“Professional soccer has taught me that some of the most satisfying things in life take the most amount of work.”
Pacific FC president Josh Simpson has known the highs and lows of the beautiful game. Having climbed the ranks of the Canadian national team from a young age, while navigating the trials of a move to Europe as a teenager, Simpson emerged as one of the country’s best young players – and, certainly, one of the top talents from Vancouver Island.
He remembers the countless times he jumped on a bus after classes at Belmont Secondary School to catch the outbound ferry to the mainland and arrive in time for training sessions across the Georgia Strait – four times a week, in fact. He also recalls the countless nights spent sleeping over at his teammates’ houses, stranded for the evening. He remembers all the early mornings, all the late nights; the pains and pressure; the bike rides to practice fields; surviving as one of eight siblings; learning that “you don’t get anywhere without a good head on your shoulders.”
But most of all, Simpson remembers the lack of a pathway in Victoria, the lack of options to pursue soccer.
“It was always ‘leave’,” Simpson recalled to CanPL.ca, in the build-up to the grand re-opening of Westhills Stadium, where Canadian Premier League outfit Pacific FC calls home, and where Simpson hopes to establish a club with traditions, expectations, and opportunities he never had while growing up.
Pacific FC is one of seven founding clubs of the CPL. Simpson serves as the club’s president, alongside fellow former Canadian international Rob Friend, the club’s CEO. The two have been hard at work building the foundations for soccer on Vancouver Island, travelling to each corner to spread the word of soccer’s emergence in the region.
Recently, the team, coached by Michael Silberbauer, embarked on a three-match road trip while construction as Westhills Stadium to build a new grandstand came to fruition. On Saturday, the team returns to Westhills Stadium ready to show off the new-look venue to visiting Valour FC. This new stand, along with a $5-million investment in the development of a 55,000-square foot training facility and clubhouse nearby, represent steps the club has taken towards building up the beautiful game on Vancouver Island.
“Having the stadium, our home, ready and finished, is really important for us,” Simpson said, as he toured the facility. “We’ve been trying to paint a picture of what it’s like, what the atmosphere’s like of a European football match, to try and replicate that here on the Island, and to keep the fans really tight to the pitch.
“It’s challenging to convert someone from never being a football spectator to just loving the game without having these things in place. For us, opening the stadium and being really complete will finally be a chance for us to show, really, what is the realization of that goal, and to convert everybody on the Island to Pacific FC fans.”
Throughout it all, the club has remained steadfast in the belief that success will come with faith in the kids of Vancouver Island.
“We want to focus on the youth players, the younger players; how do we get the most out of them?” Simpson posed. “We surround them with a growing atmosphere, with positive support, and with a few select, let’s call them … senior players. You see that in our squad. That’s exactly how we’ve built our squad, with a focus on our youth.”
There’s more to building a club than providing professional soccer players a place to play, of course. In that regard, Pacific FC has been heavily involved in community ventures, most recently participating in the “Hope and Health” camp in Nanaimo for over 400 Indigenous children and youth in the area. The club has taken on young players from the University of British Columbia, such as Zachary Verhoven, who most recently starred in Pacific’s 2-0 win over York9 FC.
Simpson and co. have also been quite hands-on with other club community initiatives, with an emphasis on supporting youth soccer clubs across the Island, where they can.
“I feel so invested in making soccer part of the lifeblood of this Island, simply because I believe in it,” Simpson said. “I’ve travelled the world; I’ve played in every level of the Canadian national program that there is … and what I noticed in the world was something that was missing here; the passion for your local football club.”
He added: “It’s not about egos. This is the extent of grassroots football right here on the Island; Pacific is just the top end of that, but there’s still a long way to go. This just puts us on the roadmap.”
As Simpson prepares to welcome even more raucous support to the 5,000+ seat Westhills Stadium on Saturday, it’s hard not to reflect on the journey so far.
“Success for Pacific FC? It really starts out with, let’s call it, a young Canadian looking up to see Pacific FC now playing in British Columbia, now playing on the Island, and saying ‘I want to make that team'” he describes.
“To be able to take that young player from realizing that dream, getting him into our club, developing him, and getting him to the national team, and then to actually send him on – that’s our success story.”