Whitecaps' stunning victory united the city 29 years ago in joy and pride
Newspaper reports of the day put more than 100,000 people -- a quarter of the city's population at the time -- on hand to witness the Vancouver Whitecaps homecoming following their dramatic 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies in Soccer Bowl Five at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
As many as 1,500 flag-waving supporters of the North American Soccer League team crowded the arrivals area at the airport to welcome their conquering heroes. Tens of thousands more lined the convey route along McConachie Way and down Granville to the parade start at Davie. The scene along the motorcade route was described as jubilant chaos. The reception downtown a downright mob.
The official part of the parade route from Granville and Nelson to the courthouse took nearly an hour to navigate as masses of fans overflowed onto the streets hampering progress and making it impassable for cars.
Fans flooded the downtown core to praise their heroes and make boisterous and joyous under bright sunshine and warm temperatures. There were people in trees, on rooftops and at assorted levels in and on buildings under construction. All of them showering the monarchs of North American soccer with chunks of Styrofoam and insulation paneling along with confetti and shredded newspaper.
Current Whitecaps midfielder Jeff Clarke has no recollection of Sept. 9, 1979. A newborn at the time, it's no wonder. More telling, is the New Westminster native knows little more today of the Soccer Bowl celebration than he did then. Like newsprint, memories fade with time.
"It's weird, I can't even say I've ever spoke to someone who was there, -- I've overheard conversations, but I don't even know where it was, I don't know anything," said Clarke, enjoying an off-day from training in advance of Sunday's United Soccer Leagues First Division championship game against the Puerto Rico Islanders at Swangard Stadium.
"I've seen the game on DVD, but I don't know how many people were at the parade, where it was, or how it was really conducted to be honest with you."
It's a moment Bob Lenarduzzi will never forget. The Whitecaps president was a member of the '79 championship team and says he gets "instant goose bumps" just thinking about what he and his teammates witnessed upon their arrival.
Sure, he concedes, the memories are lost on many, but the Vancouver native and former Canadian international isn't resigned to thinking it couldn't happen again. And he could be right.
A victory on Sunday would be the next step towards recapturing the hearts and minds of soccer fans across the province and bode well for keeping the Whitecaps and the game at the forefront of sports popularity in B.C. The USL-1 championship game comes three days before Vancouver submits its official proposal for a Major League Soccer franchise.
"Back then I called the Whitecaps lightning in a bottle. It came out of nowhere, captured the imagination of a city and just as quickly it was gone," says Lenarduzzi, referring to the folding of the Whitecaps in the mid-'80s.
"It's a pivotal time in our club history, but for different reasons. Back then it was instant gratification, this time around we're building from the ground up. I actually think it's a little bit of fate that we're playing in the final on Sunday in Vancouver and the MLS bid has to be in on Oct. 15."
Sunday's match is the first-ever championship match involving two non-American clubs in USL-1 history. The regular season champions Islanders defeated the fourth-seeded Rochester Rhinos 3-2 on aggregate in their playoff semifinal series.
Despite being the league's best team, Puerto Rico will be the visitors on Sunday as a result of a controversial move by the league office. USL-1 officials cited the decision was based on Vancouver's superior hosting proposal, something all semifinalists were required to submit.
Whitecaps' Teitur Thodarson says the excitement and anticipation around the team has been palpable all week, with management, coaches and players focused on ending the season in grand style. The Soccer Gods have done their part. Now it's up to the 11 men on the field.
"This is something that you always hope would happen," said the first year head coach. "These are also moments in your life that you will always remember. There are so many players in professional soccer that never get the chance to play for a championship in an entire career, so our players will hopefully make the most of this weekend."
Sunday's game -- the first professional championship soccer match to be held at Swangard since the 1992 Canadian Soccer League season when the team was known as the 86ers lost to the Winnipeg Fury -- should be the Whitecaps seventh sellout of the season with more than 6,000 boisterous fans expected in the stands and in and around the park grounds.
Not quite the more than 100,000 of 30 years ago, but a good sign of things to come.
History demonstrates how wound up the city gets over a winner.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008