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The Home of Montreal Football

Words: Jason Gisoo Kim
Photos: Aldo Stephano Ramirez

Snowfall, strong winds, and icicles clinging to the roofs of bus shelters. The streets were quiet in the blue-collar borough of Lachine, a major industrial hub in the southwest of Montreal. Among the working-class tenements, duplexes and industrial buildings, lies another warehouse with a particular name pinned on its wall: “Catalogna Soccerplexe.” In the harsh winter conditions and relative stillness of the neighbourhood, cars flock into its parking lot while others get off the bus a block away. Catalogna Soccerplexe beckons all to enter its doors and escape the frigid temperatures.

The Soccerplexe lies adjacent to one of Montreal’s major arteries, highway 20, the same highway one would take when travelling to Toronto from downtown. A pivotal location as this section of the highway is also a major interchange between routes coming from Laval, downtown, West Island, Chateauguay and Kahnawake. The Soccerplexe becomes a hub for players travelling from within the Island and its surrounding shores. A gathering place.

This footballing institution is a pillar of Montreal's soccer culture. The first soccer-specific sporting complex on the island. It was once the training facility of the Montreal Impact, home turf of Dawson Blues, the headquarters of soccer Lac-Saint-Louis, and where I truly fell in love with the game. As a child, this venue was the first time I witnessed competitive women’s soccer. This is a space where I have won titles and lost countless games. I entered the doors of Catalogna during the best and darkest times of my life. It has been a consistent and reliable fixture in my life. I’m not alone, it has been a part of the lives of almost every soccer player in the city. In the summer of 2021, Catalogna Soccerplexe announced it will be closing its doors. The beloved complexe will give way to new condos.

In this journal, I speak to three women who grew up playing in the Soccerplexe. Mary-Ann, Leah and Bianca all have different stories but all converge in the same location.

Mary-Ann recalled her first experiences at soccerplexe as a communal gathering for the Romanian community, “I was a really young kid and it was my first time at Catalogna because my dad played soccer at that time. [...] there was a little Romanian community and they would get together at Catalogna on Saturday nights.” Mary-Ann would watch her father play every week. It got to the point that her father wanted her to start playing, “it looks so fun and I wanted to impress my dad, that's how I got into it.”

Mary-Ann’s initial experience was based on Catalogna as a space to foster a communal experience. For Leah, she recalls her initial experience at twelve years old during her first year playing inter-city level football: “It was like this huge place because I think we went in from the front door and then we went into the dome. The excitement was palpable. But twelve-year-olds are always excited about everything. But this was just like brand new, because we'd always been playing outside and we'd never played indoors before.” The novelty of the dome experience during the winter made Catalogna a special place. 

Everyone’s first impression of Catalogna seems to be marked with awe and fascination. Bianca’s first time stepping into the Soccerplexe, “it was like not overwhelming in a bad way. When I walked in I was like, ‘oh, what is this place’?” For any footballer and especially a lover of the game like Bianca the pitch is what captured her attention: “And then I saw so many soccer fields and I was like, whoa! Like what is happening! But after I played one game there, I was always going back.” What made Catalogna special was not only its indoor facility but the number of games that occur simultaneously. Catalogna possessed two full-size pitches. One field was inside the Soccerplexe and another outdoors where the dome would be erected during the winter. Each field is divided into three for seven-a-side football. The field is also specifically designed to accommodate this style of football with outlines and penalty boxes. Thereby, Catalogna was able to host six games at once. In today’s standard that does not seem special, but for Montreal in the 2000s, it was groundbreaking.

The footballing novelty in Canada’s hockey Mecca made this place special among players. At the time it was a unique facility with unparalleled footballing availability in the winter. Catalogna Soccerplexe was thriving and alive. Mary-Ann recalled stepping into Soccerplexe during this time, “I think I was like maybe 12 years old where like it really like fell upon me. It was packed indoors, you would walk in and you had nowhere to walk [...]You're just squishing through people.”. Leah describes Catalogna’s location as “the heart of the soccer community. At least in this area of the island, or at least on the island in general. Everyone knows it.” Moreover, what made Catalogna special it was a space for all footy fans. Despite age, gender, sexuality or race, if you like kicking a ball this place was for you.

One of my first impressions of Catalogna was the presence of female athletes. Female players who played at various levels and found a home in Catalogna Soccerplexe. It was vital for me to speak to female players about their experience of Catalogna. As it was the first time I witnessed female football in person. I was astonished. For Leah, despite the success of Canadian Women’s national team, “back in the day, people didn’t really care about it, right?” Men’s sport always received the most attention. However, at Catalogna Soccerplexe all players were welcomed. Female football in Montreal was able to flourish and grow. Leah remarked: “It was so interesting to see like a bunch of women playing too, because you're like, oh my God. Like I could be like that too. You know, like, I could do that too, like, if I train as hard as them, if I work as hard as them. I could do that [...] It's pretty powerful. It's pretty cool.” The strength of the Soccerplexe was to foster a sense of community among all players. Women’s league flourished because female players were viewed as peers and not as “others”.

