The Victoria Highlanders FC have the unusual position of not only being Canada most Western club in a semi-pro league, they’re also the only club that you need to fly or take a ferry over the ocean in order to watch play at home. A few years ago, they were strongly rumoured to move into a pro-league, with both USL & NASL attached as possible destinations. The same year, the soccer community was shocked when the owner shuttered the club, only to have the name picked up cheap in the eleventh hour. A lot has happened with the club since that time, and now we’re looking at the path back.
Following the shuttering of the team, and its subsequent pick-up by locals, the team operated with a very trim, volunteer staff, and ran the team in the Pacific Coast Soccer League. If you’ve never heard of the PCSL, no one will hold it against you. Here at NSXI, we tracked the PCSL clubs for our ELO ratings, but the few matches we managed to witness put the play well into the amateur department. It wasn’t PDL, L1O, or PLSQ level of play, it was somewhere beneath that. The league was not in favour of supporter culture, which caused the Lake Side Buoys a lot of headaches when they traveled to watch the team on the road across BC. Still, considering that the options were PCSL or no team, it was a good move for the Highlanders.
In 2016, the Highlanders returned to the PDL. Still running a relatively bare bones operation, the team struggled with their on-field quality at the beginning of the season. Considering the team was put together only a couple weeks prior to the first match, with many players still unsigned at game time, things rolled out relatively well. Over the course of the season, every home match had one more piece to the puzzle. The supporters section grew slowly and steadily across the season, with a chant-battle against the Red Aces (Lane United’s supporters) being one of the major highlights of the year. By the end of the season, attendance was nearing 500 a match, and the team on the field was looking far superior to their earlier selves.
With the Highlander’s off-season kicking off with an ID Camp for Sheffield Wednesday, it was quickly apparent that the team had at least reached the expectations of its new owners. The relaunch of the youth academy was a great sign, with boys & girls born between 2005 – 2008 finding a place to train that could further help them on the path to pro. The PCSL had accidentally announced a return of the team shortly after the PDL season came to a close, but Victoria’s owner quickly cleared it up as the team having sent an exploratory e-mail to the league about relaunching their reserve team. A little over a week ago the Highlanders made it 100% official: there will be a reserve team in the PCSL.
It’s been a long couple of years while the Highlanders have fought to rebuild the brand that was tarnished when the previous owner prematurely announced the club’s collapse. 2-years later, the Highlanders are almost exactly where they were at the end of 2014. The only area where they still fall short is with their attendance numbers. Around the end of 2014, the team had roughly 1500 a match, which is triple their 2016 numbers. Allowances can certainly be made for the more isolated stadium: Royal Athletic Park was basically in downtown Victoria, while Centennial Stadium is isolated at the University of Victoria in Saanich.
The Highlanders revival has been so successful, that Victoria is once again among the rumours of a professional move, but this time to the yet to be confirmed Canadian Premier League. The team’s FO is focused on the 2017 PDL & PCSL seasons right now, but if a deep-moneyed investor could be found, a move to the CanPL may be viable for 2019, or possibly even the league launch in 2018. Regardless of Victoria’s potential for a professional team, rumours assure everyone that there will be a “BC Team.” For now, everyone just has to wait and see.