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Former 'Eagle' editor pens new book on Cavalry FC, and the history of pro-soccer in the Calgary area

The history of professional soccer in the City of Calgary and surrounding area is a history of mis-steps and misadventures, and just plain old bad luck.
Scott Strasser holds up his new book: "Here Come The Cavalry! Chronicling the History of Professional Soccer in Calgary."

The history of professional soccer in the City of Calgary and surrounding area is a history of mis-steps and misadventures, and just plain old bad luck.

But former Eagle editor Scott Strasser’s new book, Here Come The Cavalry! Chronicling the History of Professional Soccer in Calgary, while not shying away from this turbulent history, offers a hopeful perspective of where professional soccer is now, and where it may be going in the future. 

For Strasser, who acted as one of the early media correspondents for Calgary’s most popular professional soccer team, Cavalry FC, when the team first launched in 2019, the book was a passion project.

“I grew up playing competitive soccer in Calgary, and the early 2010s is when I kind of finished,” he said. “At the time there weren't really many opportunities to continue playing high level soccer beyond a university scholarship.”

What crystallized Strasser’s desire to write the book was the magical season the Cavalry enjoyed in their maiden year in 2019 when he followed the team so closely. He also had a strong personal connection to the team’s founder, Tommy Wheeldon Jr., who had played semi-pro soccer with the defunct Calgary Storm in 2002 before eventually becoming an instrumental figure with the semi-pro Calgary Foothills Soccer Club prior to the genesis of Cavalry FC.

“In 2018 he (Wheeldon Jr.) partnered with Spruce Meadows to launch a new professional club that would play out of the Spruce Meadows Equestrian Complex, just south of Calgary called Cavalry FC,” said Strasser. “And they were going to play in a new league called the Canadian Premier League (CPL) that was kicking off in 2019.

“It was a really exciting season for the Cavalry because they were the best team by some distance. They dominated the regular standings, and they had a lot more chemistry than some of the other teams in the league. So they were setting the pace, and in the summertime they beat the Vancouver Whitecaps FC in a Canadian championship game. It was a really big David versus Goliath moment that the teams in the CPL could compete with teams in MLS (Major League Soccer).”

But in writing the story of Cavalry FC, Strasser soon realized to understand the context of the team’s modern success he had to go back several decades in time.

“I originally intended to start it in 2020, but I ended up shelving it for two years because of the pandemic,” Strasser recalled. “In doing my research, I knew I needed to go back at least as far back as 2002. The reason being is Tommy Wheeldon Jr., who came to Calgary in 2002 to play for the Calgary Storm, which was one of the predecessors to Cavalry FC.

“Well then I figured, if I am going to talk about the Calgary Storm, I should talk about the teams that played going back to the 1980s as well. So it ended up being a project that delved into the entire history comprehensively of pro soccer in Calgary from the 1980s onward.”

Strasser said the reason he found the Cavalry had bucked the trend and succeeded where its successors had failed was all the lessons the Cavalry took and learned from those earlier failed attempts to establish pro soccer in the Calgary region.

“There was a lot of naivety. A lot of people started these clubs without thinking too hard about how many fans they were going to need to sustain them through ticket sales, through season tickets, through merchandise sales. They also didn’t really understand the importance of having a soccer-specific, appropriate venue.”

But perhaps the biggest factor in the Cavalry’s success, said Strasser, is the rising tide of popularity the sport is experiencing in Canada over the last decade, and in particular in wake of Canada’s men’s team qualifying for the last World Cup in Qatar, and the women’s team winning the gold medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. 

“That (growing popularity) bears out in terms of student soccer registration numbers pretty consistently increasing to the point where they now surpass local minor hockey registrations,” explains Strasser. “I attribute this to a growth in globalization. The fact that we can watch soccer games that are happening in Europe or South America so easily nowadays, means that, in the last 20 or 25 years, more people have watched the sport and fallen in love with it.”

And Strasser predicts even more popularity for elite soccer in the coming years, particularly as teams like Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League and Major League Soccer (MLS) teams produce better and better homegrown talent.

He drops a few names to prove his point. Former Cavalry player Mohammed Farsi won the MLS championship last year with the Columbus Crew after being acquired from the Calgary team. Dominick Zator, a member of the Canadian National Team, plays professional soccer in Europe with the Poland-based Korona Kielce. Goteh Ntignee was acquired last year from the Cavalry by French pro-club FC Annecy. Joel Waterman became a key player of the MLS Montreal Impact, now known as CF Montreal.

“Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said he wanted to produce players and give them a platform to show what they could do potentially at a higher level,” said Strasser. “There have been lots of examples of Cavalry players being traded or transferred to teams in higher divisions like Major League Soccer.”

To buy Here Come The Cavalry! Chronicling the History of Professional Soccer in Calgary those interested can buy a copy online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or FriesenPress. You can also email Strasser directly at [email protected].


Tim Kalinowski

About the Author: Tim Kalinowski

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