Their Finest Hour: Vancouver Whitecaps 1979 Soccer Bowl winning season (Part Seven – An exorcism and Willie Johnston downs a beer in San Jose)

Their Finest Hour: Vancouver Whitecaps 1979 Soccer Bowl winning season (Part Seven – An exorcism and Willie Johnston downs a beer in San Jose)

Every week on AFTN from now until September, we’ll be recapping the Whitecaps 1979 Soccer Bowl winning season with the help of matchday programs, photographs, and more. We’ll bring you all the highs, all the lows, and the all the wonder of their famous final victory, with a splattering of 1979 nostalgia and some interviews thrown in as well.

Week six of the season saw the Whitecaps head back to California for a match up against a team they are still playing today – the San Jose Earthquakes – in a match with a couple of bizarre incidents, one of which is firmly etched in Vancouver folklore.

The fun and games for this one started even before the match on Saturday May 5th 1979.

San Jose were in something of a slump, having failed to record a win for the new season, with a record of three losses and one draw from their first four matches. The best way to get out of that? Win a game? Sign some new players? Nope. The Quakes felt that their poor run of form wasn’t down to the players, or tactics, or their opponents. It was down to their stadium being cursed!

Call in “professional cheerleader” Krazy George, a man who has worked for a number of sports teams across North America over the years, including the BC Lions and Vancouver Giants. He performed a pregame exorcism to “rid the ‘Quakes of the losing spirit”, with the intention of passing it on to the Whitecaps. Did it work? Read on!

14,107 headed along to Spartan Stadium (where the San Jose Clash also played in the early days of MLS before their relocation to Houston), and after a goalless first half, it looked like the exorcism may have worked.

John Craven gave away a penalty (the more things change…) for flooring a San Jose player, getting a red card for his efforts and picking up an injury on the process that ruled him out for the new seven matches. Capsy! German midfielder Bernd Gersdorff stepped up to convert the penalty and the ‘Caps suddenly found themselves a goal and a man down.

But San Jose’s good fortune was to be short lived and the ‘Caps tied things up midway through the half when Willie Johnston showed some of his trademark trickery on the ball to play in Kevin Hector, who fired in the equaliser.

Then came the famous incident that people still talk about today.

The ‘Caps sensed the comeback was now fully on and they pushed hard for the go ahead goal, winning a corner on the right side of the pitch. Willie Johnston went over to take it on the hot evening and was subsequently offered a bottle of beer from a fellow Scot in the crowd. How could he refuse?!

Thirst quenched slightly, it was a warm beer so he didn’t have much of it, Johnston whipped in the corner for Peter Daniel to head home what proved to be the winning goal.

An amazing incident, which would probably somehow be reviewed by VAR or DisCo nowadays, that has gone down in Vancouver Whitecaps folklore and one which Johnston still fondly remembers to this day.

“I remember I went to take the corner, and this wee boy shouted,” Johnston told us when we chatted with him back in 2014. “He was a Scotch boy and he said ‘do you want a drink Willie?’. I said, oh yeah I’d love a drink and I took it and it was warm and I went ooof and I gave him it back. Then I took the corner and Peter Daniel scored and that was it.

“But I wasn’t thinking. They were all shouting for me to take the corner but I was taking the bottle of beer first. It was warm [outside] but the beer was warmer! I didn’t realise it was going to be like that.”

The win made it five wins from their first seven matches for Vancouver, moving them to the top of the Western Division of the National Conference, a position they would find themselves still in come the end of the season, three months later.

You can catch up with all of our “Season To Remember” articles from the Whitecaps 1979 NASL Soccer Bowl winning season HERE.

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Authored by: Michael McColl

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