When I was a youth I got to train with the Vancouver Whitecaps youth team during its NASL days. One night during a hot summer a fellow called Shaun Lowther came to train with us young lads at the Norwegian Seaman’s Centre in Burnaby. He was fantastic and trained like a true professional. Shaun played for the Vancouver Whitecaps from 1980 to 1984. He contacted me through my blog and I asked if he would be willing to answer a few questions about his time with the Whitecaps in the North American Soccer League. He agreed. Here is the interview:
Could you describe where you came from… I think you were born overseas and came to Canada later…
I was born in North Shields a small town just outside of Newcastle in the North East of England. Like any other Geordie lad I grew up watching Newcastle United play. I played for my school and district teams and also played boys club football. I was fortunate to play for Wallsend Boys Club. Other notable players that played for Wallsend were Whitecaps team-mates Peter Beardsley and Ray Hankin as well as players such as current Sunderland Manager Steve Bruce and Burnley Manager Brian Laws. Players such as Alan Shearer and Michael Carrick also started their football with the Boys Club. I signed schoolboy forms with Sunderland at age 14.
In June 1978 at age 16 my family emigrated to Edmonton, Alberta and I got my first taste of football in Canada when I played for the Edmonton Scottish of the Alberta Major Soccer League. I also represented Alberta U18’s. The Edmonton Drillers were formed that year and I trained with them during the 1979 season. League rules stipulated that you had to be 18 to sign. In September 1979 Graham Leggatt decided to “hide” me by sending me to Manchester United. I arrived at Man United and started playing with their A team and represented them in the FA Youth Cup. In the NASL draft the Whitecaps who had been watching me play at United decided to take a chance on me and drafted me. A contract was offered and I attended training camp at Bisham Abbey in March 1980 and signed in due course.
Which seasons did you play with the Whitecaps?
My first season with the Whitecaps was in 1980 and my last was 1984 and the NASL folded later that year.
Which Coaches/managers did you play under? Who was you favorite?
1st Team Managers in this order: Tony Waiters, Bob McNab, Johnny Giles, Derek Possee and Alan Hinton, Reserves: Richard Dinnis, Nobby Stiles, Alan Errington, Alan Goad and I would be remiss not to mention the backroom staff such as Les Wilson, Jock McDonald, Lou Moro, Barry Crocker, George Wright. My favorite amongst the lot was probably Gilesy. Although I played every game under Hinton, was very impressed with the orgainizational skills of Waiters and laughed my socks off with McNab, Johnny Giles was the Manager who I thought had it all. He knew the game inside and out. His memory of things that had occurred 5 or 6 months previous during matches was uncanny. I yearned for Gilesy to speak to me individually during training so that he could impart some of his wisdom to me. In training he was often the best player during the 5-a-side. I prided myself on being able to pass the ball well but Gilesy was the master in his playing career and even in retirement he was the best.
Name some top players you got to play with/against against during your career.
There are a lot of very good players. As a schoolboy/youth player in the UK played with or against players such as Steve Bruce, Peter Beardsley, Brian Laws, Trevor Stevens, Paul Radcliffe, Mark Hughes, Norman Whiteside, Neville Southall and more. For the Whitecaps, Alan Ball, Willie Johnston, Roger Kenyon, Bruce Grobbelaar, Bruce Wilson, Bob Lenarduzzi, Carl Valentine, George Best, Granitza, Margetic, Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Johhny Rep, Teofilo Cubilas, Rudi Krol etc, etc, etc. Without doubt the player that I thought was not only the best Whitecap but in my opinion the best in the whole league during that 5 year period was Frans Thijssen. An absolutely tremendous footballer but also a wonderful man.
What positions did you play for the Whitecaps?
Right back mostly sometimes left back and on the odd occasion Alan Hinton used to play me as a holding midielder with strict orders to “Kick the living shit” out of the oppositions best player.
Biggest match you played in with the Whitecaps?
