Thursday, February 26, 2009

Week 3 - Vancouver Whitecaps

If you're looking for a successful sporting city in North America, you don't need to look much further than Vancouver.

The city has professional teams in ice hockey, Canadian football, baseball, soccer (men's & women's) and basketball, there is plenty to choose from.

With over 3,000 acres of parks and a wealth of rivers, mountains and lakes, it is no surprise that Vancouver's obesity rate is more than 10% lower than the Canadian national average. And with such an emphasis on outdoor sport, it is also little wonder that Vancouver was chosen to host the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympic & Paralympic Games.

It's a very impressive city visually, and one where you feel remarkably close to nature, even in the downtown area.

If it has a down side, it is the sheer number of homeless people on the city's streets. Having watched the Homeless World Cup in Melbourne towards the end of last year, I would say Canada could quite easily get a team together from this lot! Actually, on Granville Street I encountered a homeless man who wouldn't let me pass when I turned down his request for a quarter – perhaps a goalkeeper in the making!

But sport, and in particular soccer, is in pretty good shape in Vancouver . The men's and women's teams made history in 2006, both winning their respective league championships. And last year the men's team, the Whitecaps, lifted the USL-1 trophy once again.

It seems to be a fairly safe bet that the Whitecaps will get the MLS franchise for 2011. And if you ask Bill Currie, the founder of 'Friends of Soccer' ( he is “95% certain” they will be playing in the MLS in two years time.

Friends of Soccer has been going since 2005, with the primary target of helping the Whitecaps secure a 15,000 all-seater, soccer specific stadium in Vancouver's downtown waterfront. As yet, the process has not been given the green light, despite Bill's best efforts.

“The Whitecaps own the land, and were willing to build the stadium without using one cent of taxpayers money” Bill told me. “But the council has not given it the go-ahead yet”.

Bill remains confident though, and hopes that if the Whitecaps do obtain the MLS franchise for 2011, the cause would gain even more support.

Another of Bill's projects, a documentary on the history of soccer in British Columbia, will be released on DVD this autumn. Part of the documentary will focus on the start of the NASL in 1968, when the Vancouver Royals team secured Bobby Robson as manager, only to lose him before the season even started when the Royals merged with the California Golden Gate Gails – who were managed by Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas!

Bill is hoping his documentary will appeal to a soccer hungry Vancouver public. “There is a soccer culture out there in Vancouver”, he maintains. “You just have to seek it out to find it”.

As for the other fans, the Whitecaps' main supporters group are the Southsiders. They are fairly notorious for creating an atmosphere at the Whitecaps' Swanguard stadium, and sit behind the goal in the south stand. The Southsiders are renwoned for their harrassment of visiting goalkeppers, and they do their homework....

According to one of the Southsider's more recent additions, Michael McColl, the Southsiders chanted the name of the opposition 'keeper's girlfriend for almost the entire match once, much to his embarrassment.

Michael is Scottish, so I thought it only polite to meet him in a pub (in the morning), and watch the Real Madrid-Liverpool Champions League tie.

He is an East Fife fan, and very active in the East Fife community. Although he lives in Vancouver, he still runs East Fife fanzine 'Away From The Numbers' ( He is keen to get just as involved with the Whitecaps, having moved here just short of two years ago. But how does supporting the Whitecaps compare with East Fife?

“The (Swanguard) stadium is set in the middle of a park and the build up to matchdays is all beer, barbeques and, a lot of the time, sun”, Michael says. “We can relate to a third of that!”

It may not be conducive to keeping the obesity rate down, but it does sound fun!

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