Lamenting the demise of Sapperton Rovers (or, how to piss away a century of Canadian football history)

This isn’t a groundhopping review.  It’s a political rant.  Well, more like a whinge, really.

Those of you who read my recent review of Vancouver’s Trillium Park may recall me moaning about Sapperton Rovers (of the Vancouver Metro Soccer League) recently changing their club name to the ridiculously bland, uninspiring and generic “Rovers United” after merging with a Burnaby youth club and then with Vancouver United this past summer.

Why does this development bother me? Because the name “Sapperton Rovers” carries with it possibly more history than any other in British Columbian club football history.

The first recorded association football match played in British Columbia was contested between the Royal Engineers and “New Westminster townsfolk” in May 1862 (some 24 years before the City of Vancouver was incorporated).  The Royal Engineers were known as the “Sappers“, which led to the name “Sapperton” being given to the New Westminster neighbourhood in which they were based.

In the first two decades of the 1900s, a team known as “Westminster Rovers” played in the Vancouver District League, and were fully professional for at least part of their existence.

Vancouver St. Andrews vs. Sappterton AFC, Con Jones Park, 1920 (courtesy Vancouver City Archives)

And in the 1920s, a club called “Sapperton AFC” played to large crowds (including more than 10,000 punters for a match at Con Jones Park, located immediately west of today’s PNE grounds in Vancouver).

Westminster vs. Nanaimo, Con Jones Park, 1932 (Stuart Thomson fonds, City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 99-2629).

Admittedly, the “Sapperton Rovers” of the VMSL was established in 1994; a sagging club was purchased, gutted, and renamed as Sapperton Rovers. It was certainly not a direct continuation of the Sappers, Westminster Rovers or Sapperton AFC.  And there is a roughly 65-year gap between the end of Sapperton AFC and the founding of Sapperton Rovers (so for me to assert that there is a “century” of history here is melodramatic, and is honestly a bit of a stretch at best).

However, it’s still true that whomever created the amateur club back in the 1990s definitely had an understanding of the rich football history of New Westminster, and wanted to ensure that it lived on within a VMSL club.

Rovers United player in 2011-12 season, still wearing "Sapperton" proudly upon his chest (for now).

And that’s why it’s especially sad to see the “Sapperton” being removed from the modern amateur club’s name. While the “Rovers” lives on post-merger, there are probably hundreds of clubs around the world with “Rovers” in their name. “Rovers United” sounds particularly bland, especially as it lacks any sort of geographical identifier (much like if Manchester City and Manchester United were to merge to form a club called “City United”). And in fact, there is already a “Rovers United FC” in existence, in the Caribbean country of St. Lucia.

So too is the new “Rovers United” moniker a loss to the history of the “Vancouver United” name, seeing as a club with the latter name won the VMSL’s Imperial Cup back in 1946.

Surely “Sapperton Vancouver” or “Vancouver Sapperton” would have been a better name for the newly-amalgamated club?  Or possibly even “Vancouver Sapperton Rovers”?   A bit wordy, perhaps, but absolutely teaming with history.

It’s great that many of the Vancouver metro league’s clubs are ambitious, and want to integrate successful youth academies into their fold.  That’s definitely something that helps to change a mere “team” into a club.

But to piss away such rich history, and to perish the name “Sapperton” once again from local football (even if the links between the historical and current clubs were tenuous at best), is a lamentable development.  We hope the decision to rename the club “Rovers United” is re-thought, and that an improved title is awarded, in the near future.

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Andy Livingstone Park, Vancouver

Ground: Andy Livingstone Park
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia (Google Maps)
Opened: 1995
Capacity (seated): Unknown (there are three rows of concrete stairs between the western pitch and the field house)

Match: Gastown FC vs. Blarney Stone FC
Date: Friday, September 16, 2011
League: Vancouver Metro Soccer League, Division 3 “B”
Attendance: 10. Other than WAGs/family/friends: 2 or 3.

Full photo gallery (on Flickr)

I’ve noticed a recent trend in the Vancouver Metro Soccer League: new clubs with names rooted in their geographic location.

Gastown FC prelininary kit design sketches (Copyright © Gastown FC)

To me, this is a paramount part of being a proper football club. It might be immaterial, but I don’t think I could ever respect a club that doesn’t have its community in its club name (Arsenal! Rangers! Celtic!), no matter how low down the footballing pyramid that club might be.

