Whitecaps Year One: A Valentine’s Day gift of a first ever ‘Caps coach

Whitecaps Year One: A Valentine’s Day gift of a first ever ‘Caps coach

Whitecaps are red. Whitecaps are blue. It’s Valentine’s Day and we’ve a present for you.

That could have been the way Vancouver’s new North American Soccer League (NASL) team announced their first ever head coach, it was the cheesy 1970s after all. They chose instead to announce it at a luncheon. Much more classier, it has to be said.

After announcing the team name and their first signed player 10 days earlier, the Whitecaps’ next monumental announcement came on February 14th 1974. After weeks of interviews and worldwide interest, the Whitecaps now had their first ever head coach – Jim Easton.

The 33-year-old Scotsman had over 300 career appearances as a pro under his belt and some managerial experience, and Easton would not only go on to stake a place in Whitecaps history, where he was head coach for the club’s first two NASL seasons, but his son also went on to play for the Vancouver 86’ers and played a pivotal role in the development of the club game in Canada in more recent years, with his recommendations in the Easton Report a catalyst for the Canadian Premier League and League1 Canada.

After a playing career in Scotland with Hibernian, Dundee, and Queen of the South that started in 1958, Easton headed over to the US in 1973 to play the NASL season with Miami Toros. A centre-back, who had been capped at U18 and U23 level by Scotland, Easton had been player-manager in Dumfries with the Doonhamers and was also assistant coach in Miami during his year there, so he came to Vancouver with both managerial and playing experience in the NASL, ticking a lot of the boxes Whitecaps Executive Vice-President Denny Veitch was hoping for.

Veitch said the Whitecaps had spoken to between 50 and 60 candidates before offering the job to Easton and signing him to a two-year deal.

“We feel we have the best available man,” Veitch told the assembled media. “We were originally committed to finding a local person for the job, but after talking to several candidates we decided we wanted someone with experience in the league. I would like to stress that at no time did I make an offer to anyone but Jim Easton.

“We hope that Jim will remain as head coach only with us. We have his playing rights, but we would like him to concentrate on coaching duties. If we put together a competitive side, he won’t have to play.”

He didn’t have to lace up the boots in the end, but perhaps they could have done with such an experienced stopper for the tough season that was to come!

Easton was delighted to be in Vancouver and looking forward to the challenge ahead, feeling that coming in as coach of the Whitecaps was a personal “step up” from being the captain and assistant coach down in Miami.

“The standard in the NASL is improving every year,” Easton felt. “We’ll need to recruit strongly to be competitive.”

And he felt that the Whitecaps could be just that, by mixing both local and international talent.

“I saw a couple of first division (B.C. Soccer League) games,” Easton said. “And off hand I would say there is sufficient talent here to form the nucleus of a competitive team.

Easton’s appointment caused a bit of a buzz in the city, with local media delighted it was an English speaking coach after having issues with the legend that was Hungarian Ferenc Puskás back with Vancouver Royals in 1968. Puskás spoke little English and had little interest in adding Canadian players to the team, so the focus on local talent was already piquing interest from the media.

Upon his introduction, Easton told media that he wanted his Whitecaps team to play “aggressive”, adding that he “would like to think we’re going to win every game”! Bold, and soon proved to be far from accurate!

Veitch had a few more announcements to make that Valentine’s Day from an off the pitch aspect, revealing the club’s new new crest, the red leaf at the centre of a white soccer ball that we know today. Aside from it being a marked improvement from the horrible first effort revealed 10 days earlier, the club had to change it to avoid being too similar to that of the Vancouver Business Bureau!

Season ticket pricing was also revealed with those in the $5 section of the stadium going for $150 (a saving of $50 on at the gate prices for the 10 home games) and those in the $3 section going for $90. An absolute bargain considering today’s prices! The full schedule for the 20-game season was also announced.

The following day it was announced that the Whitecaps had finally come to an agreement with the Canadian Soccer Association to let some Canadian players choose to sign amateur contracts with the club if they also wanted to play at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

Authored by: Michael McColl

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