The Beautiful Game uncovered at Pitchfest

Montreal’s Pitchfest, on from May 16–24, celebrates soccer culture with art, music and film.

Montrealers recently got a taste of the beautiful game in all its splendour thanks to the Impact’s unlikely run at the CONCACAF Champions League. It was our little footnote in the ongoing story being written about the world’s most popular sport.

Soccer has started wars. It’s ended them. It’s pitted neighbours against each other – think Liverpool and Everton. It has brought tears of joy and cries of agony. It has taken young men from poverty, like Diego Maradona, and made them immortal.

Kaiser Chiefs
Kaiser Chiefs

Despite the name, Pitchfest is meant to show soccer’s reach beyond the playing field. It’s a festival that brings together art, music and films devoted to the sport.

“We’re immersing ourselves in the culture of football,” says Noel Butler, Pitchfest curator and TSN 690 radio host. “With live music and football, the correlation is complete. You only have to listen to Noel Gallagher.”

The band headlining the music portion of Pitchfest, Leeds boys Kaiser Chiefs, have the sort of rousing choruses you’ll want to “oy oy oy” to while rooting for your favourite team. Butler explains that even the name is a soccer reference.

“Their favourite player for Leeds United was Lucas Radebe from South Africa. And the name of his team before his transfer to Leeds? The Kaizer Chiefs.”

The Kaiser Chiefs will perform this Saturday, May 16 at the Corona Theatre. Meanwhile, over at Cinéma du Parc, selected films will be screened from May 21–24, including the North American premiere of Class of ’92, a documentary about six lads who rose from Manchester United’s youth team to the European Cup. (You may remember one of them: David Beckham.). The film is about youth and exuberance, two of Butler’s favourite subjects.

Colombian soccer doc The Two Escobars will make its Canadian premiere at the fest, as will Les Rayures du Zèbre, a movie about an agent and his prize African soccer prospect. Vice: Football’s most dangerous rivalry will look at the feud between Glasgow’s loyalist Rangers and republican Celtic. The Burgundy Lion – co-organizers of the fest – will be presenting their own animated short, The Match, created by Jenni Tannahill.

Vice: Football’s most dangerous rivalry
The art exhibition will be held at Station 16. They’ve brought in a pair of golden Alexander McQueen Puma cleats made for last year’s World Cup, and plenty of artwork and photos from local artists and beyond will be on display from May 18–24 — the vernissage is on May 19.

A Chelsea fan from working class London, Butler has seen Montreal’s love and knowledge for soccer grow over the years. Following the improbable run by the Impact, those feelings should only intensify.

“One of the great things about football is that as it becomes more popular, the sophistication of the people around the sport increases,” says Butler. “What happened with the Impact was extraordinary. They weren’t supposed to be there — to be at Estadio Azteca, made famous by Pele in 1970. And for the sport of football to draw over 61,000 for a game in Montreal says everything, doesn’t it? I still can’t find a reference point throughout the history of club football.”
Pitchfest is happening May 16–24 at multiple venues. For more information, go the festival’s website.