It was a long dance getting there. Rumours abounded and excitement built. Then finally, just over a year ago now, the Canadian Premier League was made official. May 6, 2017 was the official founding date, then a lot of silence followed before the nuggets of news eagerly anticipated by a nation devoid of a national league for many a year started to trickle out into the stratosphere.
The League didn’t emerge from their concealment with the energetic verticality of ten billion butterfly sneezes, opting to venture forward with the muted tone of a forty-five minute PowerPoint presentation.
We were made aware of the business bona fides of Commissioner David Clanachan, noted that he had a participation, interest in footy, and were provided with a smear of personality that every reporter covering the story sampled – that he and his son had hoofed up Mount Kilimanjaro. A dry roll out reminiscent of the odd timbit that had stayed in the bin for far too long.
The announcement of the 52-year-old (53 candles next week) Jim Easton Jr. as VP of Soccer Operations and Player Development was accompanied by a photo that featured some gray in his cropped hair, a soft crinkle around the eyes, and the suggestion of a welcoming smile, evoking a blokey countenance that made it easy to envision him suiting up for Thames Valley CID, presented to the public with the pristine aura of a devout Buddhist whose primary indulgence was a knock off van Basten Netherlands jersey.
Pedigree? Presumably present at procreation – and of far greater significance – instrumental in his upbringing, Jim Easton Sr. started his pro career in the Scottish Division One in 1960. He spent eleven seasons playing for Hibernian and Dundee before spending two years as Player/Manager for Queen of the South. He crossed the pond for a summer stint playing for Miami Toros in 1973 before moving to Vancouver the following year to take the reins of the Whitecaps in their first season in the NASL. After trying to blend local amateur players with a limited budget for imports, he was shown the door at the end of the 1975 campaign, with the ‘Caps having missed the playoffs for the second straight season.
Bobby Lenarduzzi, who came back (and stayed for the duration) from Reading for the ‘Caps inaugural NASL season in 1974, described his manager as “kind and thoughtful,” and if sincere, it must have been smiles all around when Jim Jr. signed to play for the ’86ers in 1987. Astute to settle in the Lower Mainland (when it was relatively affordable), he provided his son with the ability to confound a large gathering in their attempt to conjure his middle moniker – Howatson.
Decent touch? Depending on the currency one places on the stereotype of the parsimonious Scotsman, perhaps not. He was drafted by Tampa Bay in 1982 and played three indoor and six outdoor games with the Rowdies before signing with Dundee United in 1984, returning to Vancouver in three years later.
The Vancouver 86ers started their CSL journey on June 7, 1987, delighting the overflowing crowd of 7,646 at Swangard with a 4-2 victory over Edmonton, inspiring Archie MacDonald of the Vancouver Sun to scribble “Past & Present Merge”, noting that the eight year old Jim Jr. was in the stands at Empire when his dad marshalled the Caps in their inaugural match facing the Earthquakes, going on to praise his offensive flair and state that he was the orchestral leader in the midfield, eliciting a quote “my style is attacking, not much of a defender.”
Jim Jr earned six caps for Canada, with the VOTW Peter Schaad describing his play as silky smooth. He was named a CSL all-star in 1987 before injuries had him retire in 1994.
Socrates? While he didn’t heed the calling to heal the sick, he appears to have developed a passion to soothe the fractious psyche of Canadian footy. An MBA from Royal Roads University, he had the intellectual confidence that he could put a fresh set of eyes on football by establishing Rethink Management Group. In July, 2012 he published the CSA-requested study, “In a League of Our Own”, a 32 page document that looked into the viability of Division 2 football in Canada.
Coordinated with Duane Rockerbie and Richard Whittall, the initial mandate was to reflect on our failed past, canvass the locals, pick the procedures of leagues overseas that could make another attempt at a domestic league more feasible, and forward recommendations. They did come up with four options and suggested that two should be considered for implementation.
A new professional league was not one of them. The issue was the bottom line, predicting a minimum $10 million in annual league losses, noting that Australia’s A-league had red inked in the range of $20 million in 2010-2011. Regional semi-pro leagues that would provide playing time for players aged 18-23 was the preferred choice. This was echoed by then CSA president Victor Montagliani after the report was presented, comparing the concept to the CHL.
Stating that it was not in the CSA’s mandate to search for investors, but pursuing avenues that could make the re-start more appealing to potential owners, may have been a more productive exercise than lamenting the lack of unity in the past, fleshing out concerns that were well known to many in Canadian soccer.
When the study kicked into gear in October 2011, it was reported that the MLS business arm, Soccer United Marketing, was about to sell 25% interest to Providence Equity Partners for $150 million. There wasn’t a word on the feasibility of a similar structure that could be implemented in Canada, nor checking the appetite for sponsorship or other avenues to generate income.
Ten pages of heart stimulant for a Voyageur – photos, a careful caress of the keyboard producing a purr of paragraphs, detailed but not a document for the ages, as if the proffer was to confirm the necessity for lowered ambition.
