Montreal soccer culture festival GOAL MTL celebrates the beautiful game on Sunday

The all-day free event promises a mixed-gender match, activities for all ages, live art, music, Premier League matches on a big screen and more.

Montreal’s annual outdoor celebration of the beautiful game is back in full swing this weekend — and footy fans from all walks of life are in for a treat.

Founded by Paul Desbaillets — Burgundy Lion Group co-founder, podcaster, football (soccer) fanatic and Cult MTL columnist — GOAL MTL has been a festival for footballing culture in Montreal since its first event in 2010. This comes after the 2020 edition was held virtually, and the 2021 edition was held at Stade Saputo, with only CF Montreal season ticket holders and Collective CFM subscribers in attendance.

GOAL MTL’s annual summer event will take place rain or shine on Sunday, Aug. 7 at the McGill Stadium, and is free to the public. Starting at 9 a.m. and ending around 5:30 p.m., the event’s 12th edition will have something for all ages, including games, children’s activities, live art for auction, a tie-dye station, temporary tattoos and even haircuts courtesy of Maison Privée. Café Olimpico will be partnering once again with the event, providing coffee and breakfast sandwiches.

On the footy side, a “top bins challenge,” where fans can try shooting a ball to hit targets on the net, will also be part of the festivities. Best of all, there’ll be jumbotron screenings of two of that day’s marquee matchups for the start of the new Premier League season: Manchester United at home versus Brighton and Hove Albion, followed by crosstown rivals Manchester City away at West Ham United.

As far as the GOAL MTL match? Mixed-gender teams from local community organizations, bars and restaurants will compete against one another in friendly matches during the day. Between this and having more activities available for those attending, Desbaillets is happy to see GOAL back in its regular form despite the ongoing pandemic.  

GOAL MTL Montreal Initiatives football soccer culture festival

“Getting that whole vibe back again is a really big deal for us, and for everybody,” he says. “That’s why every festival in the city is completely packed, because people are finally out again.”

Soccer is a sport that can unify people from all walks of life like no other, and GOAL Initiatives aims to foster a sense of community and inclusivity through the sport. Desbaillets considers the broadcasting of the two Premier League matches to be a “fantastic” new element of the event, even though they’ve screened Euro and the World Cup there in the past. 

“It’s been so many years [since the last GOAL MTL event] that we’re all juiced up,” he adds. “We feel like it’s the first time.”

GOAL has also struck up some new partnerships, including the digital currency platform Shakepay, through which donations to GOAL can be made — another new feature in this year’s event. Funds will also be raised for HeartShapedHands, the foundation of CF Montreal striker Kei Kamara that helps kids in his native Sierra Leone pay for their education and get scholarships, as well as for the MLS-sponsored Black Players for Change. GOAL has also been using fundraising money to help put kids through the Sport-études program with Soccer Québec this past season, which they’ll do again this year if enough funds are raised.

“Everything that we provide and do, we’re going to do through fundraisers,” Desbaillets says, also mentioning a special cocktail at the Burgundy Lion as one of those events. 

“We’re going to do other 5 à 7 events and other things throughout the year to raise funds and awareness and see how much we can gather at the end to support these different groups. It’s a long-term thing.”

The Specials GOAL MTL initiatives soccer football culture festival Montreal
The Specials repping GOAL Initiatives

Digital workshops will also be available for attendees to take part in, including one from Jérémie Falissard of the Barroco group, devoted to cooking great meals at reasonable prices; a magic show from local magician Bao Hoang (aka Bao Magic); and a DJ workshop with Jojo Flores. Essentially, the event on Aug. 7 will be the launch of GOAL Initiatives’ planning and community-building for this year.

As great as it is that GOAL MTL is coming back in its full form, the pandemic still isn’t over — and with that has come some challenges for Desbaillets along the way. Securing event spaces despite many locations already being rented (often for weddings), putting on the GOAL MTL event despite Montreal festival season kicking into high gear, raising funds, finding donors, and having to be “mindful of who you’re asking and how much you’re asking for” with financial handouts.

“Those elements — location and dollars — have been a challenge,” Desbaillets admits. “But you’d be surprised how many people have actually stepped up and come to the table. Some of the same people who have supported [us] big time during the pandemic came around this year again to support a lot of new people… Those 20 teams were filled pretty much instantly.” 

This year’s GOAL MTL event will also be the first one to take place before a FIFA World Cup appearance for Canada’s men’s team. Between this and the Canadian women’s team’s gold medal-winning performance at last year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo, this country is a rising soccer powerhouse. Desbaillets thinks footy culture in Montreal and in Canada is “budding up like no one’s ever seen,” stating also that the men’s team’s qualification for the tournament in Qatar in November will be a turning point. 

“Soccer is growing in Canada at an immense rate,” he adds. “The stats are there. There’s more boys and girls playing [the sport] than there are playing hockey because of the price of entry, as well as our immigrant population, which is what makes Canada so amazing.”

All good things take time, and Desbaillets has seen not only the emergence of the men’s national team program, but also CF Montreal’s presence in MLS since 2012, as results of the time and effort taken to grow footy culture locally and nationally. 

“I think we’re on our way,” he continues. “This festival is exactly the kind of thing we’re proud of. It shows off the positives — charity, community, connection, all these people from different organizations coming together to have a good time.” 


Desbaillets adds that he thinks the men’s national team could do “fantastic” in Qatar. They won’t win it all — the team must first advance from a group with Belgium, Croatia and Morocco, before likely facing either Spain or Germany in the Round of 16 — but they’ll gain “untold” experience from playing in footy’s showpiece event and continue progressing before Canada co-hosts the subsequent World Cup in 2026 with the U.S. and Mexico. 

Needless to say, both the Canadian national soccer program and GOAL Initiatives have grown by leaps and bounds over the years. GOAL MTL’s inaugural event on a small field on a cold, rainy June day in its first edition — one that caused Desbaillets to think the event wouldn’t happen again after that — before eventually levelling up to McGill’s football stadium, with pro athletes and major local organizations taking part. 

“I wouldn’t in my wildest imagination think it would’ve gotten to this point,” he says. “I still think it can go further. It can go bigger, raise more funds, do bigger things. We could do some stuff in Toronto potentially, because it’s a national organization. There’s lots of opportunity to do really cool things. It’s endless.”

GOAL MTL takes place at the Percival Molson Memorial Stadium (475 des Pins) on Sunday, Aug. 7, 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m., free

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