This is a tough one. My home debut in 1980 against the Portland Timbers at Empire was pretty special. A game aginst the New York Cosmos at BC Place when 7 Canadians started and Terry Felix scored the winner. However, I think a match in 1984 against the New York Cosmos at Giants Stadium I was given the role of “kicking the shit” out of Vladislav Bogicevic undoubtedly their midfield general and one of the best players ever in the NASL. It was an important game as we had not guaranteed a play-off berth yet. I went out played out of my skin and shut him down receiving Man of The Match from BCTV.
I am very interested in the 1980 season in which Ball and Johnston left and Rudi Krol came on board. Any memories?
My first season with the club I was a bright eyed 18 year old who was star struck as I had grew up in England watching all these fantastic footballers on TV and live at St James Park in Newcastle. In hindsight now it was a funny season. The Whitecaps had won Soccerbowl the previous season and the players were demanding pay raises. So there was a lot of tension in the squad. Tony Waiters had his hands full trying to manage some ver strong characters in Willie Johnston, Alan Ball. Ray Hankin, Trevor Whymark, Phil Parkes etc. One of my favorite footballing memories was the display that Ruud Krol and Alan Ball exhibited when they played together for the first time. The two of them put on a clinic of one touch football. I was in the stands that day and I was amazed at how the two of them tore the opposition apart with 1-2’s. Krol coming out of the back and linking up with Ball was tremendous. Krols passing range was phenomenal. It was a very good team and really we had the players to repeat but the off the field tension probably cost us in the end.
There are a few funny stories from that season.
1. Prior to a trip to California that had been speculation in the media that Tony was going to get rid of Bally and Willie. We trained at Norwegian Seamens Centre in Burnaby in the morning and were going to take an afternoon flight to LA straight after training. Tony Waiters was giving a bollocking to yours truly, Davey Norman and a couple of the other youngsters in the middle of the pitch because we had not been washing the kit correctly or something stupid like that. As we are getting this bollocking Willie comes side skipping past us with these massive joke sunglasses on. We are all staring at him thinking what the heck is he doing. He then turns around and he has this huge FOR SALE sign pinned to his back.
2. That same trip we are in Anaheim and we have a day off so we decide to go to Disneyland. In Disneyland Bruce Grobbelaar buys a fake arm cast. When we get back to the hotel, he puts on the cast and we call George Wright (Physio) and tell him that Grobs as had an accident at Disneyland. He comes to the room and he buys it. He then calls Waiters and Grobbelaar did such a good job that he convinced them both that his arm was broken. They were discussing who they were going to fly in, so they were not to pleased when we finally let them know it was joke.
I believe you played for the Canadian national team. How many Caps?
17 Caps I believe…
Cheers Shaun!!! (Perhaps we’ll get more out of him later…)
Today I got to play at Empire Field where the Vancouver Whitecaps will play the first part of their inaugural Major League Soccer season.
I have to say I was thrilled to be able to play there, because I spent many hours practicing and playing in the old Empire Stadium from the age of 16 with the Vancouver Whitecaps youth team when the Whitecaps were in the North American Soccer League.
Now I am playing in the old timers league (I call it the viagra league) and never thought I would get the chance to play on the pitch where the new Whitecaps will play.
Empire field is hallowed ground, where Alan Ball, Rudi Krol, Willie Johnston and many others played for the Vancouver Whitecaps. It is where we beat Franz Beckenbauer’s New York Cosmos, and Johan Cruyff’s Los Angeles Aztecs on the way to the 1979 Soccer Bowl triumph.
The pitch is the latest generation of fieldturf, which is the closest to grass that I have played on. It is still quite grippy and jarring to run on, so I think we will see a few injuries this year as a result. I hope that they wet the field before games because when we started it was dry and the ball tended to stick to the surface. After some rain, the ball really took off when it hit the pitch at any pace. It was interesting to contrast with the old Astroturf that used to be in the playing field at old Empire Stadium. That stuff was brutal. If you fell on it you would end up with awful carpet burns. It was very hard as well. No wonder Bob Lenarduzzi and Carl Valentine have had to have joints replaced recently!
