Monday February 4th 1974 was certainly a momentous day for the new Vancouver North American Soccer League (NASL) club. After a fairly quiet start to the year, publicly at least, the new team got their name, a logo of sorts, and their first player, 13 weeks out before their first ever match in the league. Ticket prices for the season were also announced, as was confirmation that the team would play their home games out of Empire Stadium.
Fast forwarding 50 years, the biggest news from all of that was that the new club now had a name. A name that was to stand the test of time, even after disappearing for 17 years, and one that is proudly going strong today – Vancouver Whitecaps were born.
Vancouver’s owners had initially planned to put the name for the new team out to a public vote, but the club’s Executive Vice-President Denny Veitch felt that in the end they didn’t have to, because the name they came up with themselves was so good!
“It’s a name that conjures up visions of snowcapped mountains or whitecapped waves,” Veitch told assembled media. “We considered holding a name-the-team contest, but while we wanted community involvement, we felt we had the name we were looking for. The contest idea was abandoned because we didn’t feel the name Whitecaps could be improved upon.”
Something else that was quickly abandoned was the club’s initial idea of a crest. The one which most are familiar with from the 1974 season, a red maple leaf inside a red and white football, was thankfully what was eventually decided upon and not the horrible football on a splodge style wave that was revealed with the Whitecaps name on February 4th and you can see here!
Veitch also announced that the Whitecaps would kick off their inaugural season on Saturday May 4th at home to the San Francisco expansion team, who didn’t yet have their San Jose Earthquakes moniker. It was confirmed that home games would be played at Empire Stadium on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, with 10 league matches and two friendlies. Tickets would cost $4, $3, and $2, depending on which section you chose to sit in and would go on sale from March 1st. Season ticket holders would get special pricing and a discount off any friendlies.
But who would play in the team and who would manage them?
Well the latter was still part of ongoing discussions, with several candidates ruled out. One of those was University of Victoria Vikes head coach Brian Hughes. The experienced Welshman has made 231 appearances for Swansea City, 60 appearances for Atlanta Chiefs in the NASL in the 60s, and had been capped at U23 level by Wales.
The Whitecaps were interested in Hughes as their head coach but it fell apart due to the money being offered for the position, or rather the lack of it! Hughes turned the Whitecaps down, revealing he’d been offered $1000 a month salary, where the average head coach’s salary in the rest of the league was between $1500 and $1600 per month. Some may facetiously say that the Whitecaps maintained this cheap persona for many decades to come!
“Denny made a lot of sense talking about the business end of the operation,” Hughes told the Vancouver Sun. “He didn’t make so much sense about the actual fielding of a soccer club, and I expect that’s because he’s never been involved with the game. But I think the operation is on the right road, and he’s got a hell of a good chance to make it go.”
Hughes went on to coach UVic to its first CIAU national men’s soccer title in 1975.
Veitch also vowed that day that the Whitecaps would be the first professional Vancouver team to make the playoffs in 1974. They weren’t. They didn’t make the NASL playoffs until 1976, with the Canucks making the NHL playoffs for the first time a year earlier.
So no coach, but the Whitecaps did get their first player! And he was a local lad to boot, with experience playing in the top flight of England (the First Division as it properly was back then!).
February 4th 1974 saw 22-year-old forward Glen Johnson become the first ever Whitecap player.
Johnson had been spotted playing locally in 1969 by West Bromwich Albion when they were over on a summer tour. He was invited over to the Midlands for a trial in July and signed a professional contract with the Baggies. He soon made his debut and played three matches for West Brom before suffering a knee injury and although he was technically on their books till 1974, he returned to Canada to play locally and had never played another match for them.
First capped by Canada in 1972, the Canada Soccer Hall of Famer was signed by the Whitecaps from local BC Soccer League side Pegasus, where he led the league in scoring with 15 goals from 11 matches. Johnson went on to play four season for the Whitecaps in the NASL from 1974 to 1977 and one season for the ‘Caps in the 1975 NASL indoor league before hanging his boots up at the age of just 25 after his 17-month-old son Nathan was diagnosed with cancer.
Johnson went on to play 59 games for the Whitecaps in those four NASL seasons, scoring 18 goals and contributing 16 assists. He was the team’s leading scorer during the 1975 season and was named Man of the Match in the Whitecaps first ever match, grabbing the assist on the first ever ‘Caps goal when Neil Ellett tucked away Johnson’s corner.
So a name, a player, and a stadium to call home. Next up was a head coach and supporters only had to wait 10 more days for one to be named.