In this series, iconic Canadian soccer players recount their experiences playing and developing their game in a city that now welcomes a new team in the Canadian Premier League.
How far away from home would you go to fulfill your dream?
It’s a question former Canadian international Josh Simpson had to ask himself as he pursued his ambition of becoming a professional soccer player, a career he decided on at just five years old. Born in Burnaby and raised in Victoria on Vancouver Island, Simpson quickly learned that playing soccer meant travelling away from home – across big ponds, and small.
“If you wanted to play soccer at the highest level you had to leave the Island,” Simpson told CanPL.ca one week after Pacific FC, a club he’s co-leading with former Canada teammate Rob Friend, was announced as the latest club to join the Canadian Premier League.
“If you’re growing up in Toronto, for example, if that’s your situation, then your parents drive you to training and then drive you home, and that’s it. For me to go to training, it often entailed leaving school one class early to get out to the ferries and meet the four other guys playing for the B.C. Select team, and then take a 90-minute boat before using public transportation on the mainland, and then do it all again to go back to the island.
“It was a common story among the elite soccer players at the time,” he continued. “You had to decide ‘Am I going to play soccer or am I going to do anything else?’ It really was your whole life. Every weekend was on the mainland for soccer. There was no time for anything else because you had to travel for so long every day.”
With a mild climate year-round and plenty of natural grass fields to play on, Simpson’s memories of soccer in his hometown run counter to those of many of his national team peers, who often lament the lack of suitable soccer facilities available to them in their youth. Still, despite the resources and favourable weather available to Simpson, pursuing a career as a professional soccer player meant, like most, that a move abroad was necessary.
Several trips to Europe defined Simpson’s earlier years, through trials in the Netherlands, Scotland, or the Czech Republic at the ages of 12, 14, and 16. However, at each step, even with a contract offer on the table, Simpson’s parents urged him to stay home and finish high school. As he matured, Simpson thought to “get the most out of soccer” that he could – including a scholarship to the University of Portland, where he earned a degree in finance.
Eventually, Simpson signed with English outfit Millwall, and enjoyed a club career with teams like German side 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Manisaspor in Turkey, and Swiss clubs BSC Young Boys and Muri-Gumligen. He also made 43 appearances with the Canadian national team.
He returned to Vancouver Island to bring professional soccer to the next generation of kids through Pacific FC, a club that makes the CPL the country’s only coast-to-coast professional league.
In doing so, Simpson explained, young players across the Island can pursue their dream, too.
“I would say out of 100 players, maybe three of them have the pure desire to leave home and say ‘I’m moving to Europe. I’ve got the dream. I’m going to go do this,’” Simpson said. “What a professional league in Canada offers is now the full spectrum. Now every single kid doesn’t have an excuse. If that kid loves soccer, it might not be in his city, but it’s going to be close by.