LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Vancouver Whitecaps

Canada’s champions, inspired by snowy mountaintops

A fan’s guide – the club from formation to today

The name of Vancouver Whitecaps echoes through each major era of soccer in North America, from NASL to MLS. It was coined by a one-armed sporting hero inspired by the view as he drove over the spectacular Lions Gate Bridge, the Lions being the snow-topped mountain peaks beckoning to northbound traffic heading into British Columbia.

While names of sports teams and franchises change and move with the wind in North America, baffling and frustrating Europeans, the one chosen by Denny Veitch on that sunny Sixties’ afternoon has stuck for half a century or more. Whitecaps won the NASL title in 1979, it was the team later England star Peter Beardsley played for in the 1980s, it won two USL Playoffs in the early 2000s, and it joined MLS in 2011, alongside West Coast rivals Portland Timbers.

Think of Vancouver and you think of Whitecaps – not every soccer city on this side of the Atlantic can say that. Perhaps Veitch also had Lions on his mind, as that was the Canadian Football team where he and Herb Capozzi, Whitecaps’ original founders, first crossed paths. One replaced the other as General Manager of the six-time Grey Cup winners, covering a period between 1957 and 1970.

Similar to but distinct from American football, the version of the sport north of the border is more akin to rugby, harking back to British influence and Canada’s role in the post-war Commonwealth.

Terry Fox statue, BC Place/Sara Cooke

The first major sports event held in Vancouver were the British Empire & Commonwealth Games of 1954, for which the Empire Stadium was built at Hastings Park. A statue now stands on the site, commemorating the famous Miracle Mile race of two sub-four minute runners.

While soccer wasn’t in the schedule, the stadium would be the first home of Vancouver Whitecaps in the NASL days, and the short-lived Vancouver Royals before them. Founded at the same as the post-’66 wave of soccer clubs in the States, by businessmen and administrators impressed with the World Cup in England, the Royals – originally Vancouver Royal Canadians – was launched in 1967.

Behind the initiative was pioneering entrepreneur Jack Kent Cooke, involved in media and sports ownership from 1945. Overseeing the LA Lakers and Washington Redskins, putting up the wherewithal for the famous Ali-Frazier fight of 1971, this Hamilton-born mover and shaker saw the potential of soccer early on, heading a consortium known as the United Soccer Association (USA).

Twelve franchises started the venture, from New York to Vancouver, 11 of them owned by the usual array of magnates and tycoons. The Royals, however, was overseen by Brig.-Gen E.G. Eakins, decorated in World War II when serving with the Canadian Army, whose bid for mayor of nearby New Westminster coincided with his move into the sporting spotlight.

BC Place/Liam Dawber

Each USA team was represented in its entirety by one from Europe or South America. Sunderland was Vancouver’s, meaning that spectators at the Empire Stadium got to see the great Jim Baxter play all 12 games against Wolves (LA Wolves, owned by Jack Kent Cooke), Dundee United (Dallas Tornado) and Cagliari (Chicago Mustangs).

The man who had signed Baxter for Sunderland, the manager of Scotland during the golden era of the 1960s, Ian McColl, was in charge but results and crowds were disappointing. The team carried over into the inaugural NASL in 1968 with, of all people, Ferenc Puskás as coach. Incoming owner George Fleharty had previously hired the Real Madrid icon to look after his USA franchise, San Francisco Golden Gate Gales, and brought the Magyar with him up the West Coast to Vancouver once it folded.

Filling the team with his compatriot Hungarians and Yugoslavs, along with stalwart WBA right-back, loanee Bobby Cram, Puskás could do little to lift his charges into the Playoffs. The team has a bizarre footnote in soccer history as, before its demise, it was successfully sued by later England manager Bobby Robson, the first choice for coach until Puskás threw his hat into the ring.

It was around now that Danny Veitch, recently hired as General Manager of Canadian football team BC Lions, had his moment of vision on Lions Gate Bridge. It would be a couple of years before his concept came to pass, however. It was in December 1973 that he, Herb Capozzi, a steakhouse owner and sundry moderately successful business people gathered to announce the formation of the Vancouver Whitecaps.

