The Vancouver Whitecaps Return: What It All Means

March 18, 2011 at 4:29 am | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Vancouver Whitecaps In MLS, Whitecaps Season 2011 | 1 Comment

I fell in love with the Vancouver Whitecaps back in 1979, when I was 14 years old, during the second leg of the semi-finals against the New York Cosmos.  It just so happened that it was the best game ever played in the history of the North American Soccer League.  I rate it as one of the best football matches ever played, certainly of the games I have seen.

The Cosmos won the second leg in a classic NASL shootout.  This was followed by a 30 minute mini-game decider, which was won by the Whitecaps in yet another shoot-out.   It really was a game that changed my life because it started a love affair with football which has continued since.  I began to play the game myself and I still do.

The Whitecaps players of that era sounded like my family back in England when they spoke. Carl Valentine sounded like my uncle Tony.   We couldn’t understand a word Willie Johnston said, but we knew he was Scottish!

The decline and fall of the NASL in 1984 brought with it the terrible death of the Vancouver Whitecaps, and since 1984 I reminisced about those great days of magic at Empire stadium. Going to a Whitecaps match always made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.  I saw the Whitecaps play against Manchester United and Manchester City there, along with the NASL teams.  I dreamt about playing for the team myself.

When the Whitecaps name and uniform was brought back in 2001 by new owner David Stadnyk, I was thrilled.  Finally the team I loved was back.  While I supported the 86ers, it just did not feel the same as the Whitecaps.  I immediately bought a Retro Toffs Whitecaps jersey with my good friend J.   After 16 years or so in the wilderness, the Vancouver Whitecaps were reborn, but in a very modest league considered to be second tier.

The whole plot appeared to be going South when owner David Stadnyk abandoned ship during the 2002 season after doing the unthinkable and firing Bob Lenarduzzi in the off season.  The new Whitecaps played half  the 2002 season under A-league administration, with Lenarduzzi wisely brought back by the league to administer the team.  After that season, the team was still ownerless and looked to die again.

Then, as every football fan dreams, a very wealthy knight came riding in on a white horse and bought the club: it turned out to be international man of mystery, Greg Kerfoot.  A local boy who made good in the software business, Kerfoot, who admitted to not knowing that much about soccer, saved our team from the fire.

Kerfoot and Lenarduzzi strove into the new era with a tremendous optimism and work ethic. They set set high goals for the club, and a new era of professionalism was brought about to a club which was semi-pro at best. The team flourished and won two championships in 2006 and 2008.  Still, while the team held a higher profile than it had before, we still toiled in second division football. The dream was to move to Major League Soccer (MLS), the top league Vancouver could aspire to play in.

The enormous success of new MLS franchises in Toronto and Seattle proved both Canada and the Pacific Northwest were richly fertile footy ground.  Vancouver, with its great football history and roots, and with an excellent committed ownership group, was a shoe-in to get a MLS franchise.  Owner Kerfoot was joined by Jeff Mallet, Steve Luczo, and Steve Nash in the effort to champion Vancouver’s MLS bid.

Things looked rocky as world markets crashed in 2008, and it looked for a while like the refurbishment and new roof of BC Place, key conditions for getting a MLS franchise, were in danger.   The Whitecaps ownership group soldiered on undaunted.

In March 2009 it was made official; the Vancouver Whitecaps were awarded a MLS franchise. For the first time since 1984, Vancouver is to have a football team in the best football league it can be in.   Rather than labouring away in Burnaby at aging Swangard Stadium in front of 4500 fans, shiny new BC Place beckons with 22,000 fans promised, if not more.

A season at Empire Field while BC Place is refurbished will bring the team full circle, to the delight of nostalgia buffs like myself. Those of us who have stuck with the team and had faith in it all of these years since the dark days of 1984 are about to receive our reward.

When the whole history is considered, it really is incredible.  We have seen the best days possible, with a major sports championship in 1979.  We saw the worst in 1984, when the team became nothing but a memory and a heartache. The idea of the Whitecaps was a treasure in the minds of people like myself, who had a dream that one day the Whitecaps would be in a major league again.

That day is now upon us.  The Vancouver Whitecaps we have hoped for all these years are back!

Come on you Whitecaps!


1 Comment »

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  1. Go on then. Buy a jersey.

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