Following the success of the Canadian women’s national soccer team, Canada’s men’s national team returns to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years. The Campbell River Mirror, is taking this opportunity to look at the state of the game in this community and garnering opinions on the impact of the country’s return to the world’s biggest sporting event.
Growing up in a family of eight, John Jepson never had to look far to find someone who wanted to kick the football around, growing up in Whytenshawe, in the city of Manchester.
“Tough times, but fun times,” says the retired high school teacher and noted local soccer coach. “Wonderful times. Football and family. In school, socializing, football was the forefront of everything.”
At the time, just like it is now, the city’s soccer rivalry was unparalleled. In Jepson’s family, some followed Manchester City, others Manchester United. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, City experienced its greatest successes historically, winning the FA Cup and Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970, in what in soccer is known as a double.
“That was a grand time,” Jepson says, adding, “It then led to some 40 years of misery after” with a laugh.
As time passed, Jepson developed as a player. His career reaching as high as captaining the team at Liverpool Higher Institute of Higher Education (now known as Liverpool Hope University) and a stint in the Northwest Counties Football League. Jepson earned a Master’s Degree in Education in the mid 1980s.
He then came halfway around the world. Yearning for the opportunities he felt he could gain, he took the advice of a brother who moved to Alberta and settled in Canada in 1991, ending up in Campbell River.
“I quit my job. I wrote letters to various school districts. (Former mayor) Lynn Nash was an administrator (of SD72). He said he could offer me a chance to come here, but he couldn’t offer me a job.”
Jepson said the first impression of British Columbia was indeed a culture shock.
“I remember going to a Barn Dance. It was strange, as I had never heard country music before. There was also no curry house in Campbell River.”
On his first days at Carihi Secondary, he said the opportunity to coach was offered to him, based clearly on where he came from.
“I walked into the staff room and opened my mouth. I had an accent. The head of PE asked me if I wanted to coach. I said ‘sure’”
Initally coaching the Senior Boys team, he coached both the girls and boys levels, reaching a combined eight AA Island Championships during his tenure, retiring from his job in 2019.
He still does coach with the Senior Girls at Carihi Secondary.
“What you want to endear is a love and passion. You want to develop techincal expertise and tactical knowledge. But what’s equally important is establishing values,” Jepson says. “Sport is the microcosm of life. Using my knowledge of the game is a tool to teach.”
He feels the impact of Canada qualifying for the World Cup will have a ripple effect for the sport for the athletes he mentors.
“They are one of the underdogs in this tournament. They are a great counterattacking team. (Herdman) has built a great team,” Jepson says of the men’s national team success. “The impact, if you look at how the women’s team has grown in the last decade. Christine Sinclair has made young girls want to be Christine Sinclair. The men’s team will have that kind of impact. Hopefully, it will have that lasting mark, and more children will want to reach the highest level.”
Canada opens the World Cup against Belgium today.