BC Place/Sara Cooke

A lifelong sports player and enthusiast, Capozzi was an entrepreneur of the old school. His Italian immigrant father had grown rich during the depression by making wine out of surplus apples. His favorite son would follow his example, in oil, restaurants and nightclubs. As long it kept him interested, Capozzi Jr. was in.

On the cusp of the Pelé era, NASL was just picking up after paying its dues for seven long years. Eight new teams joined in 1974, including the LA Aztecs and Seattle Sounders.

With former Dundee midfielder Jim Easton as coach, Whitecaps took on a slightly Scottish look, 1960s’ Liverpool icon Willie Stevenson the key signing, but essentially this was a squad that was laudably Canadian.

Here was where later Canada World Cup legend Bob Lenarduzzi made his first start in senior soccer in his hometown of Vancouver. A defender at Fourth Division Reading when still in his teens, Lenarduzzi would spend winters in England and summers running out for teams such as Vancouver Spartans and Vancouver Columbus in the amateur Pacific Coast Soccer League. Once Whitecaps took off, the man who finished his international playing career facing Platini, Tigana and Blokhin at the 1986 World Cup opted for Canada over Elm Park.

Alongside him at Whitecaps was his elder brother Sam, one of four soccer-playing Lenarduzzis, who earned a then record number of caps for Canada after also starting out at Columbus and Spartans. 

BC Place/Sara Cooke

Pro soccer’s return to the Empire Stadium in May 1974 attracted a crowd of 17,000 for the visit of San Jose Earthquakes but, over the course of 20 games, the team in red and white failed to ignite.

Sticking with the same coach and mainly domestic players, the Whitecaps again came up short in 1975 but got a taste of Cosmos glamor when Pelé and his troupe came to the Empire Stadium for a friendly in front of 26,500 that July.

After reaching the Playoffs in 1976, and a narrow defeat to Seattle Sounders, and holding Manchester United and Rangers to draws in friendlies at the Empire Stadium that May, the Whitecaps reached the Conference Semifinals under former England goalkeeper Tony Waiters in 1978.

Filling his side with ex-Division One stars, including goalkeeper Phil Parkes and striker Kevin Hector, Waiters doubled down in 1979, bringing over 1966 World Cup hero Alan Ball, recent Scotland international Willie Johnston and later Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar. It worked. Vancouver topped the West Division, then overcame a celebrity-filled LA Aztecs in the Conference Semifinals, twice, at a packed Empire Stadium.

The Pint/Sara Cooke

Next came post-Pelé Cosmos, brushed aside in Vancouver, then taken to penalties in New Jersey, Bob Lenarduzzi converting his, Brazilian World Cup star Francisco Marinho missing his for ultimately triumphant Cosmos. In the tie-breaking mini-game, and further penalties, Beckenbauer missed his, Lenarduzzi put his away. Whitecaps had reached the Soccer Bowl.

In New Jersey the following week, ex-Ipswich star Trevor Whymark hit both goals for Vancouver to lift the trophy.

Still attracting average crowds of between 20,000 and 30,000, Vancouver continued to impress by hiring successful players from England – David Cross, Peter Ward – before NASL folded after 1984. Waiters, meanwhile, was also masterminding Canada’s rise to the international stage, negotiating tricky fixtures in Central America to reach the World Cup finals for the first time.

Back home, the money and interest were in the indoor game, but Vancouver was still hankering after the full 11-a-side version.

BC Place/Liam Dawber

Everything came together in 1986, the year no coincidence. First, Vancouver, founded in 1886, was hosting Expo 86. Secondly, Canada had just performed creditably for the first time on the world stage, at the World Cup 1986. And then 86 contributors threw in their own share to fund a new team in town, to compete in the Canadian Soccer League being set up the following year in the wake of the national team’s brave efforts.

Led by Bob Lenarduzzi, originally the executive director of the Vancouver 86ers, now player and head coach, the new outfit based itself at the Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, an adjoining community linked by the recently opened Expo Line Sky Train.

