A stadium is born

Carl Valentine looks at the past and future of BC Place

On September 8, 1979, the seed was planted for Vancouver to build a new stadium. The facility was eventually going to be needed once planning started for Expo ’86, but the first whispers began not in an office or at city hall, but thousands of miles away in East Rutherford, New Jersey, as our Vancouver Whitecaps were crowned Soccer Bowl champions.

The next day – 32 years ago to this very day – we returned home to a magnificent parade that proved without a shadow of a doubt that Vancouver had a huge passion for sport – and more specifically, for soccer. The next seven days were filled with one celebration after another, and it was at that time when I remember hearing the initial rumblings of Vancouver building a new stadium downtown.

Four years later, BC Place was built.

On June 20, 1983, the Vancouver Whitecaps played in the inaugural sporting event at the new venue, beating the rival Seattle Sounders 2-1 on a pair of goals by Peter Beardsley. I was fortunate enough to have played in that game and – with a raucous sell-out crowd of 60,000 in attendance – it was a major highlight in my career. It was amazing walking out into what was the largest air-supported domed stadium in the world. The crowd noise – as you could imagine – was deafening, but it was hard to feel nervous or scared as the excitement of the occasion just took hold of you.

With BC Place playing host to the 1983 Soccer Bowl that year, it was going to be a fairy tale season for our team. We went on to beat the New York Cosmos 2-0 in front of 50,000 plus fans later that season, with David Cross getting both goals, and were firmly committed to playing that championship game in front of our home crowd at our new home. As we know, this did not end up happening, as we were defeated by the Toronto Blizzard in the first round of the playoffs and the Tulsa Roughnecks went on to win the Soccer Bowl at BC Place.

I got to play one more season at BC place before the North American Soccer League (NASL) folded, and my last goal scored there was on July 15, 1984 against the Toronto Blizzard. I also got to play against one of the top teams in Europe when we hosted Portuguese powerhouse Benfica. My playing experience at BC Place was short but sweet.

Now, I can look forward to the Whitecaps return to BC Place to play on Bell Pitch downtown, and I have the same feelings of anticipation as I had in 1983. The build-up to BC Place was huge (no pun intended). It was a state-of-the art stadium then – just as it will be now – and it was being built downtown. 28 years later, there is again a real buzz in the air. Like a lot of fans, there will be some things I’ll miss about Empire Field, but you simply can’t beat going to a major sporting event downtown. With a retractable roof headlining the many upgrades, we have a lot to look forward to about the new stadium. However, the thing that excites me the most is getting our knowledgeable Whitecaps fans into this soccer-specific environment. It’s going to be a marriage made in heaven.

The one constant for me this MLS season has been the fans and the atmosphere created at all our games, and I know it is going to be elevated to another level as the team plays on Bell Pitch downtown. With a seating capacity of around 22,000, and with some of the seats extending down onto the floor, it is going to make for one intimate soccer environment that our fans will thrive on. The whole experience of being downtown – with many transportation options – and making a day of it with family and friends is going to appeal to a great number of sports fans in this city.

I missed out on wining a Soccer Bowl championship in front of the home fans at BC Place in 1983, but the thought of beating our Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers on October 2nd in our first game on Bell Pitch downtown and winning the Cascadia Cup sounds like a thrilling combination to me.