With football on hiatus for the foreseeable future, it’s as good a time as any to reminisce on the moment we fell in love with the game in the first place. For Halifax, Nova Scotia native Ben Peres, this came during the long awaited home debut of his home club HFX Wanderers. From a late game-winner to a new feeling of community unity, he recants the fateful match on its one-year anniversary.
I remember the first time I truly realized why I loved football. May 4, 2019 — a cold and rainy day in Halifax, but we felt none of it. It was the inaugural home game for our local team in the Canadian Premier League, the HFX Wanderers.
It’s the 81st minute, and the game is tied at one goal apiece. A floating cross is sent into the middle of the box. An opposing defender nods the ball down, a poor attempt at a clearance in all respects. For what feels like an eternity, time stops. From my seat behind the goal, hundreds of fans gather around me — I have a perfect view. The ball steadies like it’s settling for a penalty kick and our striker Luis Alberto Perea’s eyes light up as he sees the chance. I grab the forearm of my friend as the ball drops in front of him. I could feel the moment. Then, in a split second time speeds up, and Perea lashes the ball into the back of the net.
The crowd erupted.
I had never felt anything like this. My chest was collapsing, my heart was racing, and the tiredness in my legs from jumping and stressing the whole game disappeared. Just as my concept of time sped up, it slowed to a snail’s pace as I finally took a moment to bask in all the feelings. The smoke flairs, in hues of royal navy and sweet baby blue, enveloped me like the hug from a friend you hadn’t seen in years. The cold, damp air could not bring me down, nor the thought of a potential Forge FC equalizer in the next eight or so minutes that remained in the game.
Months, if not years of anticipation, finally reached a climax.
No other sport had ever created such a reaction from me, and I’ve witnessed game-winning shots, last-minute touchdowns, and won titles with my childhood teams. It felt as though I had just overcome immense personal hardship and triumphed over my greatest enemy. All of these emotions came from a team that had only existed for relative seconds in the ancient world of football. A team that only had two players from my hometown. In all respects, I have very few reasons to love this team as much as I do. But then again, sports and logic rarely go hand in hand.
This goal meant something more than just winning a game. It was a cultural turning point for Halifax, my city. A moment that brought together cultures that hadn’t really clashed, but would best be described as distant. The people celebrating around me were the most diverse group I had witnessed in the city. We were all sharing something beautiful.
At that moment, race and ethnicity went out the window. You weren’t white, black, Hispanic, or Asian — you were a Halifax Wanderers fan living a fever-dream.
Not every match can have the emotional strength to amplify your feelings tenfold like this one, and that’s OK — that pure rush is enough to carry you through the next 50 heartbreakers.
In a time when football has been cruelly taken away from us by an invisible enemy, this memory has helped me maintain hope for the future. Because when we all walk into that stadium or onto the pitch for the first time when the world reopens, we will all feel like we are walking on clouds.
Images via HFX Wanderers.