Back in 1975, the Vikings soccer team struggled through a tough season.
Sometimes, the number of fans on the sidelines on campus barely outnumbered the players on the pitch. A cool, misty fall made the setting all the more miserable.
Because other varsity teams were so far away, the Vikings also played against top amateur competition in the premier division of the Vancouver Island League. They won only one of five games against Island rivals.
As the season progressed, the squad began to respond to the coaching of Brian Hughes. Vic Escude, a striker, provided a spark for the offence. Mike Armstrong, the goalkeeper, offered steady protection between the posts. His task was made the easier by the fanatical defending of a fullback named Ross.
“Kenny was very skilled,” says teammate Scott Taylor, BA ’76, a 57-year-old chartered accountant in Victoria. “He was tenacious and he was tough. Nobody got an inch off him. His play was inspiring to the rest of the team.”
The team began to click. They knocked off the defending national champions by shutting out the Thunderbirds from the University of British Columbia. The Alberta Golden Bears and Saskatchewan Huskies were the next to fall.
A 3-1 victory over the taller Dalhousie Tigers put the Vikes in the championship game to be played at Centennial Stadium.
The home side was the underdog, as the visiting Concordia Stingers from Montreal were undefeated.
Worse, goalkeeper Armstrong pulled a knee cartilage. The coach called on Danny Lomas, his top scorer, to fill in. Lomas had surrendered four goals in his most recent start—three years earlier. The injury cost the Vikings their best ‘keeper and top scorer.
As it turned out, the Vikes scored the opening goal 20 minutes into the game when midfielder Bryan Barraclough, a biology student, converted a free kick. Gordie Manzini put the home side up by two with 25 minutes remaining when a looping free kick from midfield eluded the Concordia goalkeeper.
The visitors’ frantic attack earned a late goal, but the final whistle delivered to Victoria the Sam Davidson Trophy as Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union champions. It was UVic’s first national university sports title. (Victoria won a national playoff in 1967, but soccer had yet to be recognized as an official intercollegiate sport.) Though he did not feature in the scoring, both the Victoria Times and the Daily Colonist singled out Ross for his brilliant play.
“He took on their best player,” Taylor recalls, “and shut him down.”
The tired but exhilarated players celebrated in song in the dressing room. Thirty-one years later, the team would be named to the UVic Sports Hall of Fame.
A championship team shares the honour forever.
Ross became a teacher. On the pitch, he took on top scorers. In the classroom, he handled the tough kids others had given up on. He became a well-known staff member at S.J. Willis Alternative School.
He played soccer even after he turned 30, then 40, then 50. He enjoyed the competition, thrived on the camaraderie. He was the locker-room cut up, the guy who flicked lights on and off, keeping the fellows loose with wisecracks and the occasional prank.
“He was a player well liked by his teammates,” Stefani said. “Not necessarily well liked by his opponents.”
“He was tenacious,” says Dave Ravenhill, BEd ’87, a 45-year-old Vikes Alumni player and high-school teacher for whom Ross had been a mentor. “Didn’t mind a good tackle.”
For many years, Ross wore the colours of the Bays United Alumni. The club’s website calls him “talented and uncompromising,” a reference to the delight he took in delivering a solid tackle. Last year, Ross was diagnosed with prostate cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He kept on playing.
Teammates raised money for him to join them in Hawaii for a tournament in January. He was asked to give the ceremonial opening kick off. It was his last touch of a soccer ball. He died on April 29.
Sixteen clubs contested the over-35 title in May. After a month of playoffs, only two remained.
Three victories, each by one goal, took the Vikes alumni to the final. They defeated Nanaimo United (3-2), Westside (2-1) and Columbus (2-1) to advance against the Rangers, the defending champs.
The championship game was played on a pitch in Chilliwack that had been the site of an old horse racetrack until a few years ago.
The Rangers ferociously defended their title. Each side missed a penalty kick. The Vikes Alumni grabbed a 2-1 lead, which they nursed into the game’s final minutes. Despite being down two players lost to red card dismissals, the Rangers attacked the Vikes’ goal in desperation. Only with the referee’s final whistle was the outcome certain.
The Vikes, some of them limping, crowded back into the dressing room.
It was noisy now, not quiet like it had been before the opening kickoff.
Players paraded into the room with the trophy, an attractive piece of hardware with a wooden base topped by a silver-plated soccer ball.
A phone call was placed to Victoria to tell mourners the good news.
Someone stripped the piece of tape off the wall.
They stuck it on the trophy.
It is there still.
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