Sounds like a blast. I'm dissapointed to have missed out on this one.
Thought now that most people are trickling back into the country I'd make a post going through the actual game day.
So we all woke early up for a 7:30 bus departure from Varadero to Havana. The first surprise of the day of course is that we were all up and ready to go in time and even more surprising no one seemed to be hungover, it was serious business. As we left for Havana we had a guide talk a bit along the way, telling us that he was a soccer fan and expected us to win at least 5-0 (he seemed to think that the States had beaten Cuba in Havana by this score last time around even though it was 1-0?). Either way we spent the trip debating starting XI's and just generally getting as excited as possible for the match.
We got into Havana at around 10:00 and our first stop was the team's downtown hotel. So socceronly, Don'tPanic and Moldy9 (our Spanish translator) got off the bus to go figure out the ticket situation. We patiently waited as time passed by without them returning, eventually we saw a few familiar faces leave the hotel, but not the three guys we'd sent out. DeRo, Johnson, Hume and Borjan all came on our bus to thank us for coming down to support the team which was pretty cool. Eventually about forty minutes after we'd came to the hotel the three guys returned to the bus without tickets but with very complicated instructions on how to get them once at the stadium.
From here we went to tour Havana, which was interesting but we all seemed to be a little to distracted to focus with kickoff rapidly approaching. During lunch a few of us (myself included) started to get a little worried about the timing of getting to the match on time. And was it ever close. We must have arrived at the stadium at 1:58 or so and we saw about 1000 Cubans waiting outside the stadium. As we approached the large group some pulled us over to an "away entrance" and ushered us all into the stadium through a separate gate. None of us were ever given or used tickets at any point. So much for the complicated instructions.
When we went through the side gate we were led into the main concourse above the stands, but as soon as we'd been let in the main gate was also opened so that fans could enter free of charge. Pandemonium ensued. The players are lined up about to kickoff meanwhile 1000 Cuban fans are running to get seats and the 40 or so of us are running around among them trying to find a place for us to watch the game together while making sure we don't miss the action about to start on the pitch. Eventually we all somehow end up sprinting to the far corner of the stadium where we finally settle in and start to support the boys.
Despite the heat, luckily we are under a roof so we aren't quite as hot as the players surely were. Although without a real pre-game drink we are all watching the game sober and in 30+ degree heat making it a little difficult to fully sing our hearts out as we'd like to. Similar to the first half on the pitch our support was a little wilted, probably not quite it's usual best. As a random aside the halftime bathroom break to one of the scuzziest washrooms I've ever been in cost two pesos (so yup getting into a world cup qualifier is free, but going to the washroom while there is gonna cost you something). As the second half started though we were finally given a moment that brought our support up to the level of delirium required, Occean's goal.
The seconds following the goal seem to be a bit of a blur in my mind as we all ran several levels forward on the terracing and jumped up onto a fence separating us from the pitch, many of us impaling our hands on the top of the fence. Although at the time no one cared about that, it was just a ridiculous moment. You could tell how much it meant to the players not only by Occean's celebration, but by Hirschfeld's as he just collapsed to the ground the moment the goal was scored. It was a moment that brought back echos of celebrating the Serioux goal in Montreal four years early (although this day ended of course with a much better feeling) .
As the second half unravelled after this we were as loud as ever, berating the ref and cheering on the team. One of the highlights of the match came during the second half as we were working to kill the clock the team strung together about 25 passes each of which were greated by an "Ole" from us in the stands. As I can't remember ever doing this before watching the national team (mainly because I don't think we've ever strung that many passes together in a row), it became a bit of a running joke for the rest of the night. When the final whistle blew the relief in our section was audible as we cheered the players over to us. In the celebrations that followed I tossed David Edgar my scarf and many other players were given flags and scarves by us. Borjan ended up giving his gloves to sstackho, but none of the other players gave up jerseys or anything else because apparently they were told by the CSA they needed them for Honduras.
At the end of the match our section was swarmed by Cuban kids watching the game asking for our scarves flags and hats, many of which we ended up parting with. We also had a bit of a crazy moment at the end when Rhonda was mobbed by what seemed like 100s of kids as she started to give them soccer balls, toothbrushes and school stuff that people had brought down. She was eventually safely helped away from the crowd and back onto the bus as we made our way to the embassy. We left the stadium at the same time as the players bus, which was kinda neat when the two buses were side by side and we were celebrating with the players on the other bus across from us.
The Embassy was really cool and we finally started to drink, relieved that we'd be heading back to Canada with three points. After a couple hours at the embassy we headed back to Varadero and there was where the real party started. I'm not sure I have to go into full details of our celebrations that night but they included passing around a few celebratory cigars chanting ole at each pass, singing "we're going to Brazil" very late into the night, adapting a few Southampton songs into Canada ones after meeting up with a Southampton supporter and much more until I finally called it an evening at around 4:30. I'm sure we were incredibly obnoxious that evening, but as Canadian soccer supporters we deserved a night to celebrate and we sure did it properly.
And all of that was only game day, there were plenty of other crazy stories that came out of the time down in Cuba and plenty of others I missed that happened on game day. I thought I'd just put all this down somewhere while it was still fresh in my mind and I hope others who went down have their own stories of the trip. I want to thank Jaime and Trevor again for organizing it as well as all the other guys who went down - it was a fun group to hang out with. All in all... it was one helluva trip/day/3 points!
Sounds like a blast. I'm dissapointed to have missed out on this one.
I wouldn't let someone take my Canadian citizenship from me for anything.
- Jim Kale (The Guess Who)
Getting married in early June is going to haunt me for the rest of my days. lol.
Glad you guys had such a good time, wish I was there.
Nice! Thanks for sharing the story with us...
Great fun, and I'm excited for the pics. I assume this should be the thread for it?
Great summary of match day.
The only suggestion for improvement for future Voyageurs trips is to arrive at the stadium with much more time before kickoff. When you're silly enough to travel all that way for all that time specifically for a soccer match, you sure as hell don't want to be late (we missed the anthems) and you want to be there with lots of time before kickoff to savour the moment. I was a miserable wreck from around noon once it was clear that the schedule was going to make things extremely tight. All was forgiven once I was finally in the stadium.
After the red card, it was a strange feeling to realize that after all my anticipation and looking forward to the trip and the match, I just wanted it all to go away and for the match to end immediately to seal the victory.
The Cuban crowd was great. Very friendly to us, and we reciprocated. It was the most friendly swarming you could imagine (Rhonda's excepted?) with lots of kids happy to get any Canadian souvenir that you were willing to offer.
Sounds like you guys had a great trip, thanks for the summary
We were once so close to heavan
Peter came out and gave us medals
Declaring us, the nicest,
Of the damned
I forgot all about "Ole'ing" everytime we passed the cigar. That was fun.