Gastown FC kit tag (Copyright © Gastown FC)

I appreciate that many clubs in the lower divisions of Metro Leagues aren’t actually “clubs” – they’re merely teams, and are often only assembled as a chance for a bunch of guys to get some exercise. In fact, team names at this level are often simply tongue-in-cheek puns that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Gastown FC logo (Copyright © Gastown FC)

And while that may be fine for teams that compete within social sports organizations (such as Urban Rec), I’m not sure if I’m happy with silly team names in the Vancouver Metro Soccer League – a competition which is older than most of the players who participate in it.

Match promotion image from 2010 (Copyright © Gastown FC)

So I was pleased to see that joining the ranks of (formerly) Sapperton Rovers and Yaletown FC was Gastown FC, which would compete in the VMSL Division 3 this season. I missed their first match, but when the fixture gods allowed me to attend their VMSL home opener at Andy Livingstone Park, I knew I had to witness this piece of “history” (assuming the team is still around in two years, that is!).

Gastown FC logo on t-shirt (Copyright © 2010 The Ringleaders FC)

First of all: my photos from this match are crap. It was an evening match; and as I discovered after arrived at the ground, my tripod was broken.

Approaching Andy Livingstone Park

The match itself was an uneven contest: Gastown FC delivered a 4-0 rout to the equally-new (pub) team Blarney Stone FC, scoring all four of their “Gastown derby” goals in the first half. Tall centre-backs are a prized asset in the eighth-division of Canadian club football, as are energetic strikers who don’t whince at the thought of 50-50 challenges near goal. Gastown FC had excellent chemistry, and their size and hunger were simply too much for the newly-formed pub team based just down the road to handle.

Match action: Gastown FC vs. Blarney Stone FC

BC Place’s new “crown of thorns” roof could just barely be seen over the top of the trees in the background, and electronically-powered SkyTrain cars roared past the pitch on their journey to and from the Stadium-Chinatown station.

Match action

Andy Livingstone Park, which features the (formerly?) largest artificial turf pitch in North America, is situated between the Gastown and Chinatown/Downtown Eastside neighbours, and is only about 300 metres from BC Place, the new (and former) home of Vancouver Whitecaps. On the pitch immediately east, Rainforest FC and the Caribbean All-Stars (cough) were contesting a VMSL Masters (O-40) Division 3 match.

Match action

Highlight of the night: I probably shouldn’t laugh at poverty and some poor individiual’s misfortune, but seeing a bottle/can collector pinch the plastic water bottle of Gastown FC’s goalkeeper from out of his goal during the match was something I shall never forget. Classic!

Sneaky lady who pinched the Gastown FC goalkeeper's water bottle

Lowlight of the match: arriving to the ground and needing to take a slash, I discovered that the public washroom is only open during a few (daylight) hours each day.  Thus I had to take a more “antiquated” approach to the situation.

Treed horizon

I shall leave a longer review of Andy Livingstone Park as a football venue for another day (likely a daytime match, for photos will be far superior). But for now, congratulations to Gastown FC on their founding, and good luck to them in their inaugural VMSL season. Up The Iron!

Gastown FC scarf (Copyright © Gastown FC)

MATCH REPORT:
Gastown FC website – Recap: Gastown F.C. 4 – 0 Blarney Stone F.C.

Trillium Park, Vancouver

Ground: Trillium Park
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia (Google Maps)
Opened: 2011
Capacity (seated): Zero (only standing areas available)

Matches: Norvan Pacific vs. Surrey United Firefighters, Sapperton Rovers United vs. Delta United Hurricanes, Richmond FC Hibernians vs. Coquitlam Metro-Ford Wolves, and ICSF Inter vs. ICST Pegasus
Date: Saturday, September 10, 2011
League: Vancouver Metro Soccer League, Premier Division (first weekend of 2011-12 season)
Attendance: Few dozen? (unofficial)

Full photo gallery (on Flickr)

It’s difficult for a groundhopper to resist the urge to visit a “new” ground – a venue that they haven’t yet visited. But what about when the venue is literally new – as in recently constructed? Generally, groundhoppers prefer older and more established grounds – because they have character. As we were to discover, the immediate area around the ground is equally important in making a ground worth visiting.

Emo command post. Black hair mandatory.

We recently paid a visit to Trillium Park, the new Vancouver public park that features two artificial turf surfaces. The journey toward the ground started out so well: the pleasing aesthetics of the False Creek seawall and Olympic Village, the throbbing orb that is Science World, and the ageing Pacific Central train/bus station (which was covered in scaffolding and white tarps for renovations). Spiffy.

