Welcome to CPL DEEP DIVE, a CanPL.ca series that takes an in-depth look at a particular subject matter of interest in Canadian soccer, examining it from a variety of angles and perspectives.
“(O Canada) We’ll Proudly Play For You” was the second and final song Kim Kinrade put out under Juniper Records before the company went under.
The song was released a few months after Canada qualified for the 1986 FIFA World Cup, its first and only appearance to date. The prominent Edmontonian folk duo of Bob McCue and Alan Clark (known as Sons of Andrew) sang on the track, a two-minute sing-a-long that tried to start a nationwide movement behind Canadian soccer ahead of the World Cup.
A few months later, despite producing an official anthem for a once-in-a-lifetime achievement by the Canadian men’s team, Kinrade was forced to close up shop and walk away with 3,500 unsold records.
“We took a real bath on it and that was it for the record company,” Kinrade told CanPL.ca.
“I remember the day I packed up the office, the day I couldn’t afford it anymore. Grabbing the posters and probably about 50 or 60 boxes of records, someone turned and said ‘well, you tried.'”
Canada’s official 1986 World Cup anthem fared about as well as the team, which crashed out at the group stage in Mexico after failing to score a goal in losses to France, Hungary, and the Soviet Union. But, thanks to Kinrade, this hokey cowpoke tune about ’80s Canadian soccer has lived on in a distant corner of YouTube. Save for that, “(O Canada) We’ll Proudly Play For You” is almost completely untraceable.
“We were all optimistic about this song. We thought it could be huge. Everybody tried really hard. Bob and Alan were brilliant, the song was good, and the Canadian Soccer Association (now Canada Soccer) worked their butt off to make it work. There was no villain,” Kinrade explained.
“Despite the kick in the bank account, it was a lot of fun.”
Written and performed by popular Edmonton duo Sons of Andrew – made up of future music teachers Bob McCue and Alan Clark – “(O Canada) We’ll Proudly Play For You” is a bizarre three-chord bluegrass tune featuring lots of country twang, an electronic drum machine, and lyrics that name drop Canadian soccer stars Randy Samuel, Bob Lenarduzzi, and George Pakos. It may be the only bluegrass song dedicated to a soccer team in the world.
It makes for a charming, catchy, and maybe a bit tacky listening experience in 2021 – and Anglicized in a way that seems dated less than 40 years later after it first came out. Fitting that Clark and McCue, both born in Scotland, took influence from several Scottish and English World Cup anthems in the 1970s.
“Not long after Canada qualified, we sat around and thought ‘why wouldn’t Canada have a World Cup song,'” Clark told CanPL.ca. “It was really fun to put together, but we had no idea that it would go to be the official anthem.”
McCue wrote the lyrics, looking to the Canadian men’s national team roster for inspiration. Clark, meanwhile, modeled the music on “toe-tappin’, hand-clappin'” Canadiana produced by East Coast acts Stan Rogers and Stompin’ Tom Connors.
“The song was a total departure from anything we’d ever done – we only ever played folky music in the style of Gordon Lightfoot, stuff like that,” McCue said. “So we picked up this rah-rah beat, something Canadians could sing along to.
“When the song came together, we thought ‘why not us? Why can’t this be Canada’s anthem?’ We had just gotten into the music business and we had some connections with some people. It was one of those things where you’re in the right place at the right time.”
After some significant funds were put into it by Kinrade, Clark, McCue, and a few other investors, the track was produced and landed at the headquarters of the Canadian Soccer Association, now Canada Soccer, through a couple of connections the group had.
CSA officials liked the idea right away and, just like that, a folk duo that mostly performed in Edmonton pubs was sent to BC Place in Vancouver as special guests of the Canadian men’s national team.
Sons of Andrew, along with storied Edmonton musician Van Wilmott, were flown to Vancouver by the Canadian Soccer Association officials to finish recording and take in a friendly between Canada and Paraguay.
“We sat in one of the booths and heard our song played in front of 20,000 fans,” said McCue, sounding baffled in retrospect.
The men’s side stationed in Vancouver – which featured stalwarts Dale Mitchell, Lenarduzzi, and a young Domenic Mobilio – was scheduled to sing gang vocals on the track, but a scheduling issue meant Sons of Andrew had to find stand-ins.
“We ended up dragging some people off the street and pulling them into the studio – two or three takes and that’s it,” Clark said with a chuckle, referring to the song’s rousing final chorus. “We wanted to make it sound as if the players were singing so, uh, let’s say we didn’t want it to sound pretty.”
Back in Edmonton, Kinrade was preparing a marketing push worthy of the song and the team’s achievement in qualifying for the World Cup. A total of 5,000 copies of the single were ordered as officials expected “high demand” for the summer soundtrack attached to the greatest Canadian soccer team ever assembled to date.
“We were making furniture boxes out of the 45s,” Kinrade recalled. “But it didn’t take long for the whole thing to disappear.”
In May, McCue, Clark, and Willmot shadowed the Canadian men’s team in a massive pre-tournament party in Toronto. Canada had since been drawn in the tournament’s group of death against European powerhouses France, Soviet Union, and Hungary. Match no. 1 was set for June 1 against France, the reigning European champions.
Clark recalled playing the song for a crowd at a pep rally at Nathan Phillips Square in downtown Toronto.
“We were parked in this green room so we had no idea there would be that many people,” Clark said of walking onto the stage facing a huge crowd. “It was the middle of the day so you could see every single face. The knees were a bit wobbly.”
Bob and Alan would perform the song at a few other Canadian Soccer Association events, earning appreciation from players and even Toronto Maple Leafs icon Frank Mahovlich.
“Mahovlich told me he really liked the song – and that has stuck with me for the rest of my life,” McCue said with a chuckle.
