Fanfare continues to grow as UEFA Euro 2012 draws near
It's a sport watched and played by millions of people in countries from all around the world.
The joyous din of fans fills hundreds of stadiums across the globe. It's the most popular sport in the world.
It's European football – or what Canadians know as soccer.
This summer, the sport will host one of its largest events, the UEFA Euro 2012 Football Championship. Yet the fanfare for soccer is just beginning to catch on in Canada.
Lauren Ramos, a former varsity soccer player of four years for the Calgary Dinos, plans to attend UEFA Euro 2012 with tickets to four games, and he said Canada is largely preoccupied with other sports.
"Obviously, Canada is heavily based on hockey," Ramos said. "I mean, I can't remember the last time I saw anybody playing soccer in the streets of Calgary."
Velibor Djuric, from Serbia, currently plays in the Calgary United Soccer Association in the premiere elite league, and said Canada's climate possibly plays a factor.
"The sport was evolved and brought over by the English, so it always had a place in Europe," Djuric said. "Besides, Canada's generally colder climates could be why it's not as popular here like hockey is."
One last time
UEFA Euro 2012 kicks-off June 8 and runs until July 1, with both Poland and Ukraine hosting the event.
This year marks the last time 16 nations compete against each other, with the next European Championship in 2016 expanding to include 24 nations.
Brian McDonnell , the head coach of the University of Calgary Dinos soccer team, said the significance of the increase in the eight additional nations is in the diversity it brings.
"It'll become an easier tournament to qualify to," McDonnell said. "The thing with the European Championships is that you generally see big-named countries compete, but not necessarily the minnows out there. By opening it up to 24 teams, we'll see much more accessibility for other European countries to compete."
As European countries compete for glory in the European Championship, people from countries across the world are also competing for a chance to attend the various games at UEFA Euro 2012.
Tickets are based on a draw system. If you're lucky, your name is drawn randomly in a lottery for the opportunity to pay for the desired tickets.
Growing in Canada
Ramos said soccer will grow with more exposure, and North America is taking steps to expand the sport.
"I'm a big supporter of team-based sports, and even with my varsity guys, I feel like we're a brotherhood."
-- Lauren Ramos, soccer fan "North America, especially in the states, is making pretty big steps by promoting Major League Soccer," Ramos said. "You're also seeing an increase in the number of Canadian players in Major League Soccer, so it's definitely growing."
Major League Soccer, or MLS, is a professional soccer league in the United States, made up of 16 U.S. teams and three Canadian teams.
McDonnell also said the MLS was largely responsible for the growth of soccer in North America.
"This past weekend we saw 60,000 people at Olympic Stadium in Montreal for the home opener of the Montreal Impact," McDonnell said. "That's a massive crowd for the Canadian soccer market. Plus, having big name players in the MLS like David Beckham with the Los Angeles Galaxy helps too."
For McDonnell, his love for the game exceeds the boundaries of seeing soccer as strictly a sport.
"When you see soccer in its purest form and at its highest level, it really is an art form," McDonnell said.
"That's what I love about it. It's an art."
Growing up in Europe and seeing soccer all around him kept Djuric involved and engaged with the game from an early age.
"Soccer is such a massive part of European culture," Djuric said. "You grow up watching it, then before you know it, you start playing it with your neighbours and you're already a fan."
Ramos's passion for soccer is ultimately what keeps him involved with the sport even to this day, as he often plays games with ex-varsity teammates and friends.
"I find it's a very strategic and calculated sport, where every teammate on the field matters," Ramos said. "I'm a big supporter of team-based sports, and even with my varsity guys, I feel like we're a brotherhood."
- By David Goldenstein