Thursday, July 31, 2003

Labatt Park's not just for baseball

By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

All this whining about a piece of land. Labatt Park might be one of the nicest minor league ball parks anywhere. It certainly has historic value. But watching and listening to the debate over what sport or activity should or shouldn't be allowed to use the park is ludicrous. It's a public facility. As long as the activity does no damage to the park, any sport or activity should be considered. As much as we want to make Labatt Park out to be the holiest of holies, it's only a park. The debate began with the suggestion by London City soccer's Mr. Everything, Harry Gauss, that he wouldn't mind putting a couple of soccer tournaments into the facility now that the Canadian Baseball League's London Monarchs have joined all the other minor pro baseball teams in that trash bin in the sky. Those tournaments are an open competition called the Canada Cup and the Canadian Professional Soccer League playoff tournament called the Rogers Cup. Well, one would have thought he suggested fingerpainting over the Mona Lisa. Baseball purists jumped out of their skin, almost as if allowing a sport still considered the domain of foreigners would somehow contaminate the site. The purists were worried about the damage that could be caused by actually having an active, fully mobile sport played on the site. Then there's the issue of priorities, with the suggestion made by some that even if a major tournament were to be held at the park, it should never supercede even the most minor of minor baseball games. The issue has reached the stage where supporters of both sports have debated the merits of the skills of each sport as if the difficulty of playing one over another should have any bearing on which one uses the facility. It doesn't. One can understand the sensitivity of baseball people. They've watched as soccer continues to grow in popularity and participation while baseball barely holds the line on the far smaller numbers who play. The invasion of the game of soccer on what some consider sacred ground might just be a little too much. Too bad. Labatt Park is considered a showcase facility. It has staged showcase events in the past. Soccer can provide that type of event, especially when there's a high level of competition involved bringing visitors to the park from outside London. Tourism London supports Gauss's venture. "We would love to see Harry Gauss get both those soccer tournaments," said John Winston, the city's general manager of tourism. "I think Labatt Park would be an ideal facility for the event." In fact, former manager of sports tourism Bob Graham suggested to Gauss he might want to consider Labatt Park as a venue for those tournaments, rather then London City's Cove Road field. Winston is quick to point out, though, that his department does not decide who can use the park. Even if Gauss gets both events, they wouldn't be held at Labatt Park this year. But if he got them on a yearly basis, that would be a different story. Having an event come to the city year after year is exactly the type of commitment Tourism London wants to cultivate. Ignore the "my-sport-is-better-than-your-sport" silliness. That isn't what this should be about. It should be about what's good for the city, the taxpayer and the park. Even though the park is used on a daily basis for baseball, there is still ample opportunity for other events to be held there, increasing its use. The more a facility is used, the better care it gets. The more care it gets, the more it will be protected. And if a major soccer event comes to Labatt Park, it should supercede baseball. Labatt Park is an attractive facility that can be a financial asset to the city, an attribute that will only get better the more use it gets.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Our soccer stars fought England's best

