When the original Vancouver Whitecaps and North American Soccer League folded in the autumn of 1984, it was a very sad time to be a fan. I remember Will Millar of the Irish Rovers telling one reporter, who was having trouble grasping the gravity of the situation, that the whole city was in mourning. That was probably an overstatement, but it was certainly how we fans felt.
Even after the NASL team folded, the Whitecaps Supporters Club carried on. The Christmas 1984 newsletter didn't have much content, as there really wasn't too much to say. Yet, at the back, it had one of those word search puzzles, the kind where you search for words in a grid, and the remaining letters spell out a secret message. The secret message in this one was, ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS MY WHITECAPS BACK. That simple plaintive wish really struck a chord with me, and I never forgot it. For the next two-and-a-half decades, a Christmas didn't go by that I didn't think of it.
The Whitecaps didn't completely disappear in 1984. The Supporters Club helped sponsor the Whitecaps Reserves, allowing them to continue to play and develop young local talent in the Pacific Coast Soccer League. They urged fans to come out and cheer the team on, but I never did. After all the big-game excitement of the NASL with tens of thousands of us chanting "WHITE-CAPS" at the top of our lungs, the PCSL seemed like a huge step down. I wish I had though, as I really enjoy PCSL games now.
With big league soccer nowhere on the horizon, I soon began to embrace the low division leagues. In 1985 and 1986, it was the short-lived semi-pro Pacific Rim Soccer League. In 1987 came the 86ers and the Canadian Soccer League, and then the various other North American leagues that followed, as second-division soccer grew and evolved.
In 2001, when the club reclaimed the name Whitecaps, I thought of that old Christmas wish and wondered if I finally had my Whitecaps back. "Not really," I decided. Don't get me wrong, I've loved the team and going to games at Swangard these past ten years, but it still hasn't been the same scale and intensity as the old NASL days. It came close when we faced David Beckham and the LA Galaxy at BC Place, but a one-off friendly isn't the same as a competitive match against a bitter rival. All that is about to change though.
On March 19, 2011, the new Whitecaps FC will step out onto Empire field to face Toronto FC in our MLS season opener, and I will be shocked if the atmosphere is anything less than electric. It's taken 26 years for that Christmas wish to come true in full force, but yes, for this Christmas, I can proudly say that the Whitecaps are back!