New era dawns in Canadian soccer

Matthew Gourlie

This web site is called June of 86 for a simple reason.

It was the month that Canada competed for the first — and thus far only — time at a World Cup.

But that’s not it. Not entirely.

That was the month that I went from being a soccer fan to something completely different. I was still a kid, but after that it all changed. I felt physical pain after big losses, Canadian soccer began to consume more and more of my time and my thoughts.

The Canadian Soccer League came on the heels of the World Cup and stoked the fire further. Having a domestic pro league televised across the country was a godsend in 1987. Full matches were rarely broadcast and this was a league of our own.

The CSL died in 1992. I wasn’t ever sure I would see another all-Canadian league in my lifetime.

The North American Soccer League grew out of two leagues that were formed in 1967 after a number of people saw how the broadcast of England winning the 1966 World Cup fared and figured: maybe America is ready to embrace soccer. It did. Sort of. For a time.

I had Toronto Blizzard PJs. The first person I ever saw score a goal as a professional in person was Peter Beardsley for the Vancouver Whitecaps in 1983 in front of a crowd that dwarfed the crowd that went to see the Seattle Mariners game I had gone to the week before. As a young child the NASL seemed as legitimate as the NFL or NHL or CFL.

From 1967 when pro soccer came to North America through to when the CSL died in 1992 was 25 years. The time between the end of the CSL to Saturday’s opening match in the Canadian Premier League has been 27 years.

There have been plenty of Canadian professional clubs since — in the APSL, the A-League, the USL, the NASL and importantly MLS.

But this is different. This is ours.

The joy I felt watching the CSL debut on a dreary day in Aylmer, Quebec in 1987 as a nine year old, that’s still there. On a chilly morning in Hamilton, true believers from across the country have converged to tell each other that they weren’t dreaming. The Canadian Premier League is here.

There is an incredible amount of hard work and toil yet to come, but for one day, the national league that seemed like it may never come back is here and that victory is worth celebrating unreservedly.

There are many other days to concern ourselves with the league structure, expansion plans, promotion and relegation, the Ottawa question, salary caps, domestic player rules, the split season and the odd number of teams. None of that matters today.

I hope the league never loses sight of the things that make the game and it’s culture unique will also be one of its best drawing cards.

And I hope the supporters never take this league and their clubs for granted. It took generations and a lot of capital to get to this point. It’s in our hands now.

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