Great Scot!!! The Vancouver Whitecaps and the Scottish influence

July 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps Season 2012 | 5 Comments

With the Vancouver Whitecaps hiring Scots Martin Rennie and Paul Ritchie to coach the team, and having acquired Scotland internationals and former Celtic men Barry Robson and Kenny Miller as designated players, the Whitecaps are taking on a distinctive Scottish flavour.  I can’t help but look back on the influence of Scottish players on the Whitecaps over the years.

One of the most beloved Vancouver Whitecaps players in the  history of the team was Willie Johnston, who played for the 1979 NASL Soccer Bowl winning team.  Willie worked his way to legendary status as much for his antics as for his play.  Willie cooled his heels here in Vancouver as the result of a ban he received for failing a drugs test (a truly innocent mistake, by all accounts), in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, when he was selected to play for Scotland.  For his short time here, he pulled down his shorts and mooned the Seattle Sounders bench, swigged beer handed to him by fans during the match, and got into a massive scrap with a New York Cosmos player.  He also scored some very important goals for the club. Willie was your classic 1970’s football character, playing the game for fun and doing outrageous things that modern football players could never dream of doing. The only guy to approach him in character in the history of the club was Eric Hassli. Here is a great article from the Guardian about “Wee Willie”:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2008/dec/23/rangers-celtic

Leeds united and Scotland star David Harvey played for the Whitecaps in 1980, brought in to replace Phil “Lofty” Parkes, who had moved on to the Chicago Sting.  Harvey broke his neck in a car crash (James Lawton wrote a newspaper column in which alcohol was blamed), and back up keeper Bruce Grobbelaar famously took over for him.   When Harvey came back from his injury the following season he was overweight, with a large beer belly showing prominently from where I was sitting way up high at Empire Stadium. He only played 19 or so matches for the first team before going back to Leeds United. While he did not have a distinguished career here in Vancouver, it was still great having such a footballing giant in our squad.

Harvey played for Scotland during the 1974 World Cup. He could have played for England or Scotland but chose his father’s native country because he had a better chance of playing for Scotland.

I got the chance to meet David Harvey when I backed him up during a Whitecaps Reserves Pacific Coast game down in Washington State. That game sticks in my mind because our coach that day was none other than Nobby Stiles, who played for Manchester United when they beat Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final; he also played for England in the 1966 World Cup final. After the match in Washington state Harvey told me and some other youngsters about a wild NASL road trip during which he and fellow former Leeds Man Ray Hankin went on a bender because they knew they were not going to play. He had more of a Yorkshire accent than a Scots accent because of all of the time he spent playing for Leeds United from a young age. When we passed through the Canadian border, he pulled out a large bottle of scotch, and said “fucking hell lads, that were close!” in a broad Yorkshire accent before taking a huge swig from the bottle.

I also played against Harvey once in 1982 at the Norwegian Seaman’s Centre when I was in the BC under 18 squad, and Harvey was playing for the Whitecaps reserves team. They beat us 2-0. What a privilege to play against a football great like him. Come to think of it, Harvey was the best and most accomplished footballer I ever played against.

Peter Lorimer, or “Thunderfoot” as he was known because of his booming shot, also played for the Vancouver Whitecaps, Leeds United and Scotland in the 1974 World Cup. He played for the Whitecaps in 1981-83 and scored a lot of goals: 23 in 87 games. Lorimer played wonderful football for the Whitecaps even if he was a bit tubby at the time, like Harvey was. Back in those days footballers did not have the strict dietary regimes they have today. In those days it was pints of bitter with bangers and mash; steak and chips with pints of lager was added occasionally for variety.

Will today’s Scottish contingent add their names to the legendary deeds of Scottish players who have played for the Whitecaps in the past? Barry Robson played a blinder on his home debut against the Galaxy. Though he started slowly, (probably because he was trying to get used to our plastic pitch), he scored a goal early and narrowly missed three more chances in the second half. With his fiery red hair and crazy facial expressions, he could well become a Whitecaps legend. As for striker Kenny Miller, we have not seen him yet, but hope lives in our hearts.

Lets hope today’s Scottish contingent at the Whitecaps will realize there is a tremendous history of football in Vancouver, much of which came from their home nation. I hope the Whitecaps will give them all a recording of the 1979 NASL Semi-finals and the 1979 Soccer Bowl final itself so they can see what we can achieve here in Vancouver.

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5 Comments »

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  1. haha i remember when willie had that drink of beer ,he went to take a corner and a fan handed it to him,took a big swig and then took the corner,also brings up memories of.John McKeachie ,bctv sportscasters funny/ bad commentary bout the famous willie johnston knee pass.

    • I remember CTV used to go away for commercials during the game. One game the Whitecaps scored twice while thet were away on commercials… John mckeachie was a Vancouver sports legend! Loved him….

      • Could be wrong, but I think that was against Seattle.

      • Definitely San Jose’s Spartan Stadium.

  2. I meant the 2 goals while on commercial break, Willie’s corner was definitely in SJ


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