Throughout the season we’ve been recapping Vancouver Whitecaps’ 1979 Soccer Bowl winning season with the help of matchday programs, photographs, and more, bringing 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.
With the playoffs fast approaching, we reach August, the final month of the 1979 NASL regular season.
With four regular season games left, the Whitecaps were looking good for the playoffs and a consecutive first place finish in their division, but their injury count was starting to be crippling and there were doubts over whether some key pieces would be back available for the postseason.
The Whitecaps kicked the month off with a 1-0 win over the already crowned National Conference Central Division champs, the Minnesota Kicks, before going down 2-0 to the LA Aztecs four days later, with Bruce Grobbelaar in goal for Vancouver after Phil Parkes went down with food poisoning the morning of the match!
The Kick Magazine program for the Minnesota match featured an interesting five page article around how the game of soccer was being marketed and promoted in North America, and how it was starting to grab the attention of clubs from the UK as they looked to stop dwindling attendances.
For years the feeling in the UK was that the NASL was a weird and wacky league, with a unique way of marketing the game that would never catch on back home, but as more and more Scottish and English clubs paid visits to their North American counterparts, the feeling around the league was that what they were doing was the future of the game.
“There is now a vast change of attitude in Britain towards the North American Soccer League,” according to Chicago Sting President, and former UK journalist, Clive Toye. “At first they thought it would never last, then it was treated as a joke, then it was something to be pitied because we had no money, then they admitted that perhaps there might be a few ideas worth considering, until now they accept that this is where it’s at.”
A bold statement, but the game didn’t last here to lead that way, folding five years later. The American style razzamatazz never fully caught on in the UK, or rather the rule changes didn’t, and it was to be the money from the Premier League and Sky Sports that changed the game forever.
Some things were taken on board over the years, however – playoffs, artificial pitches, electronic scoreboards, half time entertainment, players making community appearances, mascots, and for some, even cheerleaders. The newly built all–seater stadiums also have more than a passing nod to North American facilities, but all the rule changes adopted by the NASL were soon forgotten.
The article also catalogues a series of promotional disasters in the league though such as a falcon being spooked by the crowd and flying away in Toronto, a lion get tangled in a goalnet in San Jose, and skydivers in Dallas landing too early on the pitch at half time while the players were still out on it and one of them breaking his tailbone. The Whitecaps should have brought all these things back for their 40th anniversary celebrations!
That Minnesota defeat was doubly disappointing as the ‘Caps needed just one more victory to wrap up the National Conference Western Division title for the second straight season, but they only had to wait four more days to do that and were able to win it on home turf.
They were made to work for it though. San Jose Earthquakes came to town and battled hard, taking the game to overtime still scoreless. But you could always rely on Trevor Whymark to come up big when the ‘Caps needed him and he headed home the sudden death winner to give the Whitecaps a 1-0 victory and the divisional title, with the trophy paraded around all four corners of Empire in front of 25,731 fans.
The Kick Magazine for the game celebrated tailgating throughout the league, a North American staple that wasn’t to catch on in the UK, mainly due to dreary weather, alcohol laws, and football fans not being trusted to mingle together! The pregame pub culture there though is its own version.
The Whitecaps player profile interview this issue was with Trevor Whymark, and tells the story of his journey from the small 300 population of village of Burston to being a legend in Vancouver. Passed over as a footballer by scouts, in part due to his size, he headed to college then became an apprentice at a builder’s merchant.
But then he was noticed by Ipswich Town scouts and Whymark earned a one-month trial, then a five-month one, before signing professional terms and the rest is history. Whymark became a legend with the Tractor Boys then a Soccer Bowl winning hero in Vancouver.
How he ended up here was all due to him yearning for a change.
“After 10 years in England, it became boring,” Whymark told Kick. “The same places, the same trips. I really wanted a new challenge, and I believed that I would find it in North America.
“In some ways the game here has been more difficult than it was in England. I think because of the record of the Whitecaps last year, teams have come to defend against us, making for a very difficult game. That is a bit of a disappointment, because it was not what I had expected.”
It didn’t stop Whymark from finding the back of the net 25 times in 57 appearances for the ‘Caps though, including the two goals in the Soccer Bowl win over Tampa Bay.
It was so disappointing that Whymark decided not to head over for the 40th anniversary celebrations this year, for it sounds like he was looking at his time in the league as one he’d never forget.
“It will be great in the years ahead to be able to look back and recall all the great players from all over the world that I had the chance to play against. People like Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Mueller, Neeskins and others who are the tops in the world.
“Playing back home, you might occasionally play against one of them if you are lucky enough to get in European competition, but here is the chance to meet them all.”
Hopefully Whymark will change his mind and decide to come back to Vancouver again one day. I know I’d love to sit down and hear all his tales.
Divisional title wrapped up, that left just one game of the regular season to play, a trip to Seattle on August 11th for another Cascadian derby. Thousands of Whitecaps supporters headed south to the Kingdome, among a 24,196 crowd that saw goals from Buzz Parsons and Alan Ball give Vancouver a 2-0 win.
Always nice to get a win over the Sounders and you can see extended highlights from the match in the video below:
It was already a season to remember for the Whitecaps. A second National Conference Western Division title was secured with a record of 20 wins and 10 losses, with 54 goals for and 34 against. The ‘Caps had been fairly dominant at home, posting a 12 wins and three defeats record. On the road was a whole other matter, with eight victories and seven defeats, something they knew they needed to improve upon if they were to win the Soccer Bowl.
But it had been a fantastic season and confidence was high. Next up was the playoffs.
You can catch up with all of our “Season To Remember” articles from the Whitecaps 1979 NASL Soccer Bowl winning season HERE.