For Brendan Canning, it all started back in the seventies.
His Dad, who hails from County Leitrim in the west of Ireland, returned from a trip home with some Liverpool merchandise for his son.
“I clung to the team after that and, my God, if I still had that Liverpool tracksuit…it was just so cool…and the jersey and the socks and the hoodie”, says Canning, founding member of indie rockers Broken Social Scene and one of Canada’s best-regarded musical figures.
“They were a big, famous club and the Irish and Liverpool are connected quite a bit. Kevin Keegan had long hair so he was pretty interchangeable with, say, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. It was that sort of reckless way of not obeying the rules. That’s what it spoke to. So when you had a guy running around the field with long hair, you looked at him the same way you looked at a guitarist on stage. There’s a certain amount of rule breaking that you’re thinking about in your mind”.
He may not have had posters of footballers on his bedroom wall but Canning was still committed to the cause right from the start, even harassing his parents for football-related reading material.
“I was born in 1969 so there could have been some copies of (iconic English weekly) Shoot! magazine lying around”, he says.
“I also had this World Cup coffee-table book that I begged my parents to buy me. I grew up playing the game, from when I was about eight. And then it became the dominant thing in my life, outside of music. You have two main passions: playing football and dreaming about being in a band. When I realised I wasn’t going to go pro, I convinced myself – slowly but surely – that a career in music was possible”.
Does he feel it’s a coincidence that the team he’s enjoyed a lifelong love affair with also carries such a rich musical tapestry?
“Maybe”, he replies, dwelling on the question for a beat.
“It’s one of those things. But you don’t question it as a kid. You grow up in the 1970s and when you’re nine you love The Beatles. But I never put them and football together. I just think it’s one of those clubs that has a bonding effect wherever you go”.
Growing up in the Toronto suburbs, Canning was able to feed his growing football habit with regular trips to see the local pro teams in action. Toronto Metros Croatia were crowned NASL champions in 1976 while the Toronto Blizzard reached the Soccer Bowl in 1983 and 1984. It was a purple patch for the game in Canada, especially with the Vancouver Whitecaps having won the title in 1979 too. It fuelled a connection between Canning and grassroots football that has never left him.
“Toronto Metros Croatia played at Varsity Stadium so I used to go, until they bit off more than they could chew”, he says.
“But the Toronto Blizzard used to play indoor at Maple Leaf Gardens. My local newspaper would run a contest to win tickets to go see them. I can still remember the first time I won them, I was probably the only one that entered. But it was still so exciting and it happened a few times. By the time the NASL folded (1984), there was Bundesliga available because CityTV would carry it and you’d learn about Borussia Monchengladbach and Stuttgart and Kaiserslautern and Hamburg and all the rest of these teams. The first time I played Dusseldorf, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve finally made it here'”.
Touring the world with Broken Social Scene, Canning has experienced a litany of passionate football cultures and his recollections of certain gigs are even defined by the football event they coincided with.
“Soccer and travelling just go together”, he says.
“We were on tour in Europe in 2004 and I’m at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark and walking for three-quarters of a mile in rubber boots – because you’re caked in mud – to go watch the Portugal versus Greece European Championship final. Or it’s 2010 and we’re at the Oxegen Festival in Dublin and there’s 67 minutes gone in the World Cup final between Spain and Holland and we’ve got to go onstage. I was like, ‘Why are we going on now?’ But soccer always creeps in, wherever I go. Like, I closed on my house on May 25 2005, while I was flying to Japan. I refused to get on a plane until the final penalty kick was taken in the Champions League final and Liverpool had won it”.
Much like affairs at Anfield over the last three decades, supporting Toronto FC has also had its rollercoaster moments for Canning. From the depths of despair to the ultimate highs, though he’d change none of it. Because they’re his club. And the relationship continues regardless.
“When they arrived in MLS, I was as excited as when I played (legendary Toronto venue) The Opera House for the first time and selling, like, 700 tickets with my first band. Or going on stage at Electric Picnic in Ireland in 2006”, Canning says.
“You know when Jermain Defoe signed and we had all of that ‘Bloody Big Deal’ campaign? I said, ”F**k it, I am drinking the Kool Aid’. The whole roll-out, I bought it hook, line and sinker. Then he takes the money and runs. But it’s your team and you stand by your team. And you have a different relationship with your team when it’s a five-minute bike ride away. That’s your playground”.
There does seem a symbiotic relationship between football and music. Both seem to possess the same connective tissue. Why is that?
“It’s a lot of committing to your dreams in a very whole-hearted way”, Canning says.
“Ultimately, I guess some people have to pick something in life. But with soccer or music, it picks you. You don’t really have much of a choice in the matter. If you love it, you love it”.