James Reaney, Free Press Arts & Entertainment Reporter
2003-07-27 03:59:12

Soccer's roots in the Forest City go deep. But even an expert doesn't know just how deep.
"As for the history of soccer in London, that is something of a puzzle . . . the early history of the game in the London area seems to be in the towns and villages surrounding London, rather than in London itself," e-mails Canadian soccer historian and author Colin Jose. "I rarely come across anything about London itself before 1930."
All the talk about the possibility that soccer might be played at baseball-friendly Labatt Park has had me checking with Jose for details of its early days.
Around London, the game flourished in the late 1800s. Its driving force was the Western Football Association, founded in 1880 -- not so long after the first-ever Football Association was formed in England in 1863, setting the organizational rules for the game we now know as soccer.
"The Western Football Association is one of the forgotten stories of Canadian sports history," Jose writes. "Formed in Berlin (Kitchener) . . . the WFA spread throughout all of Ontario west of Kitchener and before and after 1900 every little town and village in that area seemed to have a soccer team. Seaforth, for example, was a power in Ontario soccer in those days and won the Ontario championship in 1905."
There was a London team in Western Football Association play in the early 1900s, playing at the old St. John's Athletic Club grounds.
Among the London stalwarts was goalkeeper James Couse. When he wasn't holding the fort against sides from such places as Salford and Woodstock, he was the manager of the United Typewriter Co. Ltd.
The association also had a much-admired referee, often mentioned in Free Press coverage. The applauded official was William M. Govenlock, a teacher at the old Collegiate Institute, forerunner of Central secondary school.
The First World War devastated the Western Football Association, Jose believes, with its players going off to fight -- and die -- in France. The league did not recover from the war era.
Fast-forward to the early 1930s, where Jose's research and the London soccer scene do connect. There are two peaks that stand out -- May 26, 1930, and May 25, 1931. The dates share a British connection with London soccer.
Scottish champion Kilmarnock played an exhibition match against a London and district all-star side in 1930. Almost exactly a year later, a touring England team, including legendary Birmingham City keeper Harry Hibbs, played another all-star team. London centre-forward Bernard Maule, of the local Thistles side, seems to have been the only soul to play in both matches.
Both matches attracted thousands of fans to the Western Fair's old Queen's Park grounds. Both were hailed as the biggest day in London's soccer history. No photographs of the excitement were to be found, but stories hail the display of team photos to the approval of London dignitaries at official banquets.
The visitors won both years. Kilmarnock prevailed 3-1 before 4,000 fans, and the London keeper E. Bickford (no first name was included in the game story), of the Ontario Hospital side, "was called up to make many sensational stops." A year later, before about 3,000 fans, England was the 4-1 winner as London and district keeper Bumps Wright of St. Thomas "gave a marvellous display of goaltending seldom seen . . . it was the goalkeeper against the whole of the visitors and he was not to be denied."
You get the picture. The home sides were kept in each game by stellar performances from their keepers. Perhaps the tourists did not press home their advantage, content to make polite noises about the hard work of their Canadian opponents and the skill of those colonial keepers.
But let us not sell the London side short, especially against the English visitors. The England players were opening their Canadian tour in London and would later triumph at all their stops, including Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. In just 16 matches across Canada, England scored 107 goals, giving up just 12. By that measure, London's 4-1 loss does not look too bad.
Jose's account of England's 1931 tour has Jimmy Cookson of English league power West Bromwich Albion, scoring 21 times. He opened the scoring at London, about 30 minutes into the match and later scored again. Wright also stopped him several times.
It was no shame to be scored on by Cookson in 1931. Later that year, in a reserve team game, Cookson scored seven time as West Brom thrashed Liverpool 10-0.
The best advice at the time came from Kilmarnock Football Club president Andrew McCullouch.
"I might state that the time will come when touring teams will get defeated regularly," McCullouch told the banquet after the Scottish side's victory. "I would suggest that football be taught in the schools and that the Canadians develop Canadian players. In this way, you would establish machinery for a steady source of supply."
Then McCullouch proved even hard-headed soccer moguls know the game is more than a matter of supply and demand.
"There appears to be a spirit of happiness in this country," he rhapsodized.
Who could argue? London soccer history is a happy goal any time.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003


