With a parade crowd of an estimated 100,000+ delirious fans looking on at Vancouver’s Robson Square, young Vancouver Whitecaps winger Carl Valentine, decked out in a Saturday Night Fever-esque white suit and black cowboy hat, took to the microphone and summed up the moment with his now-famous victory cry: “You are the number one fans and we are the number one team!”

It was the truth. After defeating the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 in the North American Soccer League’s Soccer Bowl at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, the underdog 1979 Whitecaps and their rolling wave of supporters were the best on the continent and the most popular sports team in the province. To this day, the 1979 Soccer Bowl remains arguably the most significant North American professional championship ever won by a BC team in any sport.

Vancouver Sun soccer writer Dan Stinson called it “the greatest sports story Vancouver has ever seen” while legendary Province sports columnist Jim Taylor went even further, writing that “the Vancouver Whitecaps have become the greatest phenomenon in the history of Vancouver sport—bigger than the Grey Cup BC Lions, bigger than the Miracle Mile.”

It wasn’t exaggeration. All of BC fell in love with these Whitecaps, who lacked ‘name’ players, but were colourful, oozing character, fiercely determined, hard-working, tight as family, and could they ever play an attractive brand of attacking soccer while keeping things tight and tidy on the defensive end. Many of these Caps became club legends, as loved today as in 1979: Bobby. Carl. ‘Wee’ Willie. Lofty. Buzz ‘White Shoes’. ‘King’ Kevin. Coach Tony Waiters, considered by many the greatest coach in Canadian soccer history, mixed Canadian home-grown talent with an array of competent English professionals—so many the press referred to Waiters’ signings as ‘The English Mafia.’ The team’s one true star, English midfielder Alan Ball, summed up the ’79 Caps best: “This is a team, not a collection of stars. A team.”

The Whitecaps finished first in the NASL’s National Conference’s Western Division with a 20-10 regular season win-loss record for 172 points. They allowed a league-low 34 goals in 30 games and no team scored more than twice against them. Their stingy defense was led by goalkeeper Phil ‘Lofty’ Parkes, an NASL First Team All-Star, defender Bob Lenarduzzi, an NASL Second Team All-Star, and tough-as-nails center backs John Craven and Roger Kenyon. “Those were two players who kicked anything that moved. And if it didn’t move, they kicked it until it did,” quipped former Whitecap Alan Hinton.

The mid-season addition of 1966 World Cup winner Ball gave the Whitecaps an added attacking dimension. Kevin Hector led the team in scoring with 15 goals and six assists.

After defeating the Dallas Tornado and Johan Cruyff’s Los Angeles Aztecs in the first two rounds of the NASL playoffs, the Whitecaps faced the star-laden New York Cosmos in the Conference Championship. The line-up for tickets stretched four Vancouver city blocks.

The Whitecaps took the first game at sold-out Empire Stadium 2-0. During the broadcast of the second leg in New York, ABC’s Jim McKay described Vancouver as ‘a deserted village’ and a new Whitecaps rallying cry—‘The Village of Vancouver’—was inadvertently born. In what many consider the greatest—and the longest—game in NASL history, the Whitecaps Willie Johnston tied the match 2-2 on a late header. After 30 minutes of scoreless extra time, the Cosmos won the shootout 3-1 to even the series 1-1. The teams returned to the field after a short break to decide the series, but a 30-minute mini game yielded no score. After yet another shootout, the Whitecaps prevailed 3-2 and were off to the Soccer Bowl against Tampa Bay.

Returning to Giants Stadium for the second week in a row, the Whitecaps found themselves unwelcome underdogs. Most of the 50,699 spectators in attendance for Soccer Bowl ’79 had purchased tickets expecting to see the Cosmos in the final and as such booed the Caps incessantly despite the best efforts of 600 Whitecaps fans who flew in for the match.

If anything, Waiters felt the reception helped his players. “[The booing] acted in our favour,” he said. “The type of players we have, they just said, ‘Bleep you,’ and played with greater determination.”

Caps striker Trevor Whymark sealed the 2-1 Soccer Bowl victory scoring both goals. Alan Ball was named playoff MVP.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

Team Members:
Alan Ball, John Best (general manager), Bob Bolitho, John Craven, Barry Crocker (physiotherapist), Peter Daniel, Ralson Dunlop, Alan Errington (reserve team coach), Drew Ferguson, Gerry Gray, Bruce Grobbelaar, Kevin Hector, Willie Johnston, Roger Kenyon, Bob Lenarduzzi, Dan Lenarduzzi, Ray Lewington, Dennis Loze (trainer), John MacDonald (equipment manager), David McGill, Bob McNab (assistant coach), Paul Nelson, Steve Nesin, Phil Parkes, Buzz Parsons, Derek Possee, Dr. Jergen Rauh (team doctor), Jon Sammels, Carl Shearer, Carl Valentine, Tony Waiters (head coach), Trevor Whymark, Les Wilson (assistant coach).