Full photo gallery (on Flickr)
It isn’t often that the skies clear for an entire weekend in Vancouver. Sometimes we forget that, located above the loving embrace of those fluffy grey clouds (or those wretched sources of incessant rain, depending on one’s viewpoint) is a sky that offers a magnificant palate of blue. It just happens to be rather elusive, here in Coast Salish territory.
So when the weather forecast trumpeted sunny and clear weather during the first week of spring, a plethora of pasty-white skin emerged from its winter cocoons of parka coats. The region’s denizens gazed lustily into the heavens, awaiting its warm, carcinoma-inducing embrace.
What better way to cherish those magnificent solar rays than to enjoy a local match of outdoor football? And unlike those selfish grass fields, constantly photosynthesizing light for some purpose that nobody quite understands, artificial turf fields are much more thoughtful. Plastic blades, nestled in between the bosom of rubber crumb, gently irradiate heat from below. It’s like a whirlpooth bath… but without the chlorine!
And so off we went to Sutherland Secondary School’s turf field, host of the 2011/12 Vancouver Metro Soccer League’s Division 3 promotion playoff, contested between Division 3A runners-up Friends United and Division 3B runners-up West Van Royals.
The journey to Sutherland Turf from downtown Vancouver winds through Stanley Park (Canada’s largest urban park), and crosses the Burrard Inlet by way of the Lions Gate Bridge (which was opened in 1938, paid for and initially owned by the Guinness family of Irish stout fame).
The route also passes by the Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh) First Nation reserve in North Vancouver, one of several Aboriginal groups based in Metro Vancouver, who speak a language that is distinct from their neighbouring nations.
The field sits immediately east of the new Sutherland Secondary School, which was built in 2008. Nestled in a quiet, single-use, residential area in the suburbs, don’t be surprised if you see the odd white-picket fence on your way.
Originally a grass field built in the late 1950s, the pitch’s drainage system had become clogged over the decades, and suffered from waterlogging (thus making it unplayable) during much of the year. In 2004, the City of North Vancouver began an exhaustive planning process to replace the grass field with artificial turf. Approximately four years later, in 2008, the new turf pitch finally opened for school and public use. (If you’re particularly masochistic, you can wade through numerous documents related to the process, including a sports field user analysis report, community survey responses, and even a 32-page transcript of the open microphone session at the town hall meeting. There’s your Saturday night sorted – you’re welcome.)
The pitch is surrounded by a narrow running track. To the east is a forested area within Loutet Park (previously logged, but has again become a mature wetland forest) – which, while aesthetically pleasant, tends to swallow any misplaced balls, leading to lengthy stops in play if alternative balls aren’t quickly forthcoming. To the south and north is some additional (although much less dense) tree bordering, but the Upper Levels highway runs fairly close to the northeast corner, occasionally providing some distracting clatter from passing transport trucks. Numerous walking trails surround the site.
Undoubtedly, the venue would be most picturesque in the summer, when all of the trees would have full foliage (making it somewhat similar to Aarhus Fremad’s Riisvangen Stadion in Jutland, Denmark). Perhaps the only advantage of witnessing the venue when the trees are not with full foliage is the wonderful view of the North Shore Mountains.
For spectators, there are three (uncovered) rows of concrete terraces to sit on, providing seating for approximately 75-100 people. There is also some shade provided by the school if you don’t mind standing; but there is virtually no protection from rain.
For those who like to play the game hard, the ground is conveniently located just minutes away from Lions Gate Hospital.
The two clubs, playing in different divisions and thus facing entirely different opposition during the season, finished four points apart from each other across the divisional boundary; but perhaps cup play was an indicator of how this promotion match would conclude. As an underdog, Friends United were thrashed 0-8 at home in the Division Two Cup (contested by Div. 2 and Div. 3 clubs) to a high-flying second-division side, whereas West Van Royals were dumped out of the competition by a much more respectable 3-2 away loss, also against a Div. 2 club.
The calibre of play was much better than I had expected, given this was a match from the eighth tier of Canadian club football. However, it was clear that a mere handful of skilled players from each club carried their side for most of the match, and some of the subs (particularly with Friends United) looked about as fit as a certain Canadian groundhopping blogger who shall remain nameless. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many foul throws in a single match (which is possibly indicative of a particularly good referee – having the… errr… fallopian tubes to call them all).
The match was full of goals. West Van opened the scoring with two, by Mark Cherry and Erik Giezen.
Friends United scored their first goal close to half-time, and then an equalizer to ensure that the match would end with some drama.
With just minutes from full-time, the referee blew her whistle (oooh aaar!) for an infringement by Friends United #18 inside the box (oooh aaar!). West Van Royals’ Erik Giezen stepped up and duly scored (again) from the penalty kick, giving the Royals a 3-2 lead that would last until the conclusion of the match.
And so, West Van Royals bounce back up to Division 2 at first attempt (having been relegated at the end of the 2010-11 season), while Friends United remain in Division 3 and will hope to secure automatic promotion next season.
Neither Friends United nor West Van Royals are based at Sutherland Turf. However, if you’re looking to attend a match there, both NVFC Campobasso (recently promoted to Div. 1) and Wickham FC (Div. 2) play the majority of their home league matches there.