CPSL Headlines - AEKJuly 2 2003 at 5:29 PM

Theory has it that at some point in history kings in Greece reigned for one year before they were killed. There must have been some truth to that because Greek myths came later and were followed by the Greek tragedies.Soccer teams have been known to last longer.But in the case of Mississauga Olympians, founded as Toronto Olympians by Coffee Time president Tom Michalopoulos, a Greek-Canadian and lover of the world’s game who set Olympians on a winning journey in 1998 to capture six out of the nine titles the CPSL had to offer in the first three years, it all seems so long ago.His team, ably propelled by general manager sometimes coach David Gee, was once considered one of the top pro teams in the country.But suddenly that all changed at Cove Road in London on Canada Day when Mississauga Olympians were eliminated from the Open Canada Cup by AEK London, a lowly amateur team operating quietly and without any special distinction in the Western Ontario Soccer League.The 2-1 AEK London win was no myth. It was a shocker. Perhaps even a Greek tragedy.The AEK amateurs were determined--and gritty in their win.In the opening game of a Cove Road double header, Durham Flames advanced with a 2-0 shutout win over North York Astros.London City, Toronto Supra, Kanata, Metro Lions, Vaughan Sun Devils, St. Catharines Roma Wolves, Durham Flames and AEK London have all earned a berth in Round Three following games played during the Canada Day holiday weekend. Ottawa Wizards and Laval Dynamites gained byes to the third round.London City earned a 2-1 golden goal win in overtime over Toronto team Peniche in an exciting game at The Cove in London on Monday.Toronto Supra defeated Toronto Croatia, 4-2, at The Cove in London on Sunday afternoon and at the OZ Stadium in Ottawa at about the same time, Kanata from Eastern Ontario were defeating FC Levski Montreal, 3-2.Lions blanked Brampton Hitmen, 3-0, at Birchmount Stadium in Scarborough, while Vaughan Sun Devils outlasted Hamilton Thunder, 4-3, in a see-saw struggle at The Cove in London.Woodbridge Azzurri, one of the most highly regarded amateur teams in Ontario, saw its Open Canada Cup aspirations crash when the local AEK London dominated in a 6-0 win in a Preliminary Round rescheduled game at The Cove in London Friday night and St. Catharines Roma Wolves also took the opportunity to advance in Open Canada Cup play on Friday with a narrow 1-0 win over Benfica of Toronto at Club Roma in St. Catharines.There were nine games played over the Canada Day long weekend in a one-game knockout competition that involves all 13 CPSL teams and nine of the strongest amateur teams in Ontario and the Province of Quebec. There is a winner-take-all prize of $10,000 for the team that is victorious in the final game set for Labour Day, Monday September 1.Survivors of this second round will now advance to Round Three to be played during the Civic Holiday, August 1 – 4, leaving a wild card game, two semi-finals and the final game over the Labour Day weekend. Even if Olympians are just a shadow of the squad that dominated the CPSL in those early years, and even if AEK put some writing on the wall with an impressive 6-0 win over highly regarded Woodbridge Azzurri in the Preliminary Round of the Open Canada Cup on June 27, the defeat has CPSL heads scratching.It was real, with AEK goals by Ryan Leigh at the 37th minute mark and Matt Gallo after 78 minutes, the 2-0 lead proved insurmountable even when some fans considered it just a matter of time before Olympians would retaliate. They did retaliate on a goal at the 86th minute mark by former Hamilton Thunder player Geoff Attard—but it was too little, too late.Earlier, Durham Flames were hot in defeating North York Astros on goals by Jamal Jupiter after 38 minutes and a second half marker by David Mills at the 58th minute mark.London City fought back from a 1-0 deficit for almost the entire second half in a thriller at The Cove in London. Bruno Real scored for Peniche right on half time following a tough 45 minutes for both teams and the score held up until City's Andrew Loague tied the game at the 90th minute mark.Erik Elmauer was the hero for London with a strike just three minutes into overtime for a 2-1 golden goal result and Round Three for the team from Southwestern Ontario.It was very much end-to-end soccer when Toronto Supra maintained its unbeaten record in league and cup competition, with a 4-2 Open Canada Cup win over struggling Toronto Croatia, which has yet to win a game.Edin Kallic opened the scoring after 14 minutes for Toronto Croatia and Danny Amaral tied the score for Supra at the 38th minute mark.It was 1-1 at half-time. Josip Bucic put Croatia 2-1 up just two minutes after the interval before Supra struck for three unanswered goals by Avio Silva at 51 minutes, Jarek Radzinski at 62 minutes and Michal Di Luca late in the second half for a 4-2 final score.Darryl Gomes was the hero of the Metro Lions win, scoring a goal in each half to lead his team to Round Three.Gomes struck first after 39 minutes for a 1-0 lead at half-time, then scored one of two penalty kicks awarded to Metro Lions. He scored from the spot at the 58th minute and this was followed by the second penalty kick and the third goal for Lions by Kareen Reynolds at the 70th minute mark.Aundrea Rollins sparked his Vaughan Sun Devils with a goal after just two minutes in London, but it took just one minute for Hamilton Thunder to tie the game on a goal by Kevin De Serpa, his second goal of the season.Bayete Smith put the Sun Devils 2-1 in front with a goal right on half-time and 15 minutes into the second half Vaughan jumped 3-1 up on a strike by Cameron Medwin.Stalin Cardenas struck for Hamilton to make it 3-2 at 63 minutes and Jason Crnic tied the game for Thunder four minutes later. Matthew Pallechi scored the winner for Vaughan Sun Devils 10 minutes from time. AEK London took the lead after just four minutes in the Friday night 6-0 romp--a strike by Jim Tsaprailis, one of two scored by the AEK London forward. The London team never looked back with goals also by Jim Balatsoukas, Matt Gallo, Xavier Patural and Gistard De Gourville. It was 2-0 at half-time. St. Catharines Roma Wolves made hard work of their 1-0 win over amateur team Benfica on the same night, but the CPSL squad did prevail to advance on a goal at the 32nd minute by Tony Carbonara.