Arriving at the St Paul’s stadium with the skyscrapers of Canary Warf in the foreground, a beautiful stage for match day was set. With a verdant environment and a brilliant blue sky punctuated by white clouds, you could almost imaging a glacier capped volcano in the distance to make it a Cascadian scene. As Team Cascadia filed into the stadium, the discussion with stadium management quickly turned to politics. No anthems were to be played on the PA system, merch couldn’t be sold, and flags and symbols were to be kept to a minimum. The limits begged the question, without flags, anthems and identity, who was playing football yesterday?
Our opponents were Tamil Eelam Football Club , a team representing the 2.5 million Tamils living in Sri Lanka, and a large diaspora centered here in London. Apparently, pressure had been put on the stadium management to limit the visibility of the Tamil team due to conflicts regarding Sri Lankan land claims and the legality of the Tamil Eelam movement. The news about the anthem was a particular disappointment, as due to technical difficulties, we had yet to hear the Cascadian anthem played at any of our matches. A solution was devised, we would play both the Tamil and Cascadian anthems on our own amplified system.
This work around lead to unity among both sides. Cascadia Underground Editor Brandon Letsinger and I set up an “information only booth” near the entrance to the stadium, and when the Tamil supporters arrived, I introduced myself and asked if they would like help hanging their flag behind their supporter section. With trepidation and under close stadium observation, reason and Fair Play won the day. With flags flying and teams aligned on the field, both the Tamil and Cascadian anthems were played before the match.
By halftime, any concerns about expressing ourselves had subsided. Local Fisher Football Club supporters had re-written the lyrics to “When the Saints Come Marching In” and paraded around the stands Doug Flags in hand singing;
“Cascadia is Wonderful,
Cascadia is Wonderful,
We’ve got coffee, weed and Frasier,
Cascadia is Wonderful!”
A Tamil drum corps played proudly at the stadium entrance to a celebratory audience proving cultural expression cannot be squashed.
Throughout the second half, the raucous cacophony of drums mixed with hooligan chants could be heard everywhere as both teams encouraged their side onward. In the end, Cascadia won a searing 6-0 victory against the Tamils but the true winner was Fair Play. Fair play that two anthems were heard, two cultures were shared and both sides had a chance to express their true selves on and off the pitch.
Read more about the Cascadian cultural exchanges happening in London now!