It was a place where everything was distilled to pure football. For Mary-Ann it fostered a sense of community among all people, “It makes you feel included. There's always somebody to talk to and we're all there for soccer.” At twelve years old, Mary-Ann realised the power of Soccerplexe was a community hub. She realised that the Soccerplexe on a Sunday afternoon was the place to be.

Besides the novelty of the Catalogna as a sporting complex, it had its own sports-bar called “Bar Le Kick.” This bar carries many memories. It’s a place to unwind post-game, and to get in affordable quality meals. Notably, their Neapolitan-style pizza cooked in legit Neapolitan ovens. All the women that I spoke to for this story all agree that the pizzas are top-shelf. The bar is pivotal as it not only provides the social lubricant of alcohol but a space to socialize over food and drinks.

As Mary-Ann recalls the hassle of other soccer facilities when looking for a place to chill post-games. “What's around? What's open? Do they have food? Do they have alcohol? You know, it's such a hassle when it's so convenient at the Soccerplexe, they have everything and it's good pizza, really good pizza.” Social bonds in Montreal are made through dining. You learn a lot about a person through a meal and drink. Worldviews, sense of humour and individual personalities emerge in restaurant settings. You understand people over a good meal and a few drinks. Coupled with footy match, the bond you create with people can feel profound. This adds to the magic of Catalogna Soccerplexe, communities are created through the beautiful game and satisfying meals. Win or loss, this bar was a necessary fixture. That being said, it’s still a bar, debauchery is never too far. But did I mention that the fries were on point? With the Soccerplexe closing, where will people go for their post-match drinks?

As the date approaches for the closure of Catalogna Soccerplexe, many have been asking themselves where they will play? What facility is nearby and convenient? These are questions for the near future. In the meantime, many are reflecting on their time at the Soccerplexe and how special it was for them. Bianca shares that it will be difficult to replace Catalogna, “it definitely makes me really sad. It's somewhere where like I actually spent most of my youth. I mean, yeah. It's definitely hard.” As stated earlier, the Soccerplexe will give way to new condos. Thereby tearing down the facitlity. Bianca further expresses that there is enough rooms for new condos on the island, “instead of tearing things that are special to people.”

For Mary-Ann, Catalogna has become a second home. She has been playing at Catalogna since she was six years old, that is twenty-two years of memories, ”all my soccer life has just been there. Like I called it my second home.” Leah recalls the special nature of the Soccerplexe. A place that was purely for soccer, “I played all over the city and we always still came back to Catalogna.” The location of the facility made it attractive for many but after years of growing as a player and person at the Soccerplexe more than just a space.

For these women, Soccerplexe is where their love of football was solidified. This is where they started playing competitively, experienced their first devastating loss or where they experienced the genuine rush of a win. As they entered a new stage in their life, Catalogna Soccerplexe became a home. A place of refuge to let go of the week and to be among counterparts. The space has become a church.

Catalogna Soccerplexe has been in operation since 2001, but soon the facility will be torn down and replaced with one of the great trends of gentrification: condos. The working-class borough of Lachine has become desirable for gentrification. It was a matter of time. However, those within the soccer community of Montreal would never have guessed that the Soccerplexe would be a victim of such real estate trends. As we say goodbye to our beloved Catalogna Soccerplexe, it is important to enjoy what time we have left with it. As stated by Leah:

“It is good. And also that's something to keep looking forward to, like that, that'll keep you coming back to the Soccerplexe because if your best memory hasn't happened yet, then you never know when it'll happen. So yeah, every day could be your best memory.”

At the same time, most Quebecers prior to the 60’s would never have anticipated that their beloved Catholic churches would slowly empty in an increasingly secularised Quebec. What shall become of these churches? If not utilized by Catholic immigrants from far and wide, they are converted into condos. Catalogna Soccerplexe was my church. It was a consistent fixture in my worship of the beautiful game. It is where I reinforced my social bonds, expressed myself in a genuine way and where the week’s problems dissolve into the runner’s high.

Unlike French-Canadian Catholicism, football is growing and to lose such a space is a shame. To relegate a pivotal foundation of Montreal football to the memories of local history feels wrong. For Catalogna not to witness the future of football in Montreal is like a gardener unable to taste their harvest. Maybe I’m being overly romantic about an inanimate place. However, I am the Soccer Pilgrim, places are alive when enough human energy and love have accumulated in a particular place. As it will close its doors, Catalogna Soccerplexe will forever be remembered for the institution that it is. An oasis by the highway, in the heart of Montreal’s industrial Southwest.

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