“Sometimes if you go a goal down, it can relax you in an odd way. You go a goal down early like we did, then you get the one goal back and the momentum is with you.”
That’s what former Vancouver Whitecaps player David Cross had to say during halftime at BC Place after spectators witnessed captain Kendall Waston’s trumpeting header find the back of the net to give the ‘Caps the lead before the end of the first 45.
He wasn’t far off the mark either.
Waston’s herculean frame proved to be the difference in a match that saw the ‘Caps concede early before rallying for the 3-1 win against expansion side Atlanta United FC.
And Cross knows a thing or two (or a hundred) about scoring. After all, he was on the pitch at BC Place 34 years ago on June 20, 1983, spearheading the attack of a Whitecaps squad when the stadium hosted its inaugural competitive soccer event. That match was one of the earliest iterations of the Cascadia rivalry against Seattle Sounders in the old North American Soccer League. And the attendance on that day? A modest 60,342.
But last Saturday, for the first time in over three decades, Cross found himself once again ensconced in the familiar thunderous applause of 'Caps fans.
This time around, however, he was a spectator, observing the match from a distance rather than running at defenders and smashing in goals for his side.
“I was a goalscorer – an out-and-out goalscorer. That was my job. That’s what I thrived on and that’s what made me a living for 20 years,” said Cross, of his career that spanned from 1969 through 1987.
He certainly was.
Cross was a lethal target man in the purest sense of the word. A prototypical centre forward of 70's and 80's English soccer, the numbers that decorate his career tell the story of a man with an almost predatory knack for goal, who fine-tuned his skill in some of the highest divisions of premier English football.
Prior to his brief move across the Atlantic to join Vancouver Whitecaps, Cross competed in the upper echelons of English soccer, playing for the likes of Norwich City, West Bromwich Albion, and West Ham United, the latter of which he spent five years with. Cross had 179 appearances with the Hammers, netting 78 goals.
In addition to his English Football League championship titles with Norwich City and West Ham United in ’72 and ’81 respectively, Cross helped lead West Ham to their third FA Cup triumph in 1980, defeating Arsenal 1-0 in the cup final. To date, that victory remains the East London side’s last major trophy win.
But it would be in the summer of 1983 that the Whitecaps organization would come beckoning.
Two years prior, veteran manager Johnny Giles had been hired to coach the young Vancouver club. Cross had played under Giles with West Bromwich Albion in 1976, and he would be partially responsible for encouraging Cross to make the move to North America.
“The opportunity to play for John again with the high-profile players he had here was too good to turn down,” said Cross, on his decision to join the ranks of the Blue and White.
The Englishman spent two summer seasons with the ‘Caps, in 1983 and 1984, playing alongside Whitecaps icons Carl Valentine and now club president, Bob Lenarduzzi, and scoring 29 goals in his 46 outings in addition to earning a NASL All-Star honourable mention in his first season.
In his post-‘Caps career, Cross would return to English soccer before accepting managerial roles at the youth level and working on opposition analysis for Blackburn Rovers FC.
His return to BC Place last Saturday marked only his third time watching a live soccer game since retiring from Blackburn one year ago.
From a clinical forward in English soccer to coaching positions and tactical opposition analysis, Cross’ career has spanned almost every facet of the beautiful game, and has taken him across continents, from London to Vancouver and back.
Saturday was a special time to see a familiar face back at BC Place - no longer on the pitch, but in the stands, watching the 2017 iteration of Vancouver Whitecaps FC doing what he used to do best, putting goals in net.