Who would have thought that a young lad growing up in Manchester with his mum, dad and four sisters would enter the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Ring of Honour?
How it began
Thinking back to 1979, when I was playing professional football for Oldham Athletic FC in the old English second division and my biggest concern was keeping my first-team place.
Then I got a call into the manager’s office. He said they had accepted a bid of 100,000 pounds from the Vancouver Whitecaps and it was up to me to negotiate my personal terms and decide if I wanted to go.
I was still living at home. I didn’t even know where Vancouver was, but Tony Waiters – the head coach at the time – convinced me it was a good move. He said the league was growing and it would help me further my career. Then I could move back to England in a few years to realize my dream of playing in the English first division.
Becoming a Canadian
I arrived in Vancouver on a Sunday in February … and it was raining. We drove to a hotel on Davie Street and I was wondering what kind of city I had moved to.
The next day, we drove to Empire Stadium on a beautiful Monday morning and I was in seventh heaven. Empire was nothing to look at and the turf felt like it was painted on concrete but the atmosphere playing there was first-class and it offered the most picturesque view anyone could ask for.
I couldn’t have scripted a better first year playing for my new team in Vancouver. As a young 20-year-old, I established myself in the team that went on to win the NASL Soccer Bowl in 1979 and come home to a parade that lined the streets all the way to Robson Square.
I had a love affair with the city and our fans. In my second year, I won the most popular player award (my only award on display) and was named Vancouver’s most popular athlete in a poll conducted by the Vancouver Sun.
It didn’t take me long to realize that this was the place where I wanted to settle down and bring up a family. That’s a big reason why I applied and got my Canadian citizenship in 1984 – the same year the NASL folded. As a result, I went back to achieve my dream of playing in the English first division with West Bromwich.
Looking back, my path could have been very different. There were a few times that my Whitecaps career came close to ending early.
In 1980, we played an understrength Manchester City team and we beat them 5-0 with yours truly having a strong game. Several weeks later, our manager Tony Waiters told me they had made an offer for me and the club had turned it down.
My mother was over for a visit at the time. Put it this way: she had a few choice words for Tony. But they made up before she left. And yes, I’m a Manchester United fan.
A few years later, it looked like I was on my way to Everton for 250,000 pounds, but a late deal sent my old roommate Bruce Grobbelaar to Liverpool of all places for the same money.
When I think back on these instances, there’s no regret. You never how things would have turned out. I had, and continued to have, a great life in this beautiful city.
A new chapter in Vancouver
Playing with the Vancouver 86ers was another great chapter in my career. I played on a fantastic team and once again got to work with Bob Lenarduzzi, who I sat beside in my Whitecaps days. With the 86ers, Bobby was a player/coach.
With Bobby at the helm, we won four straight Canadian Soccer League championships and had many more glorious moments. And I was lucky enough to score the team’s first-ever goal.
Much like Empire, Swangard Stadium was a wonderful setting and the fans were just brilliant every game. I got a chance to coach the team after Bobby left and it never reached the heights of my playing days, but I have no regrets.
It was a wonderful time. I gave up playing at the age of 39 and had the great honour of having my number 21 jersey retired the same year.
After some years selling phones and cars (I wasn’t very good) and coaching on the North Shore and for TSS Academy, I was made aware that Vancouver Whitecaps FC were joining Major League Soccer.
I felt I would be a good fit for the club and approached them about job opportunities, but there were none available. After some meetings with Bobby’s brother, Dan, things started to evolve. Danny was actually the one who created my role as club ambassador, for which I will forever be grateful.
My first day in the front office was December 1, 2010. It seemed all eyes were on me thinking, “What are we going to do with this guy who has played soccer and coached all his life. That said, they were very supportive of me. I stumbled a few times as I adjusted to my new environment but the fit always felt right.
Growing the game
I’ve obviously skipped through my life in Vancouver and left out so many memorable moments, including playing for Canada in the 1986 FIFA World Cup. There are so many memorable moments that I cherish, but I’m so glad that I’m making even more of those moments now.
My role as club ambassador has evolved nicely and I’m back coaching in the Residency program with the U-16 boys. It’s great to be back on the field again and I know I can offer these young players my expertise on how to get to the next level.
In this duel-role, I’m involved with the club at all levels and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being out in the community, meeting all different kinds of great people, building fans for life, and ultimately helping to grow the game of soccer here in British Columbia and in Canada as a whole.
A true honour
When people talk about the old Whitecaps days, they talk about them in the “we” sense because they really felt part of the club. And from top to bottom, this club has that same vision now. That really excites me.
I’ve always felt a close relationship with our fans, especially the old ones and now some new ones that weren’t even born when I was playing. I’m so excited to be inducted into the Ring of Honour – in front of those fans that have and still do support me and of course in front of my family, who have been my rock throughout the years.
It’s been a fun ride with many more great moments to come and I feel very blessed to be me.