Two great parties … until Blighty’s loses its fizzle
Okay, that was a pretty good party but, as Mario Bahoric said, “Wait until Sunday up here.”
Up here, in this context, is the Croatian Sports and Community Centre of Hamilton, which exploded with collective joy Wednesday as Croatia came from behind to edge England 2-1 in the World Cup semifinal and advance to Sunday’s final for the first time ever.
Meanwhile, over at Ye Olde Squire on Fennell Avenue — one of the many mini-centres of English support across the city — the faces were as long as their team’s tortuous history in the world’s biggest sports tournament.
Hopeful anticipation was replaced by collective angst, then brief sorrow.
A 1-0 first-half lead had dissipated and a young team that had unexpectedly seized the hearts of a nation, and neutrals around the world, was forced into its own Brexit.
“England had a great run,” said Bob Morley, the long-time hockey referee and executive, who was born in Rugby, England. “I thought today that maybe the better team won.”
There were a couple of hundred English fans crammed into the main room at the pub, a large percentage wearing some form of England national jersey or T-shirt.
Lots of Harry Kane’s No. 9 but there were also some throwback Beckhams and Rooneys in evidence.
They ate hamburgers from an outdoor grill and the overwhelming libation of choice was Guinness.
Further east, about 1,100 Croatian supporters watched the game on large screens in two rooms inside the Community Centre, or in a tent on the back lawn.
The runaway food favourite was cevapi (grilled minced meats) while the beer of the day was Croatia’s Karlovacko.
Almost everyone in and around the building was adorned in Croatia’s distinctive red and white checks.
Modric was the preference for those who love jerseys with a player’s name on the back.
“Stoney Creek is Italian and Croatian,” said the 44-year-old Boharic who moved to Canada when he was six years old.
“This means everything. I don’t think anybody realizes exactly what they are feeling right now. Croatia is in the final of the World Cup!”
England had the lead for an hour of play and appeared to be heading to its first World Cup final in 52 years.
When a nation gets this deep into a World Cup there is a sense of destiny in the entire fan base. But that sense seemed more precarious on the English side. The Croatians, even though down 1-0, had the recent history of coming back to win each of the last two elimination games after conceding the first goal.
In both venues, there was a plethora of the soccer fan’s universal gesture after a near miss, and there were many in this game: Arms thrust sharply into the air in frustration, then a two-handed grasp of the head.
And, of course, after Croatia took its first lead — the only one that mattered — the yells of encouragement at the TVs from the England crowd grew increasingly urgent and the groans at the could-have-been misses more laced with pain.
But there were a few tears at the end, and within minutes normal conversation and game-dissection resumed for the England supporters.
“I didn’t expect them to get this far,” said Dave Hartwell.
Hartwell, 75, arrived here from Manchester in 1961. He’d played as a Premier League reserve in England and also played for the Hamilton Steelers of the old Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League.
“We all cheer for different club teams but at times like this we’re all behind England. I thought this was one World Cup too early for them.”
Meanwhile, with Croatia into its first final, Bahoric said, “In all Croatian communities in Canada, it’ll be a party right through to Sunday.”
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