In an era when BC’s Chinese population were treated like second-class citizens, the Chinese Students Soccer Team stood as pillars of strength and a beacon of hope, the only Chinese-Canadian soccer team in Canada and thought to be the only such team outside of China.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Vancouver’s Chinatown would empty during Chinese Students’ matches down at the old Powell Street or Cambie Street grounds. The games served as a brief respite for a people living through the dual burdens of a widespread economic depression and daily racial prejudice from the surrounding white population, its most blatant forms the infamous $500 Head Tax and the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act. Members of the Chinese community were not permitted to vote—full Canadian citizenship wouldn’t arrive until after World War II—and couldn’t gain admittance to basic community centres such as swimming pools. Simply stepping out of neighbourhood boundaries was often enough to put themselves at risk.
“These were desperate times for a downtrodden community.” says Robert Yip, son of Chinese Students’ star player Quene Yip.
Out on the field however, regardless of race, the same rules applied to everyone and the small group of skilful Chinese Students thrived. The players became heroes for the community, revered for their quickness, skill, and determination in the face of white opponents who often employed rough and dirty tactics. Formed in 1920 and active until 1942, the team reached its apex during the 1933 season even gaining a grudging respect from the largely white Vancouver press, who marveled at the clinical goal-scoring of star centre forward Quene Yip, a 1998 BC Sports Hall of Fame inductee, the deft passing of his brother Art Yip, and the cat-like quickness of goaltender Shupon ‘Spoon’ Wong, nicknamed for his skill at scooping up loose balls.
That season the Chinese Students were one of the favourites in the Lower Mainland’s First Division to take the prestigious Mainland Cup, indicative of Lower Mainland soccer supremacy. After defeating North Shore United 1-0 in the semifinal, the Chinese Students advanced to the rainy May 29, 1933 championship final versus the favoured UBC Varsity at Con Jones Park before over a thousand spectators.
With the score tied 3-3 on goals by Buck Sing, Quene Yip and Horne Yip, Jack Soon scored the winning goal in the final minute as delirious fans swept onto the field to celebrate. The victory party poured down Pender Street, bands playing and firecrackers exploding, players riding in an open car holding the three-foot high trophy aloft. The following day was declared a holiday in Chinatown as free tea and dim sum were served for all.
Although many of the same racial issues persisted until after the war, members of the 1933 and successive Chinese Students squads went on to remarkable success. Midfielder Dock Yip became the first Chinese-Canadian lawyer called to the Canadian bar, while team vice president and treasurer William Lore became the first Chinese-Canadian naval officer, accepting the surrender of Hong Kong at the end of World War II. Ghim Yip and Tong Louie, who both played for the Students later in the 1930s, became the first Canadian-trained Chinese doctor and the CEO of London Drugs respectively.
Gordon Chang, Gam Jung, George Lam (secretary), Charles Louie (playing manager), Jackson Louie, William Lore (vice-president and treasurer), Lem On, Buck Sing Chung, Jack Soon, Frank Wong, Shupon Wong (goalkeeper and team president), Art Yip (captain), Dock Yip, Gibb Yip, Horne Yip, Quene Yip.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.