Stars Beneath The Maple Leaf
Hailed As Heroes Once More – The Whitecaps Legends
Phil Parkes and Les Wilson signed professional contracts with Wolves on the same day in July, 1964 and went on to play more than 100 first-team games in each other’s company for the club.
Five and a half decades on, they have just spent several days together half way across the world, celebrating the success in which they shared at Vancouver Whitecaps.
It is 40 years since, in the same epic season, Canada’s best-known football club became North American Soccer League’s Western Division champions, NASL National Conference champions and also winners of the NASL Soccer Bowl.
Four carefully orchestrated events gave supporters and the city the chance to once more pay their respects to the men who made history and Wilson said: “It was an amazing three days – a non-stop extravaganza.
“It was all very well done and so nice of course seeing everyone. The years and decades are passing very quickly and, yes, this will possibly be the last time we all get together.
“A number of us are now old-age pensioners and the current ‘Caps gave plenty. I don’t know about the others but at the end of three days of celebrations, I was feeling it!”
Also among those in attendance was Bob McNab, the legendary Arsenal full-back who plated 16 games for Wolves in his one-season Molineux stay in the mid-1970s.
He is thought to be staying in the Vancouver area for an extra few days and may have another meet-up with Wilson, alongside whom he worked as a coach when the latter was team manager.
Head coach during that golden era of success was veteran Blackpool keeper Tony Waiters, who was also present along with players such as Ray Lewington, Willie Johnston, Kevin Hector, Roger Kenyon, Carl Valentine and Derek Possee.
Parkes was with Lewington (currently alongside Roy Hodgson as Crystal Palace assistant boss) and Wilson with McNab when the special guests were given a guard of honour by long-standing fans at the weekend home match against Toronto.
Supporters were encouraged to get into the nostalgic mood by dressing up in their ‘grooviest throwback 1970s attire’.
The 16 players and management staff honoured in a special ceremony on the field included several players from Canada while the list of absentees contained Jon Sammels, Trevor Whymark, Bruce Grobbelaar, the Derby Peter Daniel, Alan Hinton and the late Alan Ball and John Craven.
To round off the festivities, Waiters was inducted into the Whitecaps ring of honour, the squad and management having been welcomed into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame around 20 years ago.
A commemorative scarf featuring the players’ names from 1979 was sold in the stadium at the weekend and Wilson ensured that another man with Wolves connections was not forgotten.
“The current Whitecaps saluted us all very well and respectfully – they did us all proud,” he added. “It is the only professional team in the history of sport in British Columbia and Vancouver to win a truly professional championship – the NASL treble, no less!
“Great credit must also go to the 1978 Vancouver Whitecaps team and, yes, to the amazing Alan Hinton – he was the architect of that 1978 team along with Tony Waiters and myself in enticing and bringing in top-class First Division players.
“His recruitment and coaching were amazing and he commenced playing again by replacing former Ipswich winger Micky Lambert. We got Alan fit and the rest is history.
“He was a serial winner and assisted in recruiting four to five players from the English League in 1978. Then he set a North American Soccer League assist record of 30-odd that stands to this day.
“Overall, it was a tremendous few days with gala dinners, watching current Whitecaps training sessions, meeting the media and the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
“It was lovely meeting so many some outstanding players, coaches, staff members and the dye-hard Whitecaps fans. I do not know how some of the lads kept going, especially with the eight-hour time change – and, yes, some had a few beverages!”