From sea to sea: Newfoundland’s role in Canadian soccer history

With the national squad poised to make the next FIFA World Cup, St. John’s has never forgotten hosting the big game.

Man Kicking a Ball
A young Canadian soccer fan plays at King George V Park in St. John’s. The same place where Canada last qualified for the FIFA World Cup. Nicholas Conway/Kicker

Nicholas Conway
Kicker

It last happened 35 years ago.

That’s how long it has been since the Canadian men’s national soccer team played in their only FIFA World Cup. Every four years Canadian soccer fans hold their breath as they cheer on the nation, only for it to end in qualification heartbreak.

This year could be different since the 2021 Canadian team is on the brink of qualification with a new golden generation of talent.

Legendary Newfoundland soccer player Bill Breen was one of the more than 13,000 in attendance that day.

“When (Canada) decided to come down here and play for the World Cup, it was amazing,” said Breen. “Just to have the national team play here was excellent.”

Breen played with the Canadian junior national team for the 1975-76 CONCACAF tournament. Often considered one of the finest players from the island, Breen says the support at the qualifier was better than any of the players on the field expected.

“There were a lot of players on that [team that] I played with [on] the junior team. When I talked to them prior to and after the game, they couldn’t believe the crowd. They were amazed,” Breen said.

One of the players on the field that day was George Pakos. The midfielder would make his mark on Canadian soccer history that day by scoring the opening goal of the match. A pivotal goal which helped Canada win the game 2-1.

“It’s really hard to describe,” Pakos said when asked about his emotions after scoring the opening goal. “Especially after what had happened to me personally.”

The year before Pakos had been cut from the Olympic squad that went to Los Angeles in search of a medal. They made it to the quarter finals.

Pakos isn’t your typical Canadian hero. A true underdog in the sporting world, he didn’t get his first call-up to the national team until he was 30. He had been playing in the British Columbia amateur leagues before finally getting the chance to play for his country. Pakos, having never been to Newfoundland before, left the island a national sporting hero.

“After winning we went to a pizza parlor and celebrated with, excuse my expression, the Newfies,” Pakos said. “I remember getting so many hugs from the people there. It was a highlight in my life.”

Breen and Pakos are passionate supporters of the Canadian national team to this day. They are firm believers in the team’s potential.

“I cannot see them not making the world cup,” said Pakos.

With qualifiers ongoing, the Canadian squad will know its World Cup fate by the end of March.

 

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