England to watch Premier League games and, during the 1994 World Cup, set up a bus trip to Detroit to see a game at the Pontiac Silverdome.

Smith, who moved to Ottawa as a teenager and has played for more than 30 years with the Falcons Soccer Club, first fell in love with the sport while growing up in the Montreal suburb of Pincourt.

“I grew up in a very English part of Montreal and all the parents were from the (United Kingdom),” says Smith, who coaches an under-10 boys team. “The sport through my life has always been soccer. I did play hockey, but it was definitely not my main sport.

“There are more people like me who don’t watch as much hockey anymore. I grew up a Montreal Canadiens fan, but I watch five soccer games every weekend all winter long. (Last) weekend, I taped Germany-Hungary, Canada-Venezuela, Toronto FC-San Jose and then I had some buddies over at 8 a.m. to watch England-Japan.”

If Smith does want to get out of the house, there are going to be plenty of options to watch soccer. It’s the calm before the storm on Preston St., where they’re hoping Italy will be able to defend its title.

‘Italy or nothing’

“It’s Italy or nothing,” says Joe Ieullero, GM of St. Anthony’s Soccer Club, with a big grin. “It’s usually a slow start, but it builds from there.”

While the regular lunch crowd is making its way down Preston St. on this warm, sunny afternoon, the number of people in the bars, restaurants and cafe that line the streets are nothing compared to what it’s going to be like once the tournament kicks off. Places like St. Anthony’s, Sala San Marco, the Prescott and the Heart and Crown will fill up once the World Cup gets into full swing with Italy taking on Paraguay on June 14 in Cape Town.

“When Italy plays, it’s crazy. The street is nuts,” says Prescott GM Philip Coates. “It’s going to be exciting here once it gets going. It used to be, years ago, you’d never get anybody in here (for the World Cup), but there are going to be lots of groups.

“It’s not just Italy. We’ll get pretty good crowds for Brazil and England is going to draw some fans as well. The last time Italy made the final, we didn’t even unlock the doors. They were lined up down the streets. We just let 300 people in (the main room) and closed the door.”

They’re also gearing up for a big month at The Georgetown Pub at Bank and Sunnyside.

“We’ve got a huge soccer following and I’m anticipating that for England games we’ll be turning away people and Dutch games as well we’ll probably be turning away people,” says Georgetown GM John Alves. “It’s just that big here ... It’s a terrible thing to say, but we probably make more on soccer than hockey here, which is really strange.”


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