Usually, when I go home it’s for seven to nine days.
That gives me enough time to visit mom, dad, my four sisters, and all the children in the family. As you can imagine, there’s not time for much else.
This trip was going to be different.
This time, I planned to be back in Manchester for two weeks, which would allow me to visit some old friends, teammates, and watch a few games of footy. I had mentioned this to my good friend and colleague Nathan Vanstone, who suggested I document the trip and bring along some Whitecaps FC jerseys for my old ‘Caps teammates.
And what a great idea that was.
After spending a few days catching up with family, I had the pleasure of going to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United take on West Ham United. I’ve supported the Reds since I was a little boy and I was also fortunate enough to play there when I was a member of West Bromwich Albion, so it definitely holds some fond memories. I was also excited to go to the game with an old school friend Steve Sumner, who I had just re-connected with a few years ago.
The game itself was OK. It ended in a 1-1 draw, but should have been won by three or four goals. Still, I loved being back inside Old Trafford, where the atmosphere was just fantastic.
Next up were trips to Chester and Wolverhampton to meet some ‘Caps legends.
My first stop was to Chester, where I met up with a player who was a rock solid, no nonsense centre back on our 1979 Soccer Bowl winning team. Roger Kenyon was a true leader on the park and it had been 20 odd years since I was last in his company. It was great to catch up.
We enjoyed a few beverages and talked about old times. Roger said he missed Vancouver and that his time here was truly wonderful. We swapped many stories, but one in particular had us laughing and wondering how different life could have been.
In Roger’s offseason with the ‘Caps, he would often train with Everton – his old club. Gordon Lee was the manager at the time and Roger mentioned to him that there were two players he should look to acquire: myself and Bruce Grobbelaar. Roger was upset that he didn’t act on this.
What he didn’t know was that I got a call from Gordon Lee saying they were trying to buy me, but Vancouver sold my roommate Bruce to Liverpool for the same money they could have gotten from Everton. I had a brilliant time catching up with Roger, who is now retired but not forgotten.
The next day I was back on the train to Wolverhampton.
Initially, I met up with one of Phil Parkes’ sons, who asked me to surprise his old man. So I ended up walking into a pub where Phil was ordering some drinks.
I walked up to him and said: “Hey mate, any chance for a drink?”
He looked around, did a double take, and responded: “Hey how you doing Chalkie, can I still call you that?” We both laughed, sat down, and reminisced on the good old days. Phil was loved by the fans here and you’ll be pleased to know he’s in great health and misses the city and fans very much.
A few hours went by before we decided to surprise Bruce Grobbelaar, an old teammate of ours who was getting ready to tell some stories to a packed pub. You can imagine Bruce’s face when Phil walks in to surprise him and then I appear from behind him.
Suffice to say, it was an enjoyable night.
Upon returning to Manchester, I got together with my first professional coach Billy Urmston, who was instrumental in my early development at Oldham Athletic. It was the first time I had sat down to chat with him since I left the Latics and I had finally had the chance to thank him for helping me on my path to being a footballer.
If not for him, I wouldn’t have made it.
As my trip neared its end, I did take in a game at the Etihad to watch Manchester City vs. Celtic in Champions League play. It was tough sitting amongst those City fans, hoping they would lose, but keeping a smile on my face. The atmosphere was brilliant, thanks partly to the Celtic fans who could be heard around the stadium despite being heavily outnumbered.
When you try to plan a trip like this, a few things always tend to go wrong. Not this time.
It was a trip down memory lane – and it couldn’t have gone any better.
Whitecaps FC Ring of Honour inductee Carl Valentine is the club's all-time leader in appearances and fourth all-time in goals scored. Currently, Valentine serves as a club ambassador and U-16 Residency assistant coach.