I can report that the stadium as it looks now will be a great place to watch the game, though the bleachers behind the goal are a bit further back than a traditional football fan would like. Those who sit along the sidelines are in for a treat, because the views of the pitch will be fantastic. The stands look very close to the field and the players will be able to hear every word we shout.
Roll on March 19, 2011. We are going to have a lot of fun at Empire Field.
Recently Farhan Devji has been writing some very good articles about the Coaches who have coached the Whitecaps and 86ers over the years on the Whitecaps site.
Among his most recent articles, one features a photo and brief discussion of a fellow by the name of Alan Errington.
Alan as involved in the Whitecaps organization back in the NASL days as a youth team coach, and was assistant coach to Bob Lenarduzzi during the 86ers days in the Canadian Soccer League. I was coached by Alan Errington in the years 1981 -83 when I was involved in the Whitecaps youth team program. Alan led many a training session and coached me occasionally alongside the head coach Eric Ross for the BC Under 18 team. Alan was a superb coach, as anyone who has had the privilege of being coached by him knows.
Alan’s training sessions were like army boot camp. I was absolutely shattered after every practice session. He left no question of the standard that was expected of the players training and playing under him. He expected full commitment and the very best effort in training and in games. He inspired me to be my very best. Alan had a superb knowledge of the game, and for a guy who never played goal, he taught me a lot about the position of goalkeeper.
If Alan thought you were dropping below the standard and not giving your all, he would let you know about it in no uncertain terms. I remember playing for the BC Under 18 Selects in North Vancouver against Pegasus during a game in the Pacific Coast League in the summer of 1982. We dominated the first half and I had little to do in goal. What I did I thought I had done well. Alan thought differently and tore a strip off of me at half time. He questioned my commitment and told me he thought I was being complacent. I was shocked, and I must admit, a bit hurt by his comments. In the second half I had much more to do and made some excellent saves. Had Alan not rattled me at half time I might not have made the saves I did. We won the game.
Another memory I have of Alan was from the Nations Cup in 1982 in Richmond. I was drafted along with John Catliff, Craig Olley and Brian Penk from the BC Under 18 Select Team to play for England by Alan, who coached the team. In his talk before the first match Alan told us that there were two ways to look at the tournament: we could treat it like a fun tournament or we could seriously try to win it. Alan made it clear that whatever game he played, whether it was darts or football, he always wanted to win and did his best to win. We were inspired. We went all the way to the final, but lost to Scotland in penalty kicks. We should have won the match in regular time but one of our strikers skied a free header over the goal (Alan had no problem telling the guy who missed he should have scored!). I let in all five penalties to lose the penalty shootout 4-5, and Alan told me I should have stopped at least one. As usual, he was right.
Among his other football activities, Alan provides colour commentary for Whitecaps broadcasts, another job he does very well indeed.
Alan was a part of the great influx of football knowledge into Vancouver and the rest of the Lower Mainland that came along with having the Vancouver Whitecaps in the North American Soccer League. Alan has contributed greatly to building football in British Columbia through his excellent coaching and football expertise. He deserves recognition for that.
I for one, greatly appreciate his contribution, and it is nice to see he is getting some of the recognition he deserves on the Whitecaps site:
Some of the best times I have ever had in footy have been playing pick-up in the park. In many ways, this is the game at its purest with no referees, just a ball and some makeshift goalposts. While it tends to lack the speed and intensity of the competitive game, it more than makes up for it in laughs and pure fun.
While I was a student at U of Toronto I used to play behind University College with an assortment of international students, domestic students and even a professor or two. It was played Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon during the summer. We would play even on the hottest days, during inversions when the air quality was poor.
Then there was sunday morning pickup near Nat Bailey stadium, which moved ultimately to John Oliver School.
Now I am at the advanced age of 44 I play with the old guys at Trafalgar Park on Sundays. These guys have the best organized pick-up game going, complete with coloured bibs, proper goals and a round-robin tournament. There are some youngsters there but the average age must be about my age, perhaps older. There is a guy there who is in his seventies… and he still has a fabulous touch!
Perhaps the best thing about it is we are all friends for the most part, though the competitive edge is still there. Having a laugh is central to the whole project.
Viva Pickup soccer!