Their Finest Hour: Vancouver Whitecaps 1979 Soccer Bowl winning season (Part Four – The first road game of the year, a player strike across the league, and a shootout victory)
Every week on AFTN from now until September 8th, 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 three of the season saw the Whitecaps first road trip of the campaign, and somewhat weirdly, like the current MLS ‘Caps this same weekend, it was a trip to the Windy City. But this was to take on the Chicago Sting at the famous Wrigley Field and not the Fire in a near empty remote stadium.
This was to be no normal week of the season for the NASL however. Some of the clubs around the league had established an unwelcome reputation for mistreatment of their players, and the difference between those teams that treated their players well and those that didn’t was starting to become a problem, and tensions began to rise.
So much so that this week saw players across the league go on strike when the NASL failed to recognize the newly formed Players Association, despite the National Labour Relations Board doing just that the year before. A ballot was issued and players voted 252 to 113 to go on strike.
But not all teams were affected and not all players went with what they had voted for. New York Cosmos were a prime example – 20 of their players voted to strike, 2 didn’t, yet 14 players turned up for their match.
Over two thirds of the players decided to play in the end, but 143 players did strike. That breaking of the picket line was in part to some teams having happy players, none of whom went on strike, but a bigger factor was the number of foreign players in the league and US and Canadian labour laws that could have seen them deported for going on strike! Or so it was intimated by the likes of the US Justice Department.
Other teams were left scrambling when just a handful of players turned up for their match that week. The New England Tea Men had ten players missing, Fort Lauderdale Strikers aptly had 16 out, and Portland Timbers had 17 of their 18 man squad go on strike.
But games were not to be cancelled. That led to a slew of amateurs and former players to be hastily signed to play, and understandably, the quality suffered and it was a chaotic weekend.
The strike forced the NASL to temporarily suspend three of its rules: loans between teams was now allowed, as were one game contracts, and the domestic rule that stated that at least two North Americans had to be on the pitch at any one time was also thrown out the window.
By Wednesday of the next week, April 18th, the NASLPA called off the strike and things got back to normal without actually achieving anything. But on May 4th the Labour Relations Board ordered the owners to enter collective bargaining with the players. The owners and the league appealed, things dragged on, they appealed again, things dragged on even more, and eventually, five years later in May 1984, a collective bargaining agreement was finally reached. The league then went out of business a few months later.
Here’s a news story about the strike from the time:
Both Vancouver and Chicago were unaffected, and were able to field full strength teams for their clash. Of the Sting’s 20 players, 19 voted against the strike, with one abstaining. “It was not a vote against the strike,” Sting President Clive Toye said afterwards, “it was a vote for soccer.” The Whitecaps on the other hand were precluded from striking under Canadian law, so it was very much game on for these two teams.
The Whitecaps had been a fairly strong team away from home in 1978, winning nine of their regular season matches, drawing two, and losing just four. That included finishing the season with six straight wins and being unbeaten in eight on the road.
They hoped to take that form into 1979, and they did.
Chicago though were a formidable force at home and they knew they’d have a battle on their hands, and so it proved in front of 10,130 fans at Wrigley Field.
It was a fast paced affair from the start. Jon Sammels gave Vancouver a 10th minute lead, finishing off a Buzz Parsons cross, but it was a lead that was to last just two minutes before German striker Karl-Heinz Granitza tied things up right away.
That was how it stayed until half time but as the second half got underway Kevin Hector made it three goals in the first three games to put the ‘Caps back in the lead. Dutch World Cup star Wim Van Hanegem brought the Sting back level again, and with no further goals, the match headed into a 15 minute overtime period.
With the deadlock still unable to be broken, the match headed to a shootout.
Whitecaps goalkeeper Phil Parkes saved three of Chicago’s four shots, while Vancouver scored three of theirs for the 3-2 shootout victory, including one from Bob Lenarduzzi.
That made it back to back wins for Vancouver and they headed home happy, with a Cascadian derby next up for them against Portland Timbers.
You can catch up with all of our “Season To Remember” articles from the Whitecaps 1979 NASL Soccer Bowl winning season HERE.