May 26th, 2024

Fans flock to Stade Saputo as ‘Messi Mania’ arrives in Montreal: ‘This is just crazy’

By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on May 11, 2024.

Inter Miami's Lionel Messi plays the ball during the warm up at Stade Saputo ahead of an MLS soccer game against CF Montreal in Montreal, Saturday, May 11, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL – Lionel Messi superfan Pier-Marc Brunelle is finally getting the chance to see his idol play live.

And he can’t believe that it’s happening in Montreal of all places.

Brunelle, 25, travelled to Europe on separate occasions hoping to see Messi play for FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, but the Argentine superstar didn’t take the pitch either time.

On Saturday, Brunelle was one of thousands of fans who flocked to Stade Saputo early as Messi’s Inter Miami CF visited CF Montreal in Major League Soccer action. Messi was included in Miami’s starting 11 for the match.

“Looks like he’s going to play for once,” said Brunelle, decked in a Messi Miami jersey and an Argentina hat. “I’m losing my mind.”

Brunelle drove from Berthierville, Que., an hour northeast of Montreal, four hours before the 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff to see the player he’s idolized since he was eight years old arrive at Stade Saputo.

“I saw myself in him, he’s not tall. I said I’m going to use him as an inspiration,” Brunelle said. “He’s a natural talent, he can do everything with the ball.”

Brunelle bought CF Montreal season tickets knowing Messi might make the trip north of the border, and he wasn’t the only one.

Backed by the momentum of Messi’s move from Europe to Miami last year, CF Montreal sold out its 15,000 season tickets for the first time since the club joined MLS in 2012.

Mathieu Brassard and son Elie of Trois-Rivières, Que., also bought season seats for the first time this year. The usual Montreal fans put their allegiances to the test on Saturday with Messi Mania’s entry into their home province.

“This is just crazy. It’s his first game in Canada,” Brassard said. “Our beloved team is CF Montreal, but today we have a kind of fan thing with Messi.”

Mathieu said Elie missed his triple-A soccer game to attend the match.

“His coach tried to postpone the game to tomorrow,” Mathieu said. “That’s the Messi effect.”

Zack and Jacob Ibrahim, two young boys attending the game with their mother Manon, made the trip from Ottawa to see Messi live and held up signs with “#1 Messi, please sign my shirt?” to welcome their hero.

“I was crying in the car because I was so excited,” Zack said from a crowd of Inter Miami pink and Argentina blue. “I’m probably gonna lose my voice.”

The family shared the moment without their father, Mohammed, who inspired their love for Messi but died of cancer in 2020.

“Their dad pretty much instilled Messi into their lives,” Manon said. “We’re here for my late husband today. It’s a really emotional day.”

Dozens of feverish fans also waited at the Montréal-Trudeau airport Friday night in anticipation of the global icon landing.

Hordes of people were then on site to welcome Messi and Inter Miami when the team bus rolled into the Ritz-Carleton hotel in downtown Montreal around 10:45 p.m.

Matias Garabedian, a middle-aged man born in Argentina who has called Montreal home since 2010, was one of them. He waited 12 hours to see Messi at the hotel and was back at Stade Saputo on Saturday to witness him walk off the bus.

“It’s incredible that Messi is here, it’s incredible for Quebec, for Canada, for MLS,” said Garabedian, waiving an Argentina flag. “It’s the first time we’re living something like this in Montreal.”

Despite the large number of Messi fans rolling in to cheer for the visiting side, Montreal’s biggest supporters were intent on making it feel like a home match.

“We’re going to make sure that it’s a home game for Montreal and that it remains the home game for Montreal and not a phantom home game for Miami,” said Jonah Presser, director of communications for CF Montreal supporters’ group 1642MTL.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2024.

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