Vancouver Whitecaps Revival Evokes a Trip Down Memory Lane at Empire Fields

February 1, 2011

The return of elite-level professional soccer to the city of Vancouver will occur later this year, when the Whitecaps make their MLS debut this spring at the new Empire Fields.

The return of a Vancouver side to the top class of soccer in North America will likely conjure up fond memories of the glory days of the now revamped club, when the mid-to-late seventies edition competed at a championship level and endured spirited rivalries with their Northwest counterparts -- and soon to be MLS nemeses -- the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers.

The unquestionable apex of Vancouver’s run came when the Caps, as then coached by Tony Waiters, stole the hearts of Vancouver soccer fans by winning the NASL Soccer Bowl championship on September 8, 1979, in Tampa, beating the hometown Rowdies.

That title-winning team included the Caps current president Bobby Lenarduzzi, his brother Sam, Carl Valentine, “Wee” Willie Johnston, Phil “Lofty” Parkes, the indomitable Bruce Grobbelaar, Peter Beardsley, Peter Cross, “King” Kevin Hector, Ray Lewington, Bob McNab, Derek Possee, Roger Kenyon, World Cup Winner Alan Ball, and John Craven, of blessed memories.

The Whitecaps came home to a warm, welcoming crowd of 100,000-plus adoring fans at downtown Robson Square, with their Championship Cup in tow. Indeed, it was pure ecstasy for the soccer loving fans of British Columbia’s Lower mainland, and it contributed a great deal to Canada making its first and only trip to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

In fact, this same ‘Caps team could also boast of getting the best of the famed New York Cosmos team that was coached by the Brazilian professor Julio Mazzei, and that included the likes of the irrepressible Pele, Carlos Alberto, Frantz Beckenbauer, and Giorgio Chinaglia.

During this same time, the Los Angeles Aztecs also came to town with Mr. “Total Football” himself, Rinus Michels, prowling the sideline, as Johan Cruyff and one George Best, were pulling the strings in midfield.

The revival of the Cosmos and the entry of the Caps into Major League Soccer certainly will reestablish the once fierce rivalry between the two teams. But this is not the only rivalry that has been restored.

Indeed, with the Caps, Sounders, and the Portland Timbers now also back, the MLS has wisely geared itself to perhaps one of its most impassioned pockets of soccer fans on the Continent, thereby reviving once again the bitter Northwest derbies that existed in the late seventies.

Many fans between Vancouver and Seattle still have memories of trips back and forth between Empire Stadium and the old Kingdome in Seattle to see the Caps play the Sounders, and even of GTE Stadium in the Rose City to see the Caps take on the Timbers.

Although the local Vancouver soccer scene has been denied truly first-rate soccer for the past few years, the Caps entry into the MLS means that fans here will have the pleasure of seeing Thierry Henry of the New York Red Bulls, David Beckham of the LA Galaxy, and hopefully Robbie Savage and Nicolas Amelia of the EPL very soon.

This exciting development is made more interesting by the return to Empire Stadium, where it all started.

Watching Pele’s Santos play at Empire Stadium in the early seventies, along with the all star Cosmos, and Cruyff, George Best, and the Aztecs, is as close as one can get to soccer paradise, especially with the picturesque North Shore Mountains as a backdrop. As many have observed, the ambiance of a mid-summer night’s game at Empire can truly give a new meaning to the oft-used “Jogo Bonito.”

The return of first-class soccer has many residents of this West Coast gem excited that now future generations will get to head to Empire Fields to see the Whitecaps play, just as the previous generations before them.

It is a safe bet to say that most, if not all, of the 100,000 soccer fans that thronged Robson Square in September 1979 to celebrate the NASL championship will now proudly share with their grandsons and granddaughters the fever, memories, joy of victory, and agony of defeat.

This act will go a long way towards ensuring that the survival of the beautiful game in the Metro Vancouver area, and North America in general, is not merely a dream, but a reality with an enduring legacy for generations to come.

By Kwenu Turkson, Sr.
Contributing Writer for

No comments:

Post a Comment

We encourage all intelligent, passionate comments. Please refrain from any ignorant, racist, or offensive rants.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...