With the Empire Stadium due for demolition, this was a new era for soccer in Vancouver. Apart from a Semifinal defeat in extra time to Calgary Kickers in the inaugural season, the 86ers dominated the CSL, being crowned Playoff Champions for each of the next four years.

Pinching Canadian international striker John Catliff from Calgary after the first campaign, and taking on a young Vancouver-born Domenic Mobilio, on his way to 25 caps for his country, the West Coast side always had too much for their opponents.

BC Place/Liam Dawber

Taking on their counterparts in the American Professional Soccer League (APSL) in an annual prestige clash, Vancouver was in the ideal position to reintegrate with the North-American game once the CSL folded in 1992. Providing the wherewithal was Greg Kerfoot, the local son of a software millionaire, who saved the club from a sorry demise in 2002, and rebuilt it from the ground up.

First playing in the APSL, then the subsequent A-League and USSF Division 2, as Major League Soccer operated one tier above from 1996, Vancouver reclaimed the name Whitecaps. Still based in Burnaby, the team was also playing showcase fixtures at BC Place, opened back in 1983 when the NASL Whitecaps attracted 60,342 for the visit of Seattle Sounders. Then an indoor arena, it also staged the Soccer Bowl that same year.

In November 2007, despite an atrocious pitch, BC Place staged a friendly match between Vancouver and David Beckham’s LA Galaxy, in front of 48,172 spectators. The two teams met again six months later in Edmonton, a 2-1 win for the Canadians after the goalless draw before.

There was more to the event than giving Canadians the chance to gawp at the British celebrity. With centrally located BC Place being overhauled for the 2010 Winter Olympics, with the world’s largest cable-supported retractable roof, the Whitecaps submitted a bid to join MLS in 2011. Vancouver was officially accepted as an expansion city in March 2009.

BC Place/Sara Cooke

Taking on their counterparts in the American Professional Soccer League (APSL) in an annual prestige clash, Vancouver was in the ideal position to reintegrate with the North-American game once the CSL folded in 1992. Providing the wherewithal was Greg Kerfoot, the local son of a software millionaire, who saved the club from a sorry demise in 2002, and rebuilt it from the ground up.

That same day, Vancouver Whitecaps FC was founded. Replacing the former Vancouver Whitecaps of the USSF Division 2, the new club targeted Paul Barber, who had boosted Tottenham’s commercial income, as CEO. Sponsorships and, most of all, a live TV deal, facilitated the new venture.

Moving from Burnaby for the first season to the Empire Field, the short-lived modern iteration of the Empire Stadium on the same site, Vancouver joined Portland Timbers as newcomers to MLS in 2011.

It proved a baptism of fire, as Whitecaps won only six of 34 games, including an initial 4-2 victory over Toronto. The pair would also meet in the recently introduced Canadian Championship, whose winners qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League. For the first few years, this was Toronto.

BC Place/Sara Cooke

Moving to BC Place in 2012, using only the lower tier accommodating half the 54,500 capacity, Vancouver made the Playoffs in 2012 only to be knocked out straight away by LA Galaxy.

Averaging crowds of 20,000, the Whitecaps fell at the same stage in 2014, this time without the prolific Brazilian Camilo Sanvezzo, who had left for Mexico under a cloud the year before.

With former Wales international midfielder Carl Robinson growing into the role as head coach, in 2015 Vancouver won its first Canadian Championship and made the Conference Semifinals after finishing second in the Western Conference.

Attracting 27,837 to BC Place for the visit of Cascadia rivals Portland Timbers, Vancouver failed to capitalize on a goalless draw gained at Providence Park, and the visitors went through to claim the MLS Cup that December.

BC Place/Sara Cooke

With Robinson still in charge, the Whitecaps again filled the lower half of BC Place in 2017, this time Seattle its opponents for the Conference Semifinals. After a goalless game in Vancouver, the Sounders prevailed at CenturyLink Field thanks to two goals from USMNT legend Clint Dempsey in his last full season.

