Golden Years: Vancouver Whitecaps turn 50

Golden Years: Vancouver Whitecaps turn 50

December 11th, 1973 is the day that changed football in Vancouver forever. Five years after the folding of the Vancouver Royals at the end of the 1968 North American Soccer League (NASL) season, the league announced the city as one of four expansion teams that would be coming in for the 1974 season.

Vancouver, alongside Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Jose would be joining the league to make up a Western Conference. The world’s game was coming back professionally to Vancouver and the Whitecaps were born. Today they are 50-years-old.

There has been a lot of discussion over the years about the lineage of the Whitecaps name. It did, after all, disappear from the Canadian game after the dissolution of the club at the end of the 1984 NASL season, not returning to the local soccer scene until October 26, 2000 when new Vancouver 86’ers owner David Stadnyk formally changed the club’s name back to the Whitecaps, with the team playing as the ‘Caps from the 2001 A League season. An absence of 16 years.

The current incarnation of the Whitecaps are clearly not the same club as the NASL Whitecaps. Just as the Earthquakes, Sounders, and Timbers aren’t with their former selves. But as with phoenix clubs rising from dead in the UK (such as AFC Wimbledon and Bury FC), the Whitecaps have embraced the historic legacy, tradition, and achievements of the original team. And in a country and a continent where the sport still feels quite new at times, that is something to be celebrated.

And that’s just what we plan on doing here at AFTN. The club will rightly be celebrating their Golden Anniversary in 2024 and over the course of the next year, we’ll also be honouring the first ever Whitecaps both here on the website and on the podcast. We’ve a number of special things planned, which you hope you’ll enjoy as much as we will!

It all starts today as we go back 50 years in time to the day Vancouver Whitecaps were officially born.

It’s the top floor of a hotel on Davie Street in downtown Vancouver. Denny Veitch and Herb Capozzi address a packed room to announce that they plan to bring a NASL side back to Vancouver, kicking off in just five months time on May 5, 1974. What a hectic 145 days that must have been as the new club looked for “a coach, a place to play, and an office to operate out of”.

Veitch is known for creating the club’s name, stating that it came to him while he was driving across Lions Gate Bridge on a beautiful sunny afternoon. As he looked down and at the whitecaps on the water below and looked up and saw the whitecaps on the mountains, he knew the club could only be called one thing and Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club was born.

The expansion of the NASL was a bold move by the league. The existing teams were losing money hand over fist and in it’s six years of existence, 16 clubs had already folded and Washington Darts had moved to Miami. One of those club that had folded was Vancouver Royal Canadians, who called it a day between the inaugural 1968 and sophomore 1969 seasons, citing heavy financial losses.

Despite this climate, NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam was confident that this was the right time to expand.

“Tremendous progress has been made since 1968, when the league membership dropped suddenly from 17 franchises to five with none remaining off the West Coast,” Woosnam told reporters at the expansion announcement. “We are looking at today as the most important day in the history of soccer in the United States and Canada. Since 1968 there has been an amazing growth in the popularity of the game, particularly in the cities where the new franchises will be located.”

Ultimately he was proved correct. Eight new teams came into the league for the 1974 season and while there may have been many ups and down in the following years, the NASL survived another 11 seasons before folding at the end of 1984.

The cost to the Whitecaps ownership for place in the league was $75,000 – $25,000 up front and $50,000 deferred. With the new owners expected to be in it for the long haul if they wanted to make any of their money back.

“Three of our clubs just about broke even last season and the others lost in the vicinity of $50,000,” Woosnam went on to explain. “The new people who have joined the league have done so with the understanding that they will operate for at least three seasons.”

As it turned out the Whitecaps were in the league until it folded at the end of the 1984 season, winning the jewel in the crown, the NASL Soccer Bowl, in 1979.

As Capozzi told media back at that launch in 1973 about Vancouver coming back to the city after the demise of the Royals in the 1960s:

“There’s been a lot of changes since then. The key is the atmosphere for soccer. The base for soccer has expanded tremendously in the last few years here. There’s approximately 25,000 youngsters playing soccer here in the Vancouver area. Second, the appreciation of some of the skills of soccer have also been developed.”

Veitch and Capozzi were proved correct. The pair are inextricably linked to the Whitecaps history and legacy. Both sadly passed within a month of each other at the end of 2011, the first season that the new-look Whitecaps were to make their MLS debut. At least they got to see what they created had become and their baby has grown to be 50-years-old now and still going strong.

The Whitecaps are a huge part of Canadian soccer history and with the sport on the edge of another momentous time with the 2026 World Cup coming here, who knows what the next 50 years will bring to the game in Vancouver.

Enjoy your Golden Jubilee.

Authored by: Michael McColl

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