Day 1/2 – Arrival
The wheels of my second flight of the afternoon touch the ground in a bright and sunny Montreal, Québec. A journey which should only take an hour when flying has now seen me out of the house since 5:45am, since I have to take my 8am flight from Newark to Toronto, then board my connect to Montreal. This though, this has a great purpose: I’m on my way to see Roma battle Montreal Impact in the last event of their North America summer tour.
After grabbing my passport and passing through customs, I walk down past the luggage carousels, sort-of, but not really counting on it, but nevertheless, looking to see if the team was coming. I knew they had just landed, but I was not aware of the size of Montreal Airport, if there were multiple exits, or what. Yet, after walking 300 feet, a cleared path had been made for passengers. I peek my head above the throng of (French) tourists and their overstuffed packs, and see a teenager donning a giallo e rosso shirt. Ah, I was on the right path.
Bending down under the roping, I asked the boy if the team was coming. “Yes, we think so.” “Ah real cool.” Detecting my accent, his father introduced himself, and I told him about my trip. “Ah, you write for the team? Cool!” The next ten minutes centered around team chat – what else is there to talk about at such a time!?
The players ended up taking a backdoor exit out of customs, and we were informed we missed them by a group of teenagers who had seen their pictures at the hotel on Snapchat. “You need a ride?” “Nah thanks, I’m just gonna take a taxi or Uber or something.” “Nah no big deal, we will give you a ride.” “You sure? I don’t want you to have to go out of your way.” “Yeah of course.”
In record time, and I mean record time, I was dropped off at my hotel door in city center. Ahhh, a nice hot shower to ease what already was, and was going to be a long day. But this is my vacation, and if you’re gonna do it, you’ve gotta do it right – even if that means you need multiple espressos, sugar, and fast food to keep going.
Getting to the practice center along the St. Laurence River, I sat baking in the sun until I could grab my press pass, but it was here I was able to meet many Romanisti and the legendary “Jos” from the famed Roma Club Montreal. After some discussion, Jos decided that they would allow me a ticket to the afterparty that night, as there were very few, if any spots remaining. “Now you’ve gotta do me a favor when I get to New York!” he kindly said. Thanks again Jos.
Practice was sweet. The view from the press box overlooked the four different fields at the Impact’s training ground, which was in an industrial area that reminded me of home.The younger guys did drills first, and the old guard came out a bit later to join in a partitella (small match), as seen below. After practice ended, I caught up with Radja to tell him he looked great in training. I let him be though, he had been Facetiming home to his family, who just had their second child yesterday. The other players relaxed, most truly exhausted after the arduous tour. Kostas Manolas fell to Ale Florenzi in a bout of football tennis, but not before Leo Paredes trashed Flo.
Later that night, I met Marco, who I had previously spoken to at the training. He and a couple other of the guys arranged a new table inside Hotel Universel, enjoying our buffet. The wine was included too.
After eating, a raffle was held, and prizes given out to the winning ticket number. Wadda ya know, my #55, the Americano(!) won a shirt and bag, which I conveniently later used as a beach bag last night. A shot of grappa with Jos from a private bottle concluded our festivities at the Universel. A sweet yet fiery moment through the blood. There could be no better sign than I was in good hands here with Roma Club Montreal.
The night concluded with Marco and his friends in Old Port, or the historic district of the city. Of course we talked about Roma, but getting to know everyone was what truly stuck. I was really liking it here.
Day 2/2 – Matchday
I looked at the clock. Damn, I thought. I wasn’t able to get a proper rest, still on my 8am wake-up clock. After charging my phone and listening to some The Streets (A Grand Don’t Come for Free) on the hotel computer, I set out to meet up again with the boys for lunch. Aldo already had five panini waiting for us. Ham, pepperoni, tomatoes, celery, on fresh ciabatta bread. What else could a man ask for? Apparently, a fresh sliced mozzarella to pick on, an iced tea, a coke, followed by espresso time for all, followed by granita time, also for all. This was lunch done right, Montreal style. I ended up not eating until the next morning.
Game time. Took the metro from Place-des-Artes to Pie-IX (should have taken it one stop further) but couldn’t reach the Impact-t shirt-wearing boys at the front of the car before the door closed on my face. Anyway, I was able to chat with some fans on the way there, although I really just started conversation to talk to the man’s daughter.
After security couldn’t give me clear instructions on where to head for the press box, I was in and looking around, trying to meet with other friends on Twitter. Sneaking onto the field (only cameramen and crew are allowed on), I was taken back as the players ran out of the tunnel and onto the field just inches from me. This was going to be great.
After being escorted off the field now, I ventured to where the players were warming up to take some pictures of tifosi, as seen below.
The match, although Roma’s defense was proving leaky, was an ultimate success. The Giallorossi got a decent run in, and they were tested by an in-shape squad in the middle of their season.
Totti & El Shaarawy video
Totti warmup video
Then, Didier Drogba surprised me. Popping in out of nowhere at the press conference, the former champion of everything was standing next to me. What do I say? I take out my phone as he is about to leave, and pretend to have an interview question. I don’t. In fact, I’m pretty much shaking
“Didier, how do you feel about moving over from Europe to the states? Sorry, I mean Canada!” “Well uhhh, that is a bit of a heavy question.” “The lifestyle, the food, Didier?” “Yeah, all that! It’s very different, I really enjoy it though.” Good enough for me. He is a really cool dude, and even though I had my phone out pretending to be taking voice notes, he smiled and seemed a real humble dude. I would love to talk to him about his life or read his biography if one comes out. By the way, he is a massive man.
After the match, I re-met Marco and the crew, or planned to, as the taxi dropped me off at the river. “Here, I can’t go past, I have to pay a toll,” the Uber driver said in his Indian accent. Hmm, where from here? After asking a group of girls (sexy ones) where this place was, they cut me off in the middle of my sentence and spared me from having to pronounce words in French. Italian is bad enough for me, but French, that is a horse of a different color.
Where to? A three story club on an island. Yeah, that’ll do. After a drink was in my hand, I noticed the vibe was completely different from what we are accustomed to in the U.S., or at least the Tristate area. People actually talk to one another, they are a bit more relaxed, not suspicious, and the women are typically a couple touches more composed. By composed I mean fit. At home, when people go out for fun their eyes just watch their phone. But in Montreal, it’s their ears that listen to the music. It’s a great scene.
I expected little aside from getting to see the game, but what I found were great friends and genuine people. As cold as the winters here are, is as warm as the people can be. In a time of life where meeting new people and good people is my priority, I found that the game was just a compliment to what I will be taking away from Montreal. I came to Montreal to see Roma play, by myself, in a hotel in city center. No, I wasn’t in Liverpool, but shown that truly, You’ll Never Walk Alone.