Ditching Robinson as the 2018 season drew to a disappointing close, Vancouver took a while to pick up after the pandemic, giving the reins to fiery Italian coach Vanni Sartini. Goals from another new arrival, ex-New York Red Bulls striker Brian White, enabled the Whitecaps to amass two consecutive Canadian Championships in 2022 and 2023, taking part in the subsequent CONCACAF Champions League and Leagues Cup.

MLS success still proved elusive, however, as Vancover fell at the initial Playoffs hurdle to LAFC in 2023 – although the home leg that November allowed BC Place to be used to the full, a record gate of 30,204 witnessing a 1-0 defeat for the hosts.

STADIUM GUIDE

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

One of two Canadian venues selected to co-host the 2026 World Cup, BC Place has long been staging soccer internationals. Located a few blocks from Downtown Vancouver, conveniently served by the Expo Line Sky Train, BC Place was originally conceived as an indoor venue where the opening of Expo 86 would take place.

Both the Vancouver Whitecaps and BC Lions made use of BC Place from the first month of opening, June 1983, the NASL team until the league’s closure the following year, the Canadian football team until today.

In the meantime, with the 2010 Winter Olympics in mind, BC Place was converted into an outdoor stadium of 54,500 capacity, topped by a new retractable roof, the largest such cable-supported structure in the world.

Canada’s national soccer teams had long used Vancouver, from the men’s game with the U.S. in 1985. It was at BC Place that Tony Waiters’ Canadians warmed up for the upcoming 1986 World Cup Finals with a friendly against Wales.

Following a $150 million overhaul, BC Place not only staged the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics but its transformation convinced Vancouver’s reclusive owner Greg Kerfoot to elevate the club to MLS status.

BC Place/Sara Cooke

Spending their first season in 2011 at the temporary Empire Field, the renamed Whitecaps moved into BC Place the following year, taking over (and usually filling) its lower tier.

Kerfoot, meanwhile, continued to pour money into Canada’s women’s soccer team, who played Olympic qualifying playoffs at BC Place in January 2012 in front of crowds around 25,000, despite the freezing temperatures.

Three years later, spectators attended in similar numbers for the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and for games involving Cameroon, Ecuador, Japan and Switzerland. When Canada took the field for the Round of 16 game with the Swiss, the attendance was a shade under the capacity of 54,320. For the quarterfinal with England, the gate was just over 54,000 – for the final, a USWNT triumph, it was a full house. Kerfoot’s instinct in local support for Whitecaps and women’s soccer had proved astute.

Also used for concerts – Ed Sheeran drew 65,061 here in 2023 – BC Place accommodates an average crowd of 20,000 for Whitecaps games, close to capacity of 22,120 for the entire lower tier.

The home West End is accessed through Gate G, nearest the river and Cambie Bridge, with General Admission behind the goal. There in sectors 252-254 you’ll find the Southsiders, supporting Vancouver soccer for the past quarter-century. The march to the match has long been a game-day ritual.

The east goal opposite is a family zone. Media enter through Gate A on Beatty Street, while traveling supporters, numerous for the visits of Seattle and Portland, are allocated sector 218.

Gate A is also where you find the BC Sports Hall of Fame (CA$20, Wed-Sun 10am-5pm), an interactive introduction to the sporting achievements of British Columbia, from Olympians to the Vancouver Firefighters’ soccer team of 1961-62. Winners of the Pacific Coast Soccer League that season, the Firefighters headed to Los Angeles to represent Canada in the Kennedy Cup. There, they beat LA Kickers 74 after 165 minutes (!) and penalties, and a Mexico XI 2-1 in the final.

TRANSPORTATION

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Vancover International Airport is 7.5 miles (12km) southwest of Downtown Vancouver, on Sea Island. It has its own station, YVR Airport, at the terminus of the Canada Line, part of the SkyTrain network built for the 1986 Expo.

This runs every 7mins to Yaletown-Roundhouse (nearest BC Place), Vancouver City Centre and adjacent Waterfront 20-25mins away in Fare Zone 1, through two Fare Zones (CA$4.55 cash or contactless, CA$3.75 with a reloadable Compass Card, CA$6 refundable deposit). Journeys from YVR Airport incur an additional CA$5 AddFare charge.