Kinrade, meanwhile, was looking to capitalize on Canada’s first involvement in the World Cup. But this was 1986. The NASL had recently folded. Soccer was far from a mainstream sport and it was clear that the “heroics” and “dedication” of players such as Lenarduzzi and Bruce Wilson – to quote the song’s third verse – wasn’t going to change that. And, perhaps most important for Kinrade, it wouldn’t be enough to move these records.
“Those days were hectic because of those boxes and boxes of 45s sitting back at the office,” Kinrade recalled. “It felt like I had sent the record to every radio station in Canada… And I’m not sure we got any airplay out of it. There were no TV stations or radio stations playing it, no interviews. I spent more time on the telephone phoning people up to see if they were interested in the song than I’m sure it was ever played.
“The media never really caught on to soccer, or to this team making history. Soccer hadn’t really captured the imaginations of Canadians at the time.
“Canadian soccer was a hard sell back in the 1980s. We weren’t oblivious to that.”
Canada stood tall against France in their group stage opener but fell 1-0. A similar defeat in their second match against Hungary – objectively Les Rouges’ best chance at a historic first World Cup victory – left a dead rubber group stage finale, and defeat, against the Soviets.
The Canadians departed the 1986 Mexico World Cup – just nine days after it started – without scoring a goal or earning a point.
In less than two weeks, Canadian soccer, and “(O Canada) We’ll Proudly Play For You,” faded deep, deep into the distance yet again.
As a professional entity, soccer has grown exponentially in Canada since the 1980s. Major League Soccer, the Canadian Premier League, League1 Ontario, Première Ligue de soccer du Québec, and even U SPORTS outfits have emerged to create a promising soccer ecosystem.
Still, despite the gentrification, many in this Canadian soccer subculture cling to the absurd and unusual elements – rough edges left on one of Canada’s fastest-growing sports.
Les Rouges supporter Josh MacKenzie is one of those people. He came across “(O Canada) We’ll Proudly Play For You” early last decade in one of many flourishing online Canadian soccer communities.
MacKenzie scoured the internet in search of the seven-inch record, including five years’ worth of alerts set on the popular disc-trading site Discogs. He eventually found a copy from a seller in Toronto late last year – the only copy he’s ever seen listed – and abruptly purchased the slab of vinyl for the price of a two-month subscription to streaming services such as Apple Music or Spotify.
“I bought it from a person who buys collections from thrift stores and throws them up en masse. The other records she had uploaded were, like, Milli Vanilli and Barbra Streisand – I don’t think they know how much it was worth to me,” MacKenzie said with a laugh.
A two-minute bluegrass single now forgotten to the world stands as much more for Josh.
“It’s the perfect embodiment of Canadian soccer – absurd, but there’s that willingness to try,” MacKenzie offered. “It’s all heart, they try hard, but there’s something a little cheesy about it. This is what I love about the sport in this country, it’s what appeals to me about this culture.
“People don’t want to look back at the Canadian history of soccer because they’re kind of embarrassed about it. This song is the reason we should focus on history and embrace it – people tried so damn hard.”
After Canada’s disappointing World Cup showing in Mexico – and a mostly-failed attempt to sell the records to provincial soccer associations for general fundraising – Kinrade paid to destroy “somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000” copies of the single and, with that, Juniper Records folded.
“I don’t walk around saying ‘damn that stupid soccer record, it ended my label.’ Bob and Alan were brilliant, the song was good, and people worked their butt off to make it work,” Kinrade said with a certain hesitation in his voice. “I was about to get married and move out here to Nova Scotia so I just didn’t have any money left to go on recording. It didn’t take long for the whole thing just to fade away.”
About 16 years later, Kinrade – who had long lost touch with Bob and Alan – decided to dig up a tape of the song in his basement.
The video, which was uploaded to YouTube, initially aired on Canadian television around the 1986 World Cup and showed highlights of Canada’s Concacaf qualifying campaign.
“I thought, ‘you know what, for all of us, I’ll walk downtown, get this digitized, and put it up on YouTube,'” Kinrade recalled after uncovering the VHS tape one day. “It was such a good project that I didn’t want it to just disappear.”
In retrospect, Kinrade said he only would have asked for more lead time to market the song, adding by late spring sporting and media organizations, especially in Western Canada, were already focused on other upcoming projects: Expo 86 in Vancouver and the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
Perhaps McCue, Clark, and Kinrade were ahead of their time – interest in the single didn’t match that of Canadian soccer.
Their song was released ten years ahead of “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)” by Baddiel, Skinner & Lightning Seeds, a song so synonymous with the English men’s team it was rehashed for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Domestically, “I Believe” by Nikki Yanofsky, written in support of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, peaked at no. 1 on Canadian charts when it was released.
Canada is set to co-host the 2026 World Cup – alongside the United States and Mexico – which will stand 40 years removed from Canada’s flash-in-the-pan inaugural appearance and the quirky anthem that accompanied it. Will another anthem take the place of “O Canada…”? Or, who knows – could we see a re-release of a long-forgotten Canadian soccer treasure?
“If anyone ever asks about the song, which happens every one or two years, I’ll pull the video up and show people,” McCue said.
“We supported Canada – we still do. It was an incredible experience to have in your mid-20s. It felt like a dream come true. We’ll never have that again but it feels great.”
Alan Clark, who still teaches music in Edmonton, supports Manchester United and is known to attend the odd FC Edmonton game. Recently-retired Bob McCue is still playing in an old-timers league in British Columbia, while Kim Kinrade lives a quiet life in Nova Scotia after years of performing on cruise ships. Starting this Saturday, Kinrade will be hosting weekly “Piano Bar Cruise Party” performances on his Facebook page.