Local fans of the beautiful game “were absolutely shocked” recently when word came down that the Harbour City Football Club (HCFC) of Nanaimo has voted to remove all Nanaimo house-league teams from playing with teams from the Oceanside, Mid-Isle and Gabriola Island clubs — “turning their backs on a tradition stretching back over 80 years here on Vancouver Island.”
In a letter to HCFC president Liam Roden and HCFC Technical Director Claude Bolton, forwarded to the The NEWS and signed by the presidents of each club (David Reynolds of Oceanside Youth Soccer Society, Willow Hartig of the Mid-Isle Soccer Club and David Reid of the Gabriola Soccer Association), they articulate their concerns about what Reynolds calls “a huge issue.”
“As presidents of our respective clubs, we have been given no explanation, no rationalization, and no justification from the HCFC executive as to why this decision was made, or how this decision can in any way support the ongoing development of young soccer players in this region,” stated the letter. “On Feb. 20, we sent an invitation to the entire HCFC board to meet with us and discuss any possible grievances they may have with us, but to date no one from HCFC has replied.”
“We object in the strongest possible terms to this decision being made unilaterally by the HCFC board — a decision impacting thousands of soccer players in our area – with no consultation, no discussion, and no warning, “ the letter continued. “The B.C. Soccer Association (CSA) is a member of the Canadian Soccer Association and is responsible for governing our game in B.C., on behalf of the CSA. We bring this situation to your attention as it seems to contravene B.C. Soccer’s stated goal: . . . to promote continued and sustainable soccer, community development and overall growth for our game in every region of B.C. To achieve this we must ensure all partners are working in collective harmony while also embracing B.C. Soccer’s mission of developing the game by inspiring British Columbians to lifelong active, inclusive and team play.”
The letter continued: “We feel that the decision to remove Nanaimo teams from our traditional house league play does not support Canada Soccer’s developmental strategy, nor does it support B.C. Soccer’s stated purpose of providing inclusive team play through collaboration, cooperation and coordination in the pursuit of excellence in soccer. We suggest that you inquire into this matter further, and we ask that you forward our additional correspondence to B.C. Soccer and to the Vancouver Whitecaps FC organization on our behalf.”
HCFC president Liam Roden talked extensively with The NEWS about the decision.
“We knew that certainly it would be a topic of discussion, for sure, to what degree though that’s always hard to predict,” Roden said.
The HCFC has more than 1,600 players aged five to 17 that until now have played with the above mentioned other clubs in the Nanaimo and District Youth Soccer League, which has recently been changed to the Oceanside League.
HCFC operates in partnership with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Island Academy Centre in Nanaimo and the club will continue to compete in the Upper Island Soccer Association (UISA) select league that includes Mid-Island Soccer Club, Comox, Campbell River.
“It wasn’t a random thought,” Roden said of the decision, adding: “certainly there was some discussion behind the scenes and through discussions after that we charted a path forward. Certainly this didn’t come overnight.”
“As a club the priority should be with your own members (and) that’s one of the things we look at as a board.”
Last Friday, the HCFC board of directors voted unanimously in favour of separation, a decision Roden said was made in the best interest of the club without taking it to a vote.
A movement against the exclusion has taken off. A petition started last week speaking out against the decision numbered more than 800 as of The NEWS’ deadline Monday.
In the petition “they talk about it costing $100,000 a year for people to drive here, there and everywhere (to find competition) and I think that’s a bit over the top. I really don’t see how, when this is put together it could be anything resembling that,” said Roden.
“Our first priority is to look at what programs we can put in place to best develop our players — there’s all sorts of things — and that’s the mentality of most clubs. We’re not excluding competition, we look at how we’re going to develop our players.”
Like other clubs he said, the members cover the costs of fields and uniforms, “but our club does have a few paid technical people so we need to utilize that.”
“The face of soccer is changing and so too is how clubs go about developing players. Our’s is an ever-evolving, ever-changing program.”
Looking ahead to next year, Roden concedes “I know there’s still some finishing touches needed. A lot of it depends on registration numbers so it’s still unfolding.”
But he confirmed the decision is final.
Local coach response
Oceanside Youth Soccer president Dave Reynolds confirms HCFC has stated it will not be meeting with them to discuss the issue of separation further.
That’s something Reynolds said he is having a hard time with, pointing out that “close to 1,000 kids between the three clubs don’t have a league to play in next year.”
To those that would suggest it’s a case where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, Reynolds said the move isn’t being met with support even in Nanaimo.
“It’s a huge, huge issue,” he said. “Over 50 per cent of their coaches when contacted by our coaches have indicated that they will not support the decision. Not one coach spoke out in favour of it.”
“Why not at least meet with us to tell us why they are doing what they’re doing, and if after meeting there are differences, to at least see if we can’t work them out?”
As a way of making a statement to HCFC, it was agreed before a tournament on the weekend, the coaches and players would gather in a circle at centre field before the start of each game in a show of solidarity.
Reynolds also said he doesn’t understand why “I’ve co-coached a U15 Boys VIPL team with Liam for the last two years and he’s had ample opportunity to talk to me about this, but he never said anything to me, ever, about any differences, he just phoned me up three weeks ago and said HCFC is pulling out because of friction. There’s been no friction. That was the first I heard anything.”
“What are we going to do now?” Reynolds wondered. “We have one or two teams in each age group …we have 350 kids (in Oceanside Youth Soccer) that don’t have anywhere to play next year, that don’t have a league to play in.”