A journey within Fare Zone 1 is CA$3.15/CA$2.55 with a Compass Card, an all-zone DayPass is CA$11.25. Tickets and Compass Cards are available at vending machines at all SkyTrain stations.

SkyTrain consists of three lines – Stadium-Chinatown Station on the Expo Line is the nearest to the East side of BC Place. TransLink uses the same fare system for local buses.

You can also access the stadium by Aquabus (CA$7.75/Day Pass CA$19) from seven docks around Vancouver’s waterfront, alighting at Plaza of Nations.

Long-established Vancouver Taxi (604-871-1111/604-255-5111) should charge around CA$35-CA$40 into the city center.

BC Place (777 Pacific Boulevard, Vancouver, V6B 4Y8) is well-served by public transport. If you have to come by car, there are paid parking options nearby, including at Plaza of Nations Parking Lot #1188 (770 Pacific Boulevard, Vancouver, V6B 5E7), CA$3/hr, open until 11pm daily.

Secure bicycle storage is provided by The Bicycle Valet at Gate C.

TICKETING

When, where, how, and how much

With average attendances now dropped below 20,000 and capacity a couple of thousand above, you should be able to source seats for Vancouver reasonably easily, unless it’s for the Cascadia derby against Seattle or Portland.

Tickets for the season ahead are available on the Whitecaps website. The Box Office at Gate H should be open from 9am on game days, and the Ticketmaster Box Office from 30mins before kickoff.

Expect to pay CA$35-CA$40 for a seat in the corner of the West End, overlooking the Whitecaps ultras who enter through General Admission. While most of these spots sell out, you may be able to source through one of the fan groups, such as the Vancouver Southsiders. Standing with them in sectors 253-254 will cost you around CA$30, your ticket available for download two or three days before the game.

A seat at the opposite end, in sections 231-234, will cost CA$35-CA$40, further round behind the long sideline, CA$50-plus. Note that Ticketmaster charges a booking fee of around CA$5-CA$6.

For all inquiries, contact sales@whitecapsfc.com, Customer Service on 604-669-9283 ext.1 and Sales on 604-669-9283 ext.2.

MERCHANDISE

Jerseys, souvenirs, and all kinds of gear

Vancouver Whitecaps has an official store (Wed-Sat 11am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm) in Gastown, near Waterfront Station at 385 Water Street, as well as merchandise outlets on match days at BC Place, on the concourse on level 2 and at the South West Club Lounge on level 3.

Away kit for 2024 pays homage to the 50th anniversary of the Whitecaps, dark blue with the original logo. The home jersey is white with a dark-blue chest band, framed in red. Scarves include a red-and-black Vancouver 86ers gem from the archive, tops a long-sleeved white number with the Vancouver Whitecaps double-diamond logo centerpieced on the chest.

Where to Drink

Matchday beers at the stadium and downtown

By the statue of heroic marathon runner Terry Fox, Boston Pizza Restaurant & Sports Bar is one of several Vancouver branches of this national chain, the concept of sports and pizza conceived in Edmonton 60 years old. Here, near Gate A of BC Place, it’s perfectly located to serve beer and family-friendly fare to the pregame crowds.

Just behind it, District Bar Restaurant, formerly Bogart’s, takes its inspiration from New York, with brunch, bar menu and daily specials, but also focuses on booze. Happy hours (Sun-Thur, 2pm-5pm) mean local beers on tap for CA$7. You can also watch the match here, in casual surroundings.

Also close to the stadium, tucked behind Beatty Street, Shark Club Sports Bar & Grill doesn’t skimp on screens, 72 filling a 400-seater space, plus two maxi-sized ones at 12ft by 7ft. Newcastle fans who have filled their own Shark Club before a match at St James’ Park might be interested to know that this is the original venue, opened below the Sandman Hotel in 1993, now back in the hands of the Gaglardi family.