His appointment feels like a good fit, his nickname in the office should be Percheron, pulling a heavy load as he co-ordinates officiating, scheduling, player management, and adherence to FIFA. Hopefully he’ll have a few minutes to reflect on the modest wage packet he received as an 86er.
There will be moments of headshaking mirth and puzzlement on the horizon now that the occasionally bellicose and frequently ingratiating Anthony Totera, who was vociferous that anyone who strays from mandating 100% Canadians on team rosters should be red carded, has joined his team.
The league’s first hire, now President, was former Toronto FC and Brighton and Hove Albion executive, and suspected back in the day teenage carny hustler at the CNE, Paul Beirne. He appears to be getting his kicks travelling across the country and tossing red meat to supporter groups.
Languid in the speculative glow that when the league truly flourishes he can walk a few blocks to catch a match, party lining that after stabilizing at 16 healthy franchises (if that miracle is achieved, the league’s HQ would become a mecca for pilgrims searching for a cure for….minor ailments) they would seriously consider pro/rel that doesn’t have the possibility of credible contemplation in his (hmm, he’s 52) non-impotent lifetime.
This didn’t stop him from tempting Edmonton supporters to rejoice if Calgary got relegated (I’m sure the majority wouldn’t mind getting in their ride and travelling a few hours to catch a derby match), espousing freedom more vigorously than Richie Havens at Woodstock, and when it comes to the MLS, a few shots are off target.
Personable with the punters, dollops of droll in interviews, still to be determined if he’s really saying something, Mr. Beirne appears to have appropriated the designation of the fun boy one at CPL HQ.
After the Russian revolution, women in Moscow marched for free love (there was a coal shortage), artists expressed their desire to paint the trees in the Kremlin red (Vladimir Illyich: “nyet comrades”). The CPL has inspired verve and passion in those that have embraced the league since its early rumoured conception, a view that the vista is expansive.
At the risk of sending Jon Rodgers spiraling into a deep depression, apologies to Matthew Gourlie, and sorry to those whom the league has empowered with a spring in their step, who crave creativity, pure identity, artistry in their team’s uniform, if the league can reel in a healthy seven figure annual licensing fee from a kit manufacturer, I can handle the perceived scourge of the cookie cutter. I’d even have a high tolerance for banal sponsorship if it lessens the flow of red ink, and if it was essential to securing a national television deal – even if did start a flow of crappy puns – I’d have no qualms with a “Depends“ logo on every sleeve.
If I don’t just keel over, suddenly slip into the void while I slumber, find myself horizontal, morphine drip, hushed tones, perceived kindness a constant feed of football, as I drift in and out I catch Craig, James, and Danny nattering on about the latest revelation in the EPL. I don’t want to have my mind clouded by that Philip Larkin, 4am debilitating despair that is already starting to edge in with piercing flashes of self-recriminations, the dread of experiencing that wave of darkness should they segue into a lengthy fugue on how the league is on its last legs.
The CPL claims due diligence, recently birthed the in-house Canadian Soccer Business, and have structured a $500 million, 10 year contingency fund, but there could be a few owners whose legs wobble if losses are higher than expected. Economic conditions can change and, scarred by the demise of the CSL, I would rather they retrieve every decent dollar available than push swagger and individual mandate for each team.
I would appreciate it if the league doesn’t try to convince the players that being pioneers in this new endeavour means acquiescing to shaving a few dollars off a livable wage. And I would like a true discourse discovering if they can fulfill ambitions off the pitch through scholarships, internships, and make it possible that any youngster or teenager that can earn, scrounge, cajole ten dollars to gain admittance to a match.
The push has begun. The initial video released by the CPL was a 75 second manifesto, We are many, we are one. It created goodwill towards the league, accepting that the narrative was predominately dressed in flannel – de rigueur B&W, diversity, inclement weather declaring we’re not a nation of snowflakes, direct stern gaze into the camera stating that success is not found on the periphery, steely-eyed dour determination suggesting that 48.5% of adult Canadians under the age of 65 would not collapse if pierced with a nail gun, and after his cameo, I would appreciate it if authorities would inform me should John Herdman be in the vicinity.
I don’t expect the league to emulate the CSL’s “beefcake brigade” enticement that featured Geoff Aunger, Steve MacDonald, and a few other players in varying states of undress in the locker room while teenage girls loitered nearby, hoping to snag a revealing glimpse of the young studs.
As the league and teams start to flesh out their staff, and provide nourishment on how they plan to progress, those that have a keen eye on the league will spot the chaff starting to intrude – predictable press releases, standard player profiles, talking points inevitably worn down to the nub, leaning heavily on the passion of supporter groups to sell enthusiasm, tickets.
Occasionally the ingredients will be lean, the staff likely stressed and overworked. There’s potential for some soul salvation should management walk by and spot an employee in apparent pain, fingers trying to pierce their skull, who suddenly push back from their laptop, cranks up some tunes, starts dancing (the defence rests with a dire need for a mental health break, channel to creativity), that it’s met with bemusement, perhaps generating a thank you (falettinme be mice elf again)