Wath to Vancouver my soccer (football) Journey
I grew up in Wath-Upon-Dearne in the late ’60s and early ’70s, played football with my brother and friends in nearby Newhill Park and began to watch the professional game at Hillsborough, home of Sheffield Wednesday—my dad still remembers the ’66 FA Cup Final run which went wrong on the big day!
My first taste of competitive soccer came at Wath Central School where I played in the infamous “tied” Totty Cup Final (1974) with Adwick Road School, Mexborough. We beat strong teams from Swinton Brookfield and Bolton Carrfield on the way to the final.
That year also saw the revival of the Don & Dearne District U-11 football program. Unfortunately, the group was formed too late to affiliate with established tournaments, but we were able to schedule several exhibition games with local districts. One of these early fixtures was with Barnsley Boys who were also experiencing a rebuild.
A few days after the game, I was approached to join the Barnsley squad along with David Smith (Gooseacre) and Mark Wilkinson (Swinton Bridge). The season at Barnsley was a huge success; after making my debut against Manchester Boys, the team went on to win several trophies including the Green ‘Un Cup where we beat Derby Boys in a two-legged final. A number of the squad’s players would later play non-league and local football at a high level; Mark Wilkinson signed as an apprentice at Rotherham United under then-manager Emlyn Hughes, and our centre forward Mick Bentley had a couple of years at Sheffield Wednesday.
I continued to play football in local youth leagues during my school days and eventually moved into adult soccer, playing at various levels with local club sides.
A keen watcher and student of the game and in the mid-’80s, I took my first steps into coaching, completing the FA Football Leaders Award under the guidance of John Warnock (the University of Sheffield coach and brother of Neil) and Mick Hennigan (former assistant coach to Howard Wilkinson at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United).
In the summer of 1990, I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, on the West Coast of Canada, and was keen to continue my coaching education. Before arriving, I had enrolled in an upcoming course at Shawnigan Lake School on Vancouver Island—a beautiful private school that has welcomed royal family members as students. It was certainly many miles from Wath and the Dearne Valley, but I was committed to trying to make this work.
I was relieved to find out that the course director was Tony Waiters, a former England International goalkeeper and league player for both Blackpool and Liverpool in the Shankly days. Tony was also the Manager of the Canadian national team that qualified for the 1976 World Cup. He would become my mentor and good friend for several years; he spoke my language and most of all knew who Sheffield Wednesday was. Sadly, Tony passed away a few years ago after giving so much to the game in Canada
During my time in Canada, I have had the great pleasure to learn from some outstanding players and coaches who continue to be involved in the game across British Columbia. Most had moved to join the professional soccer leagues in North America (e.g., Vancouver Whitecaps FC):
- Derek Possee (Tottenham, Millwall, Crystal Palace, Orient and Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
- Carl Valentine (Oldham Athletic, West Bromwich Albion, Vancouver Whitecaps)
- Michael Findlay (Celtic, Canada & Grenada coach)
- Mark Parker (Brighton, Canada youth coach)
In 1995, I graduated from a local college with a Diploma in Recreation Facility Management, and have since been involved in the operation of community sports facilities and the sports tourism industry in various capacities. Recently, I joined the athletic staff at Southpointe Academy, a private school in the Vancouver area where the current physical education staff includes Stuart O’Leary, former Head of Education & Welfare at the Brentford FC Academy.
I continue to coach football (soccer, here in Canada) at local clubs in the area and I’m proud to say I have been actively involved with players who have progressed to play at both professional and college levels.
My weekends are usually glued to the sports channel at breakfast time watching the Premier League, sometimes with my daughters who have been players for many years.
Now, I’m just hoping one day the blue team from Sheffield 6 will be back in the big time!