Saturday June 8th 2013, KO 19:15pm.
United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (USL PDL).
North West Division at Royal Athletic Park, Victoria.
Victoria Highlanders (Black/Black) 2-0 Washington Crossfire (White/White), attendance 1,306.
Admission 15 dollars, free 2 page teamsheet, season brochure/programme also free.
And so ten months after my season had started at 'The Rec' of Aldershot Town FC for a pre-season game versus Palace, at my 105th game I now finished my 12/13 season almost 4,500 miles from home watching a match at Level four of the US system on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada whilst also completing my 50th new ground visited in the season.
The furthest from home I've ever seen a game, yet, due to the 'Britishness' of Victoria and the 'Scottishness' of the Highlanders it didn't feel such a long way. But a few pointers did snap me back to reality in respect of the location, the baseball ring (is that what you call it?), down the other end of Royal Athletic Park, and the rather over exuberant exhortations of the parents sat behind us.
They did warn us before kick off, they may be loud, "Don't worry I retorted, my last game was at Wembley with 82,000 present".
But there are only so many "Way to go", "A great play", "Awesome, well done" delivered at high decibel level by the father that one can take before it does start to grate a little.
It had me longing for a comment I'd be more familiar with from home from South London, like, "hey lino, you blind c*nt, do you wanna borrow my specs?", well on reflection, perhaps not.
Their level of noise dropped significantly in the second half after their son had been substituted.
"Hey coach why, he is the best player on the pitch", the father shouted, believing it, he most definitely wasn't I thought trying not to smirk, I wasn’t the only one!
It had been an easy fifteen minute stroll from downtown, through the oldest (and smallest now) Chinese district in Canada to RAP. Highlanders ladies had played prior to this game, but I knew Ros could not have tolerated two games of football. In fact, after my initial disappointment in finding out that the MLS Whitecaps of Vancouver didn’t have a home fixture during our two-week stay, Ros had done some research some months back and came up with the Highlanders, so I was absolutely delighted to find they had a home fixture on our last night in the City before we headed further up into Vancouver Island.
Crossfire from Seattle in Washington state, which is basically across the water, appeared like the Highlanders to be mostly a team of youngsters, although experienced Blair Sturrock recently of Southend United featured for the Highlanders. Presumably his experience being used more in a coaching and mentoring role for what is in essence mostly a development league for players fresh from university. Pre-match we got the full Scottish style pipe band, the Canadian ‘and’ US national anthems, and a jigging and dancing dog mascot ‘Striker’, who certainly earned his money later, encouraging the crowd with his little bodhran drum, as well as helping himself to youngsters food and drink.
Although football (soccer) has been played at RAP for over a century, the Highlanders were only formed in 2007 to take advantage of the enthusiasm engendered at the Fifa U/20s World Cup. By British standards RAP is nothing special, the ground having one large main stand, seating up to 2,000 I’d guess, with bench seating and terracing to the left of that, probably making room for another 500 if required. But the stand is entirely adequate for the club who average between 1000-1500.
The game played out in a typical central european style, the away team sat back and created very little and invited the Highlanders on. The slow pace of the game was reminiscent of matches I’ve seen in Belgium and Germany. When watching football in a foreign country I also like to try to compare the standard with that in England. Being of a much slower tempo this was tricky, but I came to the conclusion perhaps Level 6 or 7, of Conf Sth Nth or Isthmian Premier standard. Their technique was quite high, but when not done at speed very difficult to gauge how good they actually were.
The game was won with a goal in each half from Jordie Hughes on 37 and Brett Lewis on 87 , both enthusiastically celebrated by the locals. And during the second half I noticed a group of highlanders supporters on the wooden benches to the left of the stand, and although the acoustics were not great I could just make out that they were singing, and to the tune of ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ I could make out reference to it being a long way on the ferry, on checking their website later under the supporters tab, I found these to be the words, most amusing! If Guernsey FC ever make the FLeague perhaps this song should be re-enacted on our shores!
It’s a long ride home on the ferry!
It’s a long way to go!
It’s a long ride on the ferry
When you’re losing on the road!
Go home, and cry to mommy,
Nev-er more to roam.
It’s a long, long ride home on the ferry,
It’s a long ride, GO HOME!
Crossfire came back into the game a little in the last third, realising perhaps, ahem, it ‘was’ a long ferry ride home on the back of a defeat. They did manage to strike woodwork, but the defeat was a result of their lethargy and lack of purpose in the first sixty minutes of the game.
The singing home supporters apparently call themselves the ‘Lakeside Buoys’, some reference to their previous ground, and celtic background I believe. They were certainly in high spirits at the end as the players took the applause and returned it.
We sauntered back downtown over the roadbridge, then on the boardwalk path around the beautiful harbour of Victoria, wonderfully lit up, back to our bed and breakfast on the other side of the harbour in esquimalt. I'd not had such a stunning and picturesque walk away from a football ground all season, and it was unlikely I will do so in the future, as even in the fading light, snow-capped mountains could be seen on the horizon, British Columbia is a special place.