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A Football Festival in the Heart of Montreal

It was February 27 and I was sitting with friends at the Burgundy Lion Pub watching the Carabao Cup Final contested between Liverpool and Chelsea at Wembley. The tension in the pub was palpable, almost as if you can see it in the air like a smokey room. That emotion peaked when the match went to penalties. But somehow through all the excitement, randomly, a friend had asked me if Goal Initiatives was happening in the summer. I replied: “Saputo Stadium would be dope again.” Fast forward to August 7, I am sweltering under the 35-degree heat. Despite the temperature, the Montreal community has gathered for one of its most celebrated soccer festivals: Goal Initiatives.

An annual soccer festival spearheaded by the proprietor of Burgundy Lion, Paul Desbaillets, the focus of Goal Initiatives is to support and highlight foundations within the community. The 12th edition of the event took place in Percival Molson Stadium, at the feet of Mont-Royal, right in the heart of Montreal, with proceeds going to Soccer Quebec, Black Players for Change, and Kei Kamara’s Heart Shaped Hands foundation. Local businesses set up tents all around the end zone by the gate iron gate of the stadium. Notable figures attended the event such as Chef Antonio Park of the highly regarded Park Restaurant, and some starters of CF Montreal including Joel Waterman, Rudy Camacho and Kei Kamara.

Kei Kamara, CF Montreal forward, MLS legend and founder of the HeartShapedHands foundation.

All of whom, for a moment, seemed to have enjoyed themselves not as players but as people of the community. It is impossible to hate Kei Kamara, despite the many heartbreaks he gave Montreal in countless playoff runs (notably Eastern Conference Semi-Final 2015). This man’s smile is infectious. Disarming, calm yet charismatic. When I asked him what his impressions are of Goal Initiatives, Kei replied “I hope I can come to another one.” “It’s a beautiful event, the weather is amazing, it's for families, it's for everyone.” Importantly, Kei’s Heart Shaped Hands foundation will use the donations to fund children in Sierra Leone with scholarships, and invest in youth in impoverished neighbourhoods.“To know that these donations are coming from Canada, Montreal and Goal Initiative is really special.” The footballing community of Montreal is giving to the children in need in Sierra Leone. “Football brings us together.”

Balarama Holness, former CFL safety, politician, and founder of social justice group Montreal in Action.

Speaking of football, one of the main events of Goal Initiatives is the skills challenge, consisting of various freekick scenarios, top bins and crossbar challenges. Each team selects their tribute to perform and demonstrate their technique before everyone in attendance. The competition is palpable. Kei was among the mix, when asking him about his presence in the skills challenge he promptly replied “I won.” Kei expressed he was just helping them. “That's the whole thing, it's fun because you’re a professional. It's fun to see people challenge themselves in this aspect, and it's fun to see how competitive everybody gets.” Being among the people and the community, I asked how it resonated with him. “That's been my whole career. I always want to be with the community with the people. Because I know many are doctors, nurses and teachers but at the end of the day on weekends they support sports. We’re all the same. As much as you can reach back to your community, it's always better.” This is where cult heroes start. Among the people.

Behind every striker is the one always pulling all the strings. The central midfielders dictate the rhythm of play. Among the bustle of people, one can notice Paul moving about throughout the stadium, making sure that the event is moving as efficiently as possible. A sign of a true restauranteur or a playmaking #10.

When asked about the origins of Goal Initiatives, one can understand his motivation for this event to be as perfect as possible. “Goal came to be, on the idea of if you work hard and thrive in that neighbourhood. You have to give back in that neighbourhood.” Identifying the common passion for football, the event started as “crazy little park games” open to the public. “The weather was cold, it was wet. We thought this would never happen again.”  Paul describes the twelve-year journey with Goal Initiative as a “long time and a short time if that makes sense?” Developing the perfect technique for a freekick doesn't happen in one session. “It takes time.” Once you’re there you enjoy the moment. One of the biggest challenges Paul expressed was the lack of available volunteers. The growth of an event requires a number of people willing to volunteer their time. For those looking to give back, volunteering is the easiest way.

When I asked Paul what this event means to him, he expressed that despite rain or shine, “it means the world that people show up.” Paul further expressed that even on one of the hottest days of the summer “people were literally playing in the sun! It shows the commitment that people have to a community project.” With so much physical and emotional energy put into this event every year. I wondered if Paul had thoughts on how he saw himself in Montreal’s footballing community. He replied, “it is up for the Montreal footballing community to decide.” My answer to that: when building a team, you start with the center mids.

Joel Waterman, CF Montreal defender

Jason Gisoo Kim
Ketsia Nkumbu

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