I grew up in Newmarket in the early 90s, and to my young eyes, this suburban town at the northern edge of the GTA was a hotbed of soccer. I played house league from a young age and eventually followed my father into the world of refereeing. The town seemed littered with soccer fields, and the annual Soccerfest – a massive house league tournament involving hundreds of teams and cheap burgers served up by older rep players at their fundraiser barbeque – was always the highlight of my summer.
I was never really involved in higher-level soccer at the time, but there was always a peripheral awareness of clubs like the Woodbridge Strikers and the York Region Shooters to the south of us, and no year could be complete without a trip down to the old, crumbling Varsity Stadium to see the Toronto Lynx take on our hated rivals, the Rochester Raging Rhinos.
As I grew older, I hung up the cleats on my playing days (largely due to the frequent arguments with refs who I’d then have to work alongside a day or two later), and as I moved away for school – first to Kingston, and then Ottawa – refereeing became less frequent as my contacts and familiarity dropped off. Still, my ties to the sport and the hometown remained, and I’d still try to find time to bring out the card book for the odd tournament, or go see the occasional Ottawa Fury game – whether that was NASL, PDL, or W-League.
Midway through 2014, I discovered League1 Ontario, and started to do what little I could to support this new level of soccer in the province by updating league Wikipedia articles (hey, everyone needs a hobby). My interest in the league has only grown over the years, and when I saw that NSXI was looking for new authors, I leapt at the opportunity to help grow the game. Sadly, my old hometown doesn’t field a team, so I’ve decided to split my time for this season between three of them: league newcomers Aurora United FC, 2016 league champions Vaughan Azzurri, and 2015 cup champions Woodbridge Strikers – all of whom call York Region home. It may be tough to get frequent coverage for each team while casting such a wide net, but I’m hoping to get to each of them at least once a month (and if we’re lucky, take in the odd women’s game as well).
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a quick word in memory of the Kingston Clippers, whose men’s and women’s teams are taking the year off from L1O. Having lived in the city for four years as I attended university, this team always held a special place in my heart. Kingston is not an easy place to operate a minor league sports team from; the long train ride I took between Toronto and Kingston for four years hammered home how much smaller the population density and population centres are in southeastern Ontario compared to the southwestern part of the province, when even “close” cities like Ottawa (welcome to the league!), Peterborough, or Cornwall are two hours away. While small crowds in this league aren’t exactly a rarity, I wonder whether the decision to play their games on the Queen’s University campus made it seem like just another university team to any potential fans in the city, and made attracting them to the team that much harder. As with any “one-year” absence in minor-league sports, there’s always the possibility that the absence becomes indefinite, but I’ll be holding out hope that – one day – I’ll be able to visit one of their Toronto-area away matches and lead a one-man supporters section in full Queen’s regalia.