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  • The Whitecaps' Weird, Wooly Recreation of their History


    This article hasn't really got anything to do with anything on the field. But after Sunday's stultifying loss, I really don't want to think about that. This is just something else that bugs me: why do the Whitecaps have such a schizophrenic approach to their own history?


    As everybody knows, this is the Vancouver Whitecaps' first season in Major League Soccer. But it's not the organization's first year of existence: this incarnation of the Whitecaps dates back to the Vancouver 86ers of the old Canadian Soccer League founded in (you guessed it) 1986. The original Vancouver Whitecaps, after whom this team is named, were members of the first North American Soccer League in 1974. This team folded a decade later in 1984, when Big Brother's strict new anti-football ordinances caused the NASL to fold. The 86ers changed their names to the Whitecaps in 2001.

    It's not actually complicated, I think you'll agree. Yet the Whitecaps seem to have a rather schizophrenic time of it, history-wise.

    The sidelining of their division two history was somewhat inevitable. With so many players as well as head coach Teitur Thordarson surviving from the USL-1 days, the Whitecaps have actually done a better job keeping in touch with their second-division history than, say, the Seattle Sounders ever did. But you still here the occasional away commentator stammering as he tries to reconcile Teitur Thordarson having been in Vancouver for four years with this being Vancouver's first year. Wes Knight is still officially "inexperienced" despite having already played two professional seasons, mostly as a starting right back in a good league. Little things like that.

    The club itself adds to the confusion. Pick up one of their authentic jerseys and look on the back, under the collar. You'll see the words "Since 1974". Well, yes, the name "Whitecaps" dates back to 1974 but this team certainly doesn't; the 86ers organization that brought soccer back to Vancouver after the demise of the NASL had no connection to the old Whitecaps and everybody knew it. You hear occasional references, sometimes from people within the organization who should know better, of the team's "history" in the first NASL. When they speak of the Whitecaps "returning" to the Canadian/American first division, they're never referring to the CSL (or to the APSL, first division until 1994 if only by default). Actually, there are no doubt new Whitecaps fans who came aboard with MLS and had no idea the team was in the CSL at all.

    If you're a non-Whitecaps fan, you probably went through this entire article in one huge yawn. Why do I care? Why should anyone care?

    Because, more than any sport except perhaps baseball, soccer embraces its history and traditions. Why else are Chelsea fans still serenaded with "you ain't got no history" despite having won four first division league titles dating back to 1954-55? Why else did Duane Rollins name his blog "The 24th Minute"? Why else do Vancouver Southsiders serenade the players with "na, na na na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, eight-six" in the 86th minute even though a third of the Southsiders (this one included) weren't even born during that first season? This is an essential part of soccer culture. If you're a Toronto FC fan and you don't know which minute some big bald Englishman scored their first ever goal, well, you will soon. Likewise, if you're a Whitecaps fan wondering what that "Hey Jude" nonsense is about, there are plenty of people who weren't around for those days in the eighties but would still be happy to tell you.

    What the Whitecaps and Major League Soccer are doing is muddying the waters. Why sing "eight-six" when the club was founded in 1974 (it wasn't, that's why)? The club half-embraces, half-rejects its division two days, doing things like trotting out the Lenarduzzi brothers before the second home game and refusing to issue unofficially retired numbers like Domenic Mobilio's #10 but simultaneously painting the Major League Soccer era as a new beginning rather than a promotion. They even changed the mascot for no immediately obvious reason.

    This makes for a confused picture for the many new supporters of the team. It makes the old supporters wonder if their great icons of history, like the famously versatile Davey Morris (still heralded with the very occasional, very long song), will fall by the wayside before the tide of "we were in the NASL from 1974 to 1984 and then in MLS in 2011 and nothing happened between then". The Vancouver Whitecaps/86ers actually have plenty of history, at least by Canadian standards. Let's hold onto that. And let's not embellish it by claiming an earlier team's history as well.

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