Olympic Village, Vancouver (by Bruce Irschick)

But then, just several feet north of the train station, things suddenly go horribly wrong. We approached National Avenue, which juts glaringly out of Station Street like a syringe hanging out of an unconscious junky’s arm. Looking far down its length, it gave the impression of something out of a post-Apocalyptic movie.

National Avenue, Vancouver

Even the nicest industrial estates generally aren’t very pleasant and inviting places. But it turns out that Trillium Park sits smack in the middle of one of Vancouver older industrial areas. And it shows. Glaringly so.

Welcome!

Chain-linked fences and barbed wire adorned both sides of the “neighbourhood” street, substituting for the boring cliché that are trees and grass. In fact, virtually all signs of nature were not to found: empty lots feastured either cracked pavement or scorched dirt that had long since lost the ability to sustain life, both of which had been baked by decades of direct sunlight exposure.

Empty lot

Impressively, there was a sidewalk – although the separation between pedestrian and vehicle space had a concrete divider more than a foot tall. I felt secure. But from what? Just what exactly was I about to encounter on this long and perilous trek down National Avenue?

To the west of Trillium Park lies a massive, empty lot. Formerly the Burlington Northern rail yard, the site now sits empty. It was briefly used last year as a bus depot during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, which caused a lawsuit over noise and other alleged nuisances. The site was apparently being eyed by the province as a location for a replacement for St. Paul’s Hospital (located downtown), but its future remains murky.

National Works Yard

To the east is a public works yard, has has some fancy architecture and art that is unusual for the area.

Train depot

To the south, a train depot.

Trillium Park as industrial land, facing north (2009, care of Google Maps Streetview)

I soon reached the ground. The site was been used for a myriad of industrial uses over the decades, most recently as a concrete service pit. The soil had possibly become contaminated, and thus clean top soil was added before placing the new turf pitches.

Encaged.

The playing venue was not only void of the usual things one associates with a football ground (stands, concessions/teahut, clubhouse), but so too was it lacking the usual pleasantries found in Vancouver’s parks used for soccer. There were some trees and greenery, but being so newly planted they hardly dominated the landscape. The ground itself was wrapped in a metal fence, giving the venue a rather “incarcerated” feeling. As the ground is basically two pitches wrapped in fence, the spectator can only stand in the concreted space between the two pitches, if they want a view unobstructed of games.

Former Vancouver Police Department Dog Squad facility, facing south (2009, care of Google Maps Streetview)

To be fair, Trillium Park is still a work in progress. A passive park is meant to be built to the immediate north of the ground, which was most recently used as a temporary Vancouver Police Department “dog squad” facility. I’m sure the new landscaping will be splendid. But on my visit, however, it was still several piles of dirt.

Site of future "passive park".

Sadly, like most other municipally-owned synthetic turf pitches, multiple sports lines appear on the pitch.  How dare someone play a sport other than football!

White, black, and blue... lines.

Okay, now to sound less grouchy and miserable. The field house (changing rooms and washrooms) looks fantastic. Featuring recycled wood beams from the deconstruction of the old Mt. Pleasant Community Centre, the building exterior’s has been splashed with a douse of colour (red on the south and green on the north) that is sorely lacking in this industrial area.

Trillium Park field house.

(Even nicer would be if people knew what the combination was for the lock on the dressing rooms. Instead, players had to change into their kit in the public washroom in the same building.)

Trillium Park at night, looking west (by wdworden)

The venue also offers a nice view of Vancouver’s condo towers to the west, which is particularly attractive at night.

Area between the two pitches.

It’s also nice to have a viewing area in between two pitches, allowing spectators to take in two matches simultaneously. (I was amazed at how much wheeling and dealing went on here, with coaches soliciting players to join their club.)  It would be better if there was some sort of cover from the elements in this area, however, as the summer sun and winter rain will cause some would-be spectators to keep away.

Steve Kindel choose his kit (right), while club official eyes photographer with suspicion (left). Some nipples in this photo, as I need more female readers.

There were very few people at Trillium Park as the first matches were about to begin at 12pm. As I leaned against the short fencing that separates the pitch from the central walkway, I was eyed with suspicion, as most of the players simply toss their bags and valubles on the side of the pitch (close to where I was standing).

VMSL president Ruben Tremarco takes a very important phone call.

As half-time approached during the first two matches (12pm-2pm), players, WAGs and clingers-on began to arrive for the second set of matches (2pm-4pm). The area between the two pitches began to swell with people, and numerous pleasantries and conversations were struck up. Finally, Trillium Park began to buzz like a proper football ground and community asset.

Surrey United Firefighters' striker heads the ball toward goal.

