3 of the best Powell River soccer players of the last half century
In honour of the 100th anniversary of the Jackson Cup, we invited a former player from the Powell River Villa Soccer Club to write a story honouring of some of his former teammates. Mark Cristante was born and raised in Powell River, then moved to Victoria where he attended the University of Victoria, to receive his teaching degree. He now resides in Victoria with his wife Lindsay, and is a teacher and coach at St. Andrew’s Regional High School. After playing for the Powell River Villa Soccer Club for several years, Mark played with the University of Victoria for four seasons, winning a National Championship in 2004. He has continued to play in Victoria with Gorge FC, and has won 6 Jackson Cups and 2 BC Provincial titles.
Soccer in Powell River
“Hail, Hail The Gang’s All Here…” It’s common phrase to anyone who has been to Timberlane Park on a Sunday afternoon for a 1:30 kickoff. Fans from prestigious clubs in Scotland sing this song as they watch their teams battle it out on the pitch, and our own “Zoo” is no different. Fans of the Villa Soccer Club surround the pitch and belt this song out at every home game at Timberlane Park, at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria for the Jackson Cup, and even at Town Centre Stadium in Coquitlam for the Provincial Cup.
To say Powell River has a rich history in the beautiful game is an understatement. Founded in 1973, Powell River Villa made its way from the lower ranks of the Vancouver Island Soccer League (VISL), to top contenders in no time. There are many reasons as to why Powell River Villa reached this prestigious level. It was not only the results on the pitch that made this club so highly regarded; Powell River Villa was built and carried on the backs of many volunteers, had a fan base that no one will ever forget, and had skilled, hardworking players who were willing to leave everything on the pitch to get the result. In its lengthy tenure in the VISL, Powell River Villa has won Division 3, Division 2, Division 1, and has won the coveted Sir John Jackson Cup four times.
100th Anniversary of the Sir John Jackson Cup
On March 29th, 2015 at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria, the Jackson Cup was handed out for the 100th time. The Sir John Jackson Cup is the holy grail of the VISL. It’s a single elimination tournament that pits all Division 1 and Division 2 teams against each other. The finalists both receive berths into the Provincial Championships, but only one team gets to lift the Jackson Cup. The 90’s were a golden era for Powell River Villa, being crowned Jackson Cup Champions in 1991, 1995, 1997, and 2000.
As a youngster, I remember driving down Island to watch Villa play in the finals and I was fortunate enough to be part of the winning team in 2000. There are many memories that stick out in my mind, but what I remember most was the reception that the teams received from the fans, not only upon their return to Powell River, but all across the VISL. Now, being a member of the soccer community in Victoria, I often find myself in a conversation with people about how Villa was so dominant for so many years–how the road trip up to Powell River and playing in front of the crowd and “The Zoo” was the highlight of their seasons, or how it was always a relentless battle, followed by some cold ones and the Kleimeer’s famous bunwiches at The Soccer Centre.
A discussion about the town’s greatest players
We have had some great players come out of Powell River; players who have played pro and semi-pro, players who have played with our National team, players who have received scholarships to colleges and universities, players who have gone on to winProvincial and National championships, players who have hung up their boots and give back by coaching at various levels. Villa has seen its players earn many awards: Jackson Cup MVP, VISL MVP, VISL Most Sportsmanlike Player, VISL Goalkeeper of the Year, VISL Golden Boot, BC Adult Player of the Year, and possibly more that I am unaware of.
To add to the trophy cabinet–in celebration of the Jackson Cup 100th anniversary, the VISL has put out a list of the Top 16 players to play in a Jackson Cup–and it is of no surprise that three former Powell River Villa players made the list.
Drew Ferguson, Brett Pence, and Robbie Veenhof were named to the Sir John Jackson Cup Team of the Past Half Century. These three soccer stars are very deserving of this accolade. I have had the honour and pleasure to play with, learn from, and look up to all three of these players. As a young soccer player in Powell River, it was my dream to emulate what these players did on the field. When I had the opportunity to play with these players, it was nothing short of fantastic. Their immense knowledge of the game, their pre-game preparations, their work ethic on the field, their never-quit attitude, and just how good they were, definitely helped me become a better player.
Drew Ferguson, a.k.a. “Fergie”
My first year with Villa, Drew was a player/coach who played as a sweeper. “Fergie” as he is well known, represented Canada internationally, and played on several different pro teams in the Canadian Soccer League, North American Soccer League, and Major Indoor Soccer League. After his professional career, Fergie moved back to Powell River and became one of the VISL greats.
As I remember, Fergie would drop back and dictate the entire game. His control, knowledge, and distribution were of professional grade. Fergie was also a brilliant free kick taker with precision and power. He could hit a dead ball like no one else. I always remember Fergie telling the young players how he would take a bag of balls to Max Cameron field daily and practice by himself. That is just one of the reasons why Fergie was one of the best soccer players to represent Powell River on so many different levels.
Brett was also a member of Villa in my first year. Brett had returned from a professional career of his own playing pro in Australia and in the Canadian Soccer League. Brett was a dominant center midfielder; or more like a beast of a center midfielder. Looking at him you could not really understand how someone so big could move the way he did. Brett was a powerhouse in the VISL. My colleague and teammate, John Mennie, recalls that Brett’s size and skill were so difficult to deal with. He is tough as nails, and one hell of a soccer player who was difficult to get off the ball.
Both Fergie and Brett helped young players make the jump from youth soccer to men’s soccer an easy transition. Personally, they taught me an immense amount about the game and I am extremely fortunate to have played on Powell River Villa and win a Jackson Cup with both of them.
Since playing for Villa, I moved to Victoria, and had the opportunity to play alongside another Powell Riverite who is regarded as one of the best center backs in the VISL. Robbie left Powell River to attend the University of Victoria and played five seasons with the Vikes, winning a National Championship in 1996. From there, Robbie played for Gorge in the VISL; he also played in the PDL and PCSL. When the opportunity arose for Robbie to attend a trial at Swindon Town in England, he chose to stay in Victoria and pursue his teaching career. Throughout Robbie’s soccer career, he developed into a brilliant player and teammate. I have been fortunate to play alongside Robbie for the past ten years. When the whistle blows, Robbie brings immense intensity, enormous work ethic, and a positive attitude that was instilled in him from his years of playing in Powell River. Robbie’s timing in both tackles and winning headers is incredible. He is a fantastic leader and teammate, because he makes everyone’s job around him easier.
In my mind, there is no question that these three former Powell River Villa players should be recognized. They have helped shape Villa and Powell River soccer to become what it is today. Powell River and Powell River Villa Soccer Club should be extremely proud of these three individuals who have done so much for the beautiful game. I feel privileged to have benefited from their mentorship, their consistent commitment, and passion for the game of soccer.
Can’t get enough soccer? Read about how the current Villa Captain prepares for Sunday games.