Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Journey of a 1000 miles......

1975. The London Boxing Club wins the Canadian National Amateur Men's Soccer Championship, taking home the prestigous Jubilee Trophy from the tournament in Winnipeg. This would serve as one of my earliest soccer memories, I was in fact too young to be there, however, my father was a goalkeeper for the team and there has been a photo hanging in our TV room for years that made a lasting impression. Before the London Boxing Club won the national amatuer championship in 1975, there was a group of miner's from Cumberland, BC who won the trophy in the early 1900's. In fact, the next time you are in the Village of Cumberland drop by the Waverly Hotel for a game of pool, there is a black and white photo of this team. Back to the photo hanging in our TV room, which for years served as a momento for my father, and a source of inspiration for myself.  The London Boxing Club experience formed a lot of my earliest experiences in the game, which to this day inspire my passion for the game.

The locker room. The smell of linament in the locker room at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria combined with Juicy Fruit Gum were deeply embedded into my childhood thanks to the London Boxing Club. To this day I can still recall the feeling of walking into the changeroom pre-game, at half-time and post-game to the smell of heat rub and the abundance of Juicy Fruit. The mood or atmosphere was generally lively and full of fun. At least from my perspective, there was lots of teasing and of course, the weekly ritual of wearing my own replica of the team jersey.

The colors. The photo on the TV Room wall shows a team in burgendy long sleeved polyester jerseys and a goalkeeper with a long sleeved powder blue jersey smack dab in the middle of all that polyester and long hair. I had my own version of the long sleeved burgendy polyester team jersey, which, to this day might explain my love for polyester. It is a fairly common occurence around  the household to have my wife look at me and say "oh no, not polyester again!" What can I say, I love the feeling of a pair of polyester trackpants, a dry-fit t-shirt and matching top! I wore that London Boxing Club long sleeve jersey for years to come. To games, to training, to school, to the clubhouse. In fact, in my grade two school picture I am wearing a long sleeved gold polyester jersey that came from the Lansdowne Evening Optimist, but we will save that story for another day.

The clubhouse. The weekly ritual after the game was to go back to the old brick building which housed Nelson's Music for many years in the late '90's and is now a trendy condo complex in downtown Victoria. The afternoons were spent tearing around the building, watching the boxers train in one area, hanging out with my parents in another area and preparing for the McDonald's order. The list was prepared and I was off, running down the road to the nearest McDonald's to load up on food for the hungry soccer players, and of course sneak in a burger or two with fries for myself. Oddly enough, years later when the club folded and became the Victoria Athletics the clubhouse they inherited was even closer to another McDonald's!

The talent. There are players like Bob Bolitho, Brain Robinson, Garnet Moen, Dean Stokes, Ted Reading, Ron Thompson, George Pakos, Ash Douglas, Kenny Ross, Steve Carroll, Howie Anderson, Danny Lomas and Frank Woods who would all become a larger part of my life in many different ways. Through the years these figures became friends, mentors, coaches and heroes. Bob Bolitho went on to play for Canada and was a professional in the NASL. He would also be the general manager for the Victoria Vistas when I played in the early '90's. He would also be a player I observed for years, even in over '30's that could strike a ball with relative ease, great technique, confidence, powerf and control. Brian Robinson also went on the play for Canada. Garnet Moen played in the NASL and visited us at our home in the '70's to share some of his stories. Dean Stokes always had a laugh and a smile. Ted Reading lived with us for years in Fernwood when I was growing up. Ron Thompson could always be found close to the game willingly sharing his passion and genuine love for the game. George Pakos, or the water-meter reader who played for Canada and scored a remarkably import goal to qualify Canada for the 1986 World Cup in Mexcio. If I am not mistaken he played Division 1 in the VISL in his 20's, 30'', 40's and maybe even his 5-0's. To this day you can still see George officiating games. Frank Woods. We had the priviledge of playing together with the Victoria Vistas in the early '90's and even though he had played with my dad in the '70's he was quite a player. Perhaps the only player to play both with my father and myself in the same career. To this day, I know Frank is coaching youth soccer and having a great time. Lucky kids, they have a coach who shares a tremendous amount of passion for the game, loves life and laughs alot!

The team parties were such a big part of growing up. It was all about being together. I loved that and learned a lot about belonging.

The comradery carries on to this day. Look around at the impact these people have made on the game of soccer in their respective community. Coaches. Managers. Volunteers. Politicians. Fans. Motivators. Fundraisers. We are surrounded by a wealth of knowledge, experience and success on Vancouver Island. Pioneers? Perhaps, but there folks have stories about who inspired them to play dating back to the '6o's and the '50's. Team names like the Victoria Royals- well before my time.
The commitment. To one another, To the team. To the club. To the community. There was no other club growing up for me. Who was I going to play for when I was old enough? There was only one answer, until the club folded and became the Victoria Athletics in the '80's. Oddly enough, the Victoria Athletics replaced the London Boxing Club and became our main nemisis when I started playing for the Gorge Molson's in the VISL. In fact, I recall a match at Blanshard Street Park against the A's around the age of 15 or 16 years, it was a nerve racking experience playing against men of all ages. There was a ball played through the backline along the ground which is slid out to gather in my hands. As I started to slide I notice a player from their team lunge forward at the same time to slide into the ball and tackle me as I was coming forward along the ground sideways. I managed to collect and keep the ball, however, there was a gash up the inside of my leg from the cleats this player was wearing-ouch! That one hurt and stayed with me for a long time- when you go to the ground as a goalkeeper you are vulnerable and must find ways to protect yourself. It was at this very park, in fact at the same end of the field and goal that I was protecting that I remember getting beaned by a ball during a shooting practice with the London Boxing Club. I loved to watch my dad play goal. I loved to watch others play goal. I loved to play goal. However, this one day I was standing far to close to the goal and got smacked during a shooting practice that knocked me over and brought instant tears!

The stories. There was a goal scored on the London Boxing Club during the 1975 tournament from a kick-off on a very windy day. I never attended the game, or saw the match but I heard the stories. I also have had some embarassing moments. One time we were playing a game on TSN against the North York Rockets when Cosimo Comisso cracked a shot from 20+ meters that dipped and dropped and fumbled into the goal between my legs. It was heart-breaking and on National TV. There are others, like the time I let a ball accidentally roll under my foot in my first indoor game with the Tacoma Stars and into the goal from a much greater distance than 20 meters. The game has taught us all many things, how to deal with setbacks and recover is essential to success in life, both on and off the field.

Coaching Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. During a youth national team camp I was involved with as a goalkeeper we were playing an exhibition game at Naden. I recall observing a moment that was nerve racking for a close friend from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who was scored on from the kick-off. Our immediate reaction on the sidelines was that the coaches were going to let him have it. When in fact, the coaches used this moment as a very powerful learning moment for all of us- be sure when you step on the field to train and/or play you are ready and concentrated. Through the years I would have dinner with my friend when we played in Winnipeg and we always had a chuckle at how scary this moment was for him!

The memories. The changeroom at Beacon Hill Park is not longer in use. The field at Blanshard Street is more commonly used for baseball. Juicy Fruit is no longer sold in sticks. The art of goalkeeping still moves me, however, the art of coaching, community and developing the game also play a large part in my involvement with the game. I could never imagine being able to recognize and thank each of the powerful influences along the way, however, it feels like it is time to start sharing some of these stories.

Stay tuned!

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