Our gaffer Will Cromack moments after we won the League 1 BC Championship in August
Today I’m travelling from Vancouver to Columbus Ohio via Chicago to resume an annual trip to that city I did for many years before the pandemic. My friend Phill Cass invites me to discuss complexity with physicians in the Physicians Leadership Academy he has been running for nearly a decade now. I love the trip because I get to catch up with my Columbus friends, to try some new ideas out in person and to stop over in Ontario and visit family on the way back.
On the plane today, the TV is showing me endless panel presentations about American sports. There are three or four people talking in an animated way – sometimes laughing, sometimes faking outrage and anger – discussing American football issues like “Can the Eagles defensive line be breached?” and “What happens now that Brock Purdy is injured?”
I don’t follow the NFL, but what these conversations point out is how the American sports scene is so closed and the news cycle so short that these tiny tiny issues pass for life shattering existential questions. The conversation mostly revolves around players being traded between teams in the same league on a revolving carousel of talent, equalized by a draft that brings the most promising players to the worst teams every year and on and on it goes. Always the same opposition, the victors being the team that best used the available lego pieces that season.
One of the things I love about following soccer is that every team is a part of a global competition. Within most countries there are layers of competition and the boundaries between leagues are porous. You assemble a team of good players and good talent and you embark on an adventure every season. Win your league and you get promoted to the next level to try your hand against the better opposition. Lose and you are relegated to a level that befits your current level of play, and that drives the hunger to “go back up” next season. Promotion and relegation battles are stuff of legend and except for teams securely in the middle of the pack at year’s end, the competition is fierce throughout the league becasue there are rewards for success and consequences for failure.
Even in the closed leagues of North America, there is still the chance of something different if you win. The little club I co-own, TSS Rovers FC won the men’s division of our semi-pro League 1 BC last season and that qualifies us to play in the Canadian Championship in which all the professional teams based in Canada plus the winners of the three semi-pro leagues in Ontario, Quebec and BC play in a knockout tournament for the Voyageurs Cup. Today is the draw for the tournament and we will shortly find out which pro team we will play in the first round. It’s a dream come true for our 350 owners, our supporters and our players.
The winner of this tournament earns a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, in which the top teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean face off against each other for continental supremacy. The winner of THAT competition plays in the Club World Cup against the winners of all the other continental Champions Leagues. So yes, our little TSS Rovers team is about ten victories away from facing the likes of Real Madrid.
Our chances my be slim, but there is real excitement around the fact that we are actually on this journey. We will play an opponent that we have never met before, from outside our league, in a tournament that is a meaningful part of the global sport landscape. Even in Canada where our leagues lack promotion and relegation, this situation is strange to those who follow the closed circuits of the NBA, NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball.
Much is made in the UK of the “romance of the Cup” referring to the fact that in a single game knockout tournament little teams like ours can effect a giant killing against bigger and better opposition. It happened in Scotland last week when a little team of amateurs called Darvel FC beat top flight Aberdeen, a club six divisions above them in the Scottish football pyramid. Instead of endlessly cycling through the same teams year after year, the integrated nature of the global football world refreshes and renews passion and hope and support.
The draw for our opposition is tonight at 5:00pm Pacific Time. We will find out then who our opponents are in the first step of our journey toward the FIFA Club World Cup. And our little band of pirates will be ready for the journey, mindful of the history we are making, and excited for the chance to try ourselves on the big stage.