I’m not sure what prompted me to write a history of girl’s soccer on PEI, perhaps I have caught the fever and excitement of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Whatever the reason, it is surely the right time to record the story of our meagre beginnings. Today, as I drive across the Island I’m amazed to see so many girls playing soccer on so many soccer fields.
However, over thirty years ago girls playing soccer was almost unheard of. In early 1975 my wife and I returned from Ontario to make our home at Cymbria with our two young daughters. We soon found living so far from town it was difficult to find something constructive for the girls to do. I’d loved soccer all my life, as a boy I’d kick a tennis ball around the streets of Belfast. I had played for my school and the Boys Brigade league. Sadly I never made it to the professional levels that I’d dreamed of. My biggest moment came when I was selected to play for the Royal Navy against the British Army in 1956. They thrashed us 7-1 but the single goal for the Navy was mine. So you see soccer was my game and I thought why not teach my girls to play it too.
I never for a minute realised what I was starting or the difficulties I would face in promoting girls soccer. My first job was to form an all girls team from the local area. This was the easy part we set up at the local St Augustine’s school and lots of girls showed an interest. At this time I was working for a Quaker State Oil Distributor (Hillis Oil) based in Halifax and talked the boss into giving me a dozen white tee shirts with the Quaker State logo on them. I asked the girls to provide their own green shorts and socks. We ended up with a variety of green shades and several different styles of shorts and socks. Nevertheless, we had a uniform and a name ‘Hillis Oil Stars’. The next problem was finding a team to play against. North Rustico managed to put a girls team together and we played a couple of games before their coach moved on and the team dissolved. Our first year of soccer was mostly one of practicing and playing five or six aside.
In the following year of 1976 I approached Tom Wallis, president of the Charlottetown Soccer Association and registered our team in the under twelve boys league. The cost for each girl to register was three dollars, and this made us the first PEI female soccer team to become a member of the Canadian Soccer Association. When I started the team I hadn’t paid much attention to age, but once registered it was pointed out that I had one over aged player, she had just turned thirteen. My first reaction was to drop out of the league rather than tell the girl she couldn’t play. However, talking it over with Tom it was decided, as we were a girl’s team surely none of the boys or coaches would complain. Indeed none did in the first few games. That was probably because we lost those games quite decisively. After about six or seven game we began playing better and pulled off our first draw much to the embarrassment of our opponents. This really spurred the girls to train harder and in the next few weeks we played three more games that all ended in ties. Now the complaining began, it’s not fair you guys (girls) have over aged players on your team. Surprisingly, the loudest complaints came from the coaches!
As the season was almost over I decided we’d drop out of the league and end the issue. In 1977 a girl’s under fourteen league was formed with six teams. During the next few years I came up against a variety of difficulties and problems. One of the first was appointing a suitable goalkeeper. Girls saw this as an easy job with a minimum expenditure of energy and I was flooded with volunteers. A few games later no one wanted to play in goals having quickly discovered it wasn’t as easy as it appeared. I faced a situation of no one willing to take the keepers job, it forced me to insist on someone filing the position. I remember one young girl who protested loudly that she didn’t want the job. I put her in the nets anyway. The first strike at our goal was a weak one and the ball trickled over the line while my keeper stood by the post pouting and watching it. On another occasion a young eleven-year-old redhead arrived at the field and asked if she could play. I put her in goal and was immediately impressed by her skills. That was until she broke her thumb. I was sure I’d seen the last of her and expected to hear from her parents. I was wrong on both counts. She came back the following week wearing a caste and proved she was an even better player out on the field.
During the school year the administration kept the grass cut on the field. Unfortunately that wasn’t when we played, our games took place in the summer. We had to cut the grass ourselves for each home game on what was better describe as a hay field. I usually managed this chore with the aid of a couple of girls and two or three push mowers. Our first goal post were made from two pine tree poles and a rope as the cross bar. We had no lines on the field and judged out of play to be the long grass at the edge of the pitch. In the first few years we had no official referees so usually the job fell to the home coach. Our away games raised problems of transportation. It was rare to see a parent at a game and even rarer to have one help drive the girls to games. Fortunately we were living in a time before compulsory seat belts and I often piled all eleven girls into my station wagon. These were the days long before soccer moms and mini vans.
As the girl’s league developed and the skill levels improved finding coaches became an issue. We were forced to move our teams up to a higher age level as the girls reach their next birthdays. By the nineteen eighties the girls were playing in an under eighteen league and later a woman’s league. I attempted to get the high schools involved believing it would help girl’s soccer grow. Another brick wall! When talking with the Principal at Bluefield I was politely told that girls shouldn’t play soccer. He gave the strange reason that their physical make up wasn’t suitable. I pointed out that his girls were presently playing field hockey, a similar sport differing only in that they carried sticks. Nevertheless, I was clearly wasting my time going in this direction for the moment.
By the mid eighties girls soccer was well established, we had real soccer kits, real goal post and sometimes even had nets. Referees were now part of the league making life for the coaches a little easier. Soccer was growing throughout the Province for both male and female and schools were beginning to take an interest. I have always considered the Hillis Oil Stars to be one of the top teams through those years. We won the league on several occasions and came close to winning the Atlantic championship in Newfoundland. A few of our girls had never had the opportunity to travel beyond the island until they began playing soccer. I think playing in Cymbria helped build a wonderful community spirit that thrives to this day. I coached many of the girls that started with me in 1975 for more than thirteen years with never a moments regret.I have watched them grow, leave school, marry and teach or encourage their own children to play the ‘Wonderful Game’.
I’m retired now and still living in the same area where I often bump into the mothers who were once my girl’s team. I’m no longer able to coach but with the wonder of satellite television I enjoy watching my favourite teams from back in the old country. Now I have to complete this story the World Cup is about to begin.
About the Author
Frederick (Ben) Rodgers lives with his wife Linda on their 15 acre hobby farm in Ebenezer their only livestock being two dogs and two cats. I have authored two books ’Lily & Me’ & ‘The Royal Navy & Me’ both memoirs of my early life. For more info visit www.irishroversbooks.com