Chapter 2: The 86ers Years

Leading up to the club's official unveiling of their new brand on June 8, Brandon Timko takes a closer look at the different logos and teams since the Whitecaps inaugural season in 1974. Below is the second chapter of a four-part series. By Brandon Timko/whitecapsfc.com Part two of Vancouver’s soccer history takes us to 1986. This was an important year for the city, and an important year for soccer in Canada. This was the year that Vancouver hosted Expo, giving the city worldwide acclaim. This was also the year that the Canadian men’s national team finally made it to the big stage, as they ventured to Mexico for their first-ever FIFA World Cup, despite not having a single professional club in the country at the time. The success of the men's national team in qualifying for the World Cup created a great deal of excitement across Canada, and spurred the subsequent development of a new domestic league in the Canadian Soccer League (CSL). On July 26, 1986, the West Coast Soccer Society was granted a CSL franchise, and after a brief two-year absence, Vancouver was back on the soccer map.
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Like the Whitecaps before them, the team needed an identity, one that was both fitting of its origins and emblematic of the great city in which it represented. Former Soccer Bowl winning Whitecaps head coach Tony Waiters was among the group that started the new team. "We were initially going to call the team Vancouver United, but we felt that it was too British," recalls Waiters. They eventually settled on a name that held a great deal of meaning - Vancouver 86ers. The group realized the impact that Expo ‘86 had on the city and the importance of Canada’s World Cup qualification that same year. They were also aware of the year the city was founded (1886), and the year the club was launched (1986). However, one of the main reasons the name 86ers was chosen derived from the humble beginnings of the organization, who were driven by the love of the game. "There were 86 of us, who initially invested our money to start up the club because we wanted to get professional soccer back in Vancouver," explains Waiters. "We didn’t spend millions of dollars to get it going." Waiters and company did not look far for inspiration in developing the original club logo. They modelled the 86ers shield after Vancouver's coat of arms, which had been adopted in 1969. They used the same basic design, but with several changes and less detail. Rather than having a logger and a fisherman on either side of the crest, they had an '8' and a '6', and in place of the city’s motto 'By Sea Land and Air We Prosper', they simply had 'Vancouver' with a soccer ball underneath. They decided to use red, yellow, blue and white for the logo since those were the colours of British Columbia's provincial flag. In terms of the uniforms, the main colours were yellow and blue. Although the team took on the name 'Vancouver', they played out of Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, BC. "We decided to use the Vancouver affiliation because it had more name recognition, rather than say BC, or Burnaby," Waiters told whitecapsfc.com. That’s not to say that the 86ers did not represent Vancouver, as well as the entire province, while playing out of Swangard. Surrounded by lush, towering trees, Swangard represents a microcosm of what BC has to offer as a province. On June 7, 1987, the 86ers took to the pitch for the first time, thrilling a home crowd of 7,646 with a 4-2 victory over Edmonton Brickmen. The team ended the regular season in second place in the CSL's Western Division before having their season ended by the inaugural league champions Calgary Kickers in the playoff semifinals.   The playoff loss in their first year turned out to be an aberration, as the 86ers became, arguably, the greatest dynasty in Canadian club soccer history in the years that followed. Under new owner Milan Ilich, the team finished first in the Western Division and went on to win the 1988 CSL Mita Cup, beating Hamilton Steelers in the final at Swangard. The match on September 25, 1988, was also an important club landmark, as Bob Lenarduzzi formally hung up his boots as a player and became full-time head coach. The long-time face of soccer in Vancouver ended his playing days in fine fashion, leading his side to a 4-1 victory over Hamilton in front of a Swangard crowd of 6,443. Lenarduzzi’s squad then met the Steelers again in the 1989 Mita Cup final, as they delighted a huge Swangard crowd of 7,942 with a 3-2 victory to win their second straight CSL title. The 