The 1967 John F. Kennedy Cup soccer champion Victoria O'Keefes celebrated the 50th anniversary of their title in 2017.
The old Pacific Coast Soccer League (PCSL) was the top level of the sport in the province and the local team was known as Victoria United before the O'Keefes beer sponsorship. The Kennedy Cup, inaugurated by the late U.S. president in 1961 as part of his physical fitness initiative, was contested between the champions of the PCSL and the amateur champions of Washington, Oregon, California and Mexico. It was the only sports Cup named after JFK.
To make it to the tournament was no easy path, yet the O'Keefes won it with aplomb in 1967.
“With the likes of Vancouver Columbus and Firefighters, every week in the Pacific Coast League was tough competition,” recalled Coach Frank Grealy of the process just to get to the Kennedy Cup tournament. The O'Keefes proved to be the pick of the bunch in Canada's Centennnial year as they won 19 of 21 games in the 1966-67 PCSL season. “These were intelligent, smart players. I always believed in attacking soccer, and sometimes I enjoyed so much what I was watching with this group that I forgot I was coaching,” said Grealy.
The PCSL hosted the Kennedy Cup tournament that year at Empire Stadium in Vancouver, so needless to say, Lower Mainland soccer officials were dismayed by the lost marketing opportunities due to having an Island team as the host PCSL-Champion club.
“Oh, Oh, Wrong Team,” read a headline in a Vancouver Sun story on May, 8, 1967, by legendary sports columnist Jim Kearney. He was from Victoria, and no doubt reveled in the Lower Mainland organizers’ discomfort about who the host club turned out to be.
“It just clicked for us that year... it was a true team effort,” said O'Keefes goalkeeper Barry Sadler, who recorded 10 shutouts that season. Victoria beat Los Angeles FC 3-1 in the Kennedy Cup semifinals and then shocked the Mexico representative, which was a national select side, 2-1 in the Cup final before more than 6,000 fans.
B.C. soccer legend Dave Stothard, a member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, credits Grealy’s punishing training schedule and notes that’s why the O'Keefes didn’t fade late in games. “We went at it hard, even in the last 20 minutes,” said Grealy.
The veteran captain, Stothard, had played in Canada’s first-ever World Cup qualifying campaign for Sweden 1958. The 18-year-old rookie, Ike MacKay, would go on to play pro in the NASL and for Canada in World Cup qualifying for Germany 1974 and Argentina 1978. The goalkeeper, Sadler, commanded the crease for a generation of Island soccer teams. Peter Brett was from England and Jim Menzies, Tom Westwater and Ed Carson had come out from Scotland and commuted from jobs in Port Alberni to play.
All in all, this was a true team effort.
SPONSORED BY VANCOUVER ISLAND SOCCER LEAGUE