The matches itself were decent. The primary game I was there to witness was Norvan Pacific (of North Vancouver) versus Surrey United Firefighters. Perhaps because Surrey is one of the more storied clubs of the Vancouver Metro Soccer League, their match was a very clean affair, despite being a hard-fought contest in an intense summer sun.

Sapperton player leaps up to head the ball, and gets a Delta shoulder in the back for his troubles.

Meanwhile, on the east pitch, Sapperton Rovers (of New Westminster) took on Delta United Hurricanes (which are apparently not an amalgamation of two American airline companies) in a match characterized by more normal pub-league behaviour: moaning at the ref, a few dirty tucks and tackles, one player screaming “who do you think you are?” at another, and so forth. All good fun.

Niall Thompson, former Vancouver Whitecaps and Canadian international striker, gives Surrey their team talk prior to the match.

Playing left-back for Surrey was former Vancouver Whitecaps player Steven Kindel, who had a penchant for smashing the ball up to the right-sided midfielders and striker. And their manager: none other than former Vancouver Whitecaps striker and Canada international Niall Thompson (technically he’s a player-manager, having scored in the Imperial Cup final that Surrey won this past March).

Norvan Pacific player with possession.

Norvan put up a decent effort, but lost 2-1 to superior opposition. Norvan’s primary striker was a plump fellow with decent speed, but he and the other attacking players didn’t seem to have much chemistry together.

Hot in black. No, really. It was bloody hot.

On the other pitch, Delta pissed away a 2-1 lead to lose 3-2 against Sapperton. I blame their black shirts, which couldn’t have been very pleasant to play in during the 27°C summer heat.

Sapperton Rovers (or "Rovers United") kit being modelled.

I also learned why Sapperton Rovers are now referred to as “Rovers United” on the VMSL website: they were swallowed by Burnaby Select Youth Soccer Club (who demanded the removal of “Sapperton” from the club name) in early July, and shortly thereafter merged with Vancouver United. A rather sad development in my mind, as “Rovers United” is a bland (and dare I say, meaningless) name that sounds more like a U-8 squad than a proper football club. Without their community prominently in their club name, “Rovers United” screams “pub-league”. Hopefully this development will be reversed in the years to come.

Richmond FC Hibernians. Not Celtic. Honestly.

The second set of matches featured Richmond FC Hibernians (dressed in green and white hoops, which is more associated with Celtic) against Coquitlam Metro-Ford Wolves on the east pitch, while the western pitch featured ICSF Inter versus ICST Pegasus.  The latter club won the provincial championship this past May, and will represent British Columbia at the National Championships Challenge Trophy (a trophy that has been awarded annually since 1913 to Canada’s amateur club champion) in Brossard, Quebec on October 5-10, 2011.

Canada Challenge Trophy (formerly known as the Connaught Cup, F.A Trophy, and Carling Cup), which was first awarded in 1913. For the sake of comparison, it is more than twice as old as the NFL Super Bowl (Yank throwball trophy).

I didn’t stick around for too long during the second set of matches, but I did notice two former Vancouver Whitecaps playing for Pegasus: utility player David Morris made his return to the game after a two-year absence (brandishing a knee brace on his right leg), as well as Diaz Kambere (who had two caps for Canada U-23 MNT and a stint with Victoria Highlanders).

"We all dream of a team of David Morris..."

This opening weekend of the VMSL season saw all of the Premier Division’s matches at Trillium Park, which was a nice way of acknowledging the new ground. However, most of these big clubs will return to their normal suburban stomping grounds, and Trillium Park will become the regular home to Croatia SC (Prem Div and Under-21), and to Blarney Stone FC and the Saudi-themed Ajyal Tigers of Division Three. A couple of Division One clubs, Vancouver Olympics (whose coach set up Portugal international goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes with his trial at PAOK FC in Greece) and Binger’s Army, will also both get a single match there.

Local scallywags.

So, in summary: nice pitches, nice field house, crap location. Hopefully the new passive park to be built immediately north will make the ground easier on the eyes. Nice venue to play at, but probably not worth the journey as a spectator. Unless you’re a WAG. Or a HAB.

WAG seeking cover from the sun under an umbrella.

MATCH REPORTS:
Surrey Now: Late goals spur Pegasus to win
Royal City Record: Rovers United open with win
Coquitlam Now: Premier Wolves open with a tie (scroll to bottom of article)
VMSL: Vancouver Metro Soccer League Season Off to a Flying Start

FUN FACT: VMSL clubs played competitive matches at Empire Field before Vancouver Whitecaps did.