A 15-minute walk away at the corner of Granville and Smithe Streets, Dublin Calling is where main Whitecaps supporters’ group the Southsiders gather on match days, at ‘Vancouver’s Sports Headquarters’. This, therefore, is where the March to the Match sets off, before turning into Robson Street and up to BC Place. Those here after the game can take in the action on 15 screens, order domestic or premium beers by the pitcher, and lay into wings, burgers or fish & chips. Happy hour runs Sun-Fri 4pm-6pm.

Near Waterfront Station on W Cordova Street, Lions Pub plays up its Brit credentials, even down to the Scotch eggs and cottage pie on the menu. Screens show sports action over the bar counter and around the dark-wood interior.

Towards Waterfront Station, Malones Taphouse dates back to 1998, and now offers 38 craft beers on draft, with tap takeovers and long happy hours on a daily basis. TV sports, too.

A few blocks down W Pender Street, the other side of Stadium-Chinatown Station from BC Place, Pint Public House welcomes sports fans with screens, beers and wings six days a week from 3pm, the banter going on until 3am on weekends. Another Edmonton enterprise, the Vancouver branch of this nationwide chain opened on St Patrick’s Day 2012, timed almost exactly around Whitecaps moving into nearby BC Place. Fans have been coming here since.

Across the water from the stadium, near Main Street-Science World Station, Johnnie Fox’s considers itself ‘Vancouver’s most authentic Irish pub’ – and no wonder, given the quality of the Guinness, poured to perfection and sipped in cozy snugs for the last 20 years. There’s also live music four nights a week. NFL action dominates the TV screens.

Way out west of the city in the University Endowment Lands, Browns Crafthouse UBC attracts a student crowd for numerous ales, casual pub food and TV sports – there’s another branch of this local chain on Main Street.

timeline

Following the local soccer scene
Terry Fox statue, BC Place/Sara Cooke

1954 Empire Stadium built for Commonweath Games.

1967 Vancouver Royal Canadians launched for inaugural and short-lived United Soccer Association.

1968 Team becomes Vancouver Royals and joins inaugural NASL. Folds the same year.

1973 Vancouver Whitecaps formed, joins NASL.

1975 Friendly match with a Pelé-inspired Cosmos brings 26,500 to the Empire Stadium.

1977 Former England goalkeeper Tony Waiters arrives as coach.

1979 Whitecaps wins Soccer Bowl.

1983 BC Place opens before Expo ’86

1984 Whitecaps folds with the demise of NASL.

1986 Waiters leads Canada to a creditable showing at its World Cup debut in Mexico. Vancouver 86ers founded, plays at Swangard Stadium in nearby Burnaby.

1993 After dominating Canadian Soccer League, 86ers joins American Professional Soccer League (APSL), winning division in regular season.

1995 APSL becomes A-League.

1997 86ers joins USISL A-League, reclaims the name Whitecaps.

BC Place/Liam Dawber

2007 BC Place hosts friendly between Vancouver and David Beckham’s LA Galaxy before crowd of 48,172. Moves afoot to rebuild BC Place for 2010 Winter Olympics, providing Whitecaps with a permanent home worthy of newly glamorous Major League Soccer.

2009 Vancouver accepted as MLS expansion city.

2010 Vancouver hosts Winter Olympics, with opening and closing ceremonies at rebuilt BC Place.

2011 Newly founded Vancouver Whitecaps FC joins MLS, plays debut season at Empire Field.

2012 Whitecaps moves into BC Place, filling the stadium’s lower tier. Canada’s women’s soccer team attracts 25,000 crowds to BC Place for Olympic qualifiers.

2015 Canada hosts Women’s World Cup. Quarterfinal with England draws 54,000 crowd, as does the final, won by USWNT. Vancouver Whitecaps wins first Canadian Championship and qualifies for CONCACAF Champions League.

2022 Vancouver chosen to co-host 2026 World Cup. Whitecaps wins Canadian Championship

2023 Record MLS crowd in Vancouver for Playoff with LAFC in 2023 – all of BC Place is opened to accommodate gate of 30,204.