Calgary’s CPL team to call equestrian complex home starting in 2019
Tommy Wheeldon Jr. came to Calgary to play professional soccer.
Sixteen years later Wheeldon helped bring professional soccer back to his adopted home.
Wheeldon will be the general manager and head coach of Cavalry Football Club when they take the pitch in the spring of 2019 for the inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League.
“I came here 16 years ago to play for one of the last pro clubs in the city — the Calgary Storm — in the USL and fell in love with the place, the people and now am proud to call this my home,” Wheeldon said at Thursday’s Cavalry FC launch. “I am fortunate to have married a Calgary girl, my kids have grown up here and this country has welcomed me. When the team folded back in 2004, I have worked every day to help bring the professional game back to this great sporting city and play a small part in giving back to the city and the country that has adopted me.”
Wheeldon has been the technical director of Calgary Foothills Soccer Club for the past 10 years and has also been the head coach of their under-23 team in the Premier Development League (PDL) since 2015.
“From here on out, we no longer have to sent our young players overseas or away from home to pursue their dreams of playing professionally — and ultimately their country,” Wheeldon said.
Cavalry FC is owned and operated by by Spruce Meadows Sports & Entertainment — a division of Spruce Meadows Ltd. The club is led by chair and CEO Linda Southern-Heathcott and president and COO Ian Allison.
Spruce Meadows — a 360-acre equestrian complex just south of Calgary — was opened in 1975 by the Southern family.
“Spruce Meadows truly is a story of “by Canadians for Canadians” that has risen from virtually nothing to some degree of prominence and repute on the world stage over the last four decades. However, it is about so much more. It is about community, family, youth, and about providing pathways for Canadian athletes,” said Southern-Heathcott, who competed at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, in a release. “Our vision for the sport of soccer and the CPL ticks all of those boxes. We believe that it is an exquisite fit at the perfect time.”
The Southern family estate was worth an estimated $2.3 billion by Canadian Business in 2017.
While the marriage of football and show jumping would be almost unthinkable in most of the world, the partnership and new venture made a lot of sense for Spruce Meadows Sports & Entertainment.
“When we looked at this we recognized how many parallels there were to the journey we commenced on 43 years ago in international show jumping,” Allison told Ryan Pinder on Calgary’s Sportsnet 960 The Fan recently. “Canadians didn’t really have an opportunity or a pathway. They didn’t know how they benchmarked on the world stage. Since that time, Canadians have made it to the medal podium 25 times at Olympic, World Championship and World Cup events in international show jumping. Spruce Meadows has become one of the major venues and events in the world.
“We think there are many parallels possible given the drought that has happened — particularly men’s soccer — since 1986 with not qualifying for the World Cup and for opportunity and a pathway for Canadians who play up through the system in the millions and then reach a dead end.”
While located 20 km south of Calgary Tower and the heart of the city, Spruce Meadows is a world-class facility which offers something truly unique in the soccer world.
“We have some real scalability at Spruce Meadows to allow us to be in this for the very, very long term,” Allison said. “Our plan is to do some significant renovations to one of the venues so we can open play in a 5-7,000 seat capacity with corporate hosting and a very, very unique look and feel for the game that I think the fans are going to love.”
Allison added that they will look at expanding capacity within 3-5 years to meet the demands of the market and their fan base. The club will offer a free shuttle service from the Somerset-Bridlewood LRT station, the southern terminus of the red line.
The pitch will be located at the Meadows on the Green ring which is just south of the International ring — the primary show jumping venue. It is also bordered by the Gallery on the Green Congress hall which has a large open-air patio that would offer a unique and exclusive viewing area above the main west stand.
Cavalry FC is looking to create a home at Spruce Meadows for their supporters to have an “authentic match day experience” that would include a march to the match and club rallies.
Spruce Meadows also plans to offer top-tier training facilities for Cavalry FC.
The Calgary Foothills PDL team relocated to Okotoks — which is south of the city, but only 25 km from Spruce Meadows — for the 2018 season.
The name Cavalry FC is inspired by Calgary’s military history.
The club’s colours are army green, “Calgary red” and black. The colour green is representative of the foothills and Spruce Meadow’s green lawns, while red represents Calgary’s traditional sports identity. Both red and green also feature prominently on the regimental flag of Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians).
Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) was founded in Calgary in 1900 and served in the Boer War in South Africa under the command of the legendary Sir Sam Steele, the superintendent of the North-West Mounted Police.
Members of the Lord Strathcona’s Horse were on hand for Thursday’s announcement.
Under Wheeldon Foothills has grown from 350 players to 1,500 players and won four Canadian youth national titles.
Foothills was also the youth club of Kevin McKenna and Owen Hargreaves before they each moved to clubs in Germany.
Calgary Foothills have assembled a strong roster for the current PDL season led by 33-year-old Nik Ledgerwood who has 50 Canadian caps to his credit. Jackson Farmer also has a senior Canadian cap.
Foothills also boast keeper Marco Carducci played in a pair of Voyagers Cup matches with the Vancouver Whitecaps during his three seasons on their senior roster. Carducci, Ali Musse and Jordan Haynes were all part of Canada’s 2013 FIFA under-17 World Cup squad.
The Canadian Premier League will launch in 2019 with 8-10 teams. York 9 FC was unveiled a week earlier, while Halifax is expected to be unveiled next week and Winnipeg’s franchise will be unveiled on June 6.
The Victoria Times-Colonist broke news Thursday that former Canadian international Josh Simpson is involved with a group looking to bring a CPL team to Vancouver Island. The team is expected to play in Langford, just west of Victoria, where the city is looking to expand Westhills Stadium to 8,000 seats.
A group of Victoria businessmen — including Brett Large, Grant Olsen, Moreno Stefani, Ryan Wilson and Mark de Frias — bought into the PDL’s Victoria Highlanders at the start of the year. Previous owners Marvin Diercks and David Dew remain as part of the ownership group. Large is the managing director of the club.