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.
Did you know that one of the continent’s oldest soccer leagues has roots in our city?
Since the mid- to late-19th century, British Columbia has long been a hotbed of football – or soccer as it is more commonly known in North America these days. In fact, the first provincial cup awarded to amateur teams from across this province occurred just a mere 20 years after the debut of England’s most prestigious club trophy, the FA Cup, back in 1888. In 1895, the Vancouver Island Soccer League (VISL) was born and, after interruptions during the World Wars, it has been playing consistently since the 1940’s onward.
“The first dominant teams, were the teams from the coal cities,” Campbell River Soccer Club (CRSC) head coach Stephen Hall says. “The game of soccer was brought over by many expatriates from England.”
Many of those ex-pats found employment in the mining communities which scattered across Vancouver Island – Nanaimo, Ladysmith, and Cumberland — and brought the game they had loved from their homeland. In doing so, the clubs they formed on Vancouver Island dominated the competition between provincial clubs from its inception until the mid 1930’s.
“This was a grand time,” Hall says. “There is a lot of rich history and color there.”
These days, Campbell River SC is in Division two of the VISL. The team, which was started in 2014, continues the history left by the generations before it.
“It’s a competitive league,” Hall says. “It’s a fierce competition. There’s a lot of young players vying for spots, and our guys work hard.”
In 2020, The Campbell River Youth Soccer Association (CRYHA) and the City of Campbell River remodelled Robron Park, home of CRSC. The new Campbell River Rotary Field House was completed by the Rotary Club complete with an office, washrooms and change rooms. With the success of the national teams, Hall says we should expect that trend of supporting soccer to continue.
“Obviously, with success of the community of soccer in this country, we’re going to see continuous growth,” Hall says. “We have gone from six representative teams to nine, in the space of COVID. Whether that’s a post pandemic boom, I don’t know but it certainly speaks to the national team’s success.”
The previous generation of female players featured stars like Kara Lang and Christine Sinclair. With the men’s national team, with stars like Atiba Hutchinson and Alphonso Davies anchoring it, Hall sees a pleasant future in the game in the province, especially in Campbell River. Unlike 1986, Canada’s first and only other World Cup appearance, where Canada fell in the group stages, Hall believes that just like the infrastructure that was put in place on Robron Park, the trend of growth will continue as Canada will co-host the next World Cup, alongside Mexico and the United States, in 2026.
“Well, we’re going to see progress. Last night, I had 20 players training in the cold and rain. Perhaps one day, there will be 40 players. Perhaps because of Canada’s success, we’ll see crowds at Robron Park, to come on a sunny Sunday afternoon and watch our games. And we’ve never seen someone who calls Campbell River home at a World Cup…but perhaps one day we will,” Hall says.
Canada has drawn Croatia, Belgium, and Morocco in Group H in the 2022 World Cup. Group play starts today for Canada as they face Belgium.