86ers then went on a historic run, setting a North American professional sports record by playing 46 consecutive matches without defeat (37 wins and nine draws) between June 5, 1988, and August 8, 1989. This unprecedented streak led to the induction of the 1989 squad into the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in 2004. In 1990, the club continued their torrid pace and earned North American honours. As CSL champions, the club earned the right to take on the American Professional Soccer League (APSL) champions Maryland Bays for the 'Pepsi Cup' North American Club Championship. The match was played at Swangard on September 26, 1990, with the 86ers winning the title after a 3-2 extra-time victory. The late Domenic Mobilio, the club’s all-time leading goalscorer, scored the match winner in the 117th minute. Two weeks later, the 86ers played Hamilton in the Mita Cup for the third straight season, again beating their eastern foes at Swangard with a lopsided 6-1 scoreline in front of 6,348 ecstatic fans. Vancouver then won their fourth straight Mita Cup on October 6, 1991, defeating Toronto Blizzard 5-3 at Swangard. The CSL's last season of existence came in 1992, and unfortunately for 86ers fans, a fifth-straight title would elude their side. Despite finishing top of the regular season standings, Winnipeg Fury upset Vancouver in the two-game final series to win the final CSL championship before the league folded later that year. Continental supremacy also eluded Vancouver, as the 86ers came up short in the first round of the 1992 'Professional Cup' North American Club Championship. Facing APSL champions Colorado Foxes over two legs, Vancouver suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat in the first leg in Colorado on August 3, 1992, before the Foxes advanced to the final, as a 2-1 second-leg win at Swangard on August 11, 1992, secured a 5-3 aggregate victory for Colorado. With the CSL ceasing operations, the 86ers joined the APSL for the 1993 season. Fellow CSL club Toronto Blizzard and the newly-formed Montreal Impact also joined the league that same year. The dawn of a new era also meant a new image for Vancouver’s professional soccer club. The 86ers changed their colours to black and red and implemented a new logo. "Our old logo, based on a traditional coat of arms, served the club well for six seasons," said former 86ers head coach and general manager Bob Lenarduzzi. "But, we've felt for some time the club needed a cleaner, less cluttered logo. Our first season in the APSL provided us with an ideal opportunity to go with a new look." The new logo featured a soccer ball exploding into the back of a net, sitting between the words 'Eighty' and 'Sixers', with 'Vancouver' displayed above. Henry Vilimek designed the logo and wanted it to have a more energetic image. "The ball ripping through the net represents the culminating moment in a soccer game, the scoring of a goal. The ball, carrying strands of the net away from the goal, projects the intimidating force of the shot, while also creating motion lines to add impact to the design," explains Vilimek. "The ball's upward movement, centred within the team's name and going against the reading direction, results in a dynamic combination representing an aggressive and confident team." The 86ers finished their inaugural APSL season top of the table, but were upset in the playoff semifinals,as Los Angeles Salsa won 3-2 in a shootout at Swangard. This proved to be the final match for Lenarduzzi as 86ers head coach, as he turned his sole focus to his other role as head coach of the Canadian national team after being appointed to that role in the spring of 1992. Former Whitecaps, 86ers, and Canadian international Carl Valentine succeeded Lenarduzzi as head coach in 1994 and reached the playoffs in 1995, where they lost to rivals Seattle Sounders in the semifinals. The 86ers saw more changes in 1997. BC Lions owner David Braley took over ownership of the club from Milan Ilich, and the APSL was expanded from seven to 24 clubs and re-named the A-League. The fall of 1997 also saw the return of Lenarduzzi to the club as general manager after his spell as Canadian national team head coach had come to an end. Valentine’s time as coach came to an end after the 1999 season, with former Whitecaps, 86ers, and Canadian national team striker Dale Mitchell named as the club's third head coach. With Mitchell in charge, the 86ers reached the Western Conference playoff semifinals before falling 4-3 on aggregate to Minnesota Thunder. In the aftermath of a new millennium, the 86ers era came to a close.