Sunday, July 20, 2008

A League of Our Own -- The 'Original' Canadian Soccer League 1987-1992

When Canada qualified for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, many journalists, football administrators, players, coaches, and fans wondered aloud how a country without a competitive domestic professional league could produce players capable of beating the world's best.

Hence, in an effort to give homegrown players a chance to play at home rather than toddle off overseas to ply their wares (I'm looking at you Craig Forrest), in 1987 Canadian soccer fans were introduced to the CSL. The league was formed of teams from across Eastern and Western Canada, including Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver, and thus was Canada's first real attempt at a true 'national' loop. It also offered a reprieve for Toronto's local football-aficionados devastated by the demise of the NASL -- Toronto's club were called 'the Blizzard.

The Globe and Mail reports on the Toronto Blizzard's inaugural
game in the newly-formed Canadian Soccer League, June 7 1987.
Note the North York Rockets coach had to be replaced as his chi-
dren had received death threats.

The idea to have a fully functioning Canadian professional league might seem naive now, but considering the circumstances of its birth, one can pardon its progenitors for their ambition. Canada had qualified for the 1986 World Cup; the USA had not. Interest in soccer among children was fast out-pacing hockey across the country, and when sports channel TSN announced they would pick up a Sunday-night fixture, it seemed only a matter of time before families would take their children to games to give them something to look forward to as a Canadian soccer star, live European fixtures not-yet being available on regular cable TV.

Yet like so many leagues before it, the CSL was beset with financial problems, partly due to low attendance, partly due to overzealous club owners wanting to spend their way to a Canadian league title, partly due to a massive recession that hit shortly after the CSL was formed. In 1992, a mere five years after its inception, the league would go belly-up. (A depressing story on the end of the CSL can be found here. You can take heart in knowing the Vancouver 86ers would later become the USL's Vancouver Whitecaps, the same club that beat the LA Galaxy recently in a friendly.)


fredorrarci said...

Does the rest of that report in the photo give any more detail as to why the Rockets' coach's kids got death threats? It seems to state it very matter-of-factly and leave it at that.

Richard Whittall said...

I know -- truly bizarre and I wasn't able to find much else on it. It may have been some irate Blizzard fan -- North York is immediately north of downtown Toronto so the opener counted as a derby match.