Josh Simpson remembers well the ferry trips you’d take between Vancouver Island and the mainland.
You’d need to jump on the bus after classes at Belmont Secondary School to catch the outbound ferry and arrive in time for training sessions across the Georgia Strait … four times a week. Then you’d stay the night and miss morning classes.
“I know what it’s like to be fourteen right here in Victoria and not have a pathway,” the 35-year-old Pacific FC president and co-owner told CanPL.ca. “I mean, it was a dedication that I don’t think many people understand.”
It’s a fate he wants to ensure the next generation of Vancouver Island-raised soccer players needn’t repeat.
Alongside club CEO Rob Friend – who captained the British Columbia provincial team in his youth and later played for the Okanagan Challenge before his collegiate career took him across the world as a professional – Simpson is focused on scouting and developing the best players from across the island and British Columbia.
Already, the roster has taken on a distinctly local flavour, with signings from Vancouver (Marcus Haber, Ben Fisk and Matthew Baldisimo), Burnaby (Terran Campbell and Alessandro Hojabrpour), New Westminster (Kadin Chung), Surrey (Noah Verhoeven), Abbotsford (Mark Village), and Comox (Nolan Wirth).
“B.C.’s always provided a huge amount of quality to the Canadian national teams. The island specifically, I would say one step further,” Simpson offered.
Friend added: “We want to create that long-term strategy of local players.”
Beyond Simpson and Friend, the province has produced the likes of Craig Forrest (Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame class of ’15), the Lenarduzzi brothers (Bob, Sam, Vanni, and Danny), Randy Samuel (chosen as part of Canadian Soccer Association’s All-Time Canada XI) and Mark Watson (assistant coach at Minnesota United FC and sixth-most capped for Canada’s national team), among others.
Parallels have been drawn between PFC and Athletic Bilbao, famed for its “cantera” policy of signing Basque-only players. Of course, Pacific FC’s mandate isn’t quite so stern, nor as all-encompassing.
“What we really want to do is provide something where people can stay close to home – the same as in Europe. In Europe, you don’t go far; you go local. And you stay close to your family and friends, and you don’t actually need to sacrifice family and friends. You sacrifice a lot, but not that,” Simpson explained.
For Pacific FC’s local signings, the chance to play professionally in their home province hasn’t been lost on them.
“We had a good meeting when we first got [to Tofino for training camp] with Rob and Josh,” winger Ben Fisk told Centre Circle LIVE!, the official #CanPL Podcast. “And that was all they were talking about: ‘We brought you guys here because this is what the island is all about, and we want you to feel a part of it and feel personally invested in it.’ For me, as a B.C. guy, it was amazing.”
“The fact that I can play professional soccer on the island … I mean, I’ve always dreamed of playing at home, you know?” goalkeeper Nolan Wirth said. “It means the world to me, really.”
“There’s something about representing home, where you grew up, where most of your family is,” Kadin Chung told CanPL.ca. “I feel like I carry a responsibility to do it justice and it’s given me so much that I feel very honoured to give back to it.” Simpson knows there will be questions about trade-offs in talent, but he remains undeterred.
“Of course, there’s going to be a trade-off, how local versus the quality,” Simpson concluded. “[But] I can confirm we’re going to put an outstanding product on the field. This team has footballers at its heart.”