He was the Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Whitecaps back in the day. Fans and teammates adored him, and he scored some mighty big goals.
Carl Valentine even posed nude like Kesler – a soccer ball covered his jewels – for a photograph which appeared on the cover of the Vancouver Courier. He was in his early 40s and still a valued member of the 86ers soccer club.
Today, at 53, his knees betraying him for years of running a zillion miles an hour down the wing, he walks with a slight limp but still has that Colgate smile as he talks and watches soccer.
In Vernon last weekend to launch the Whitecaps FC Okanagan Academy with head coaches David Broadhurst and Claire Paterson, Valentine is now an ambassador and staff coach with the Major Soccer League (MSL) Whitecaps.
Valentine is perhaps the most popular Whitecap of all time, nudging Bob Lenarduzzi. He played a Whitecap career-high 409 games and made 31 appearances for Canada. He also played in the England First Division with West Bromwich.
He beams when asked about the ‘79 NASL title win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, and subsequent homecoming parade down Robson Street in front of 100,000 fans. He is surprised when 20-something fans stop him these days in Vancouver.
“They must have heard about me from their parents or saw my picture on the website,” laughed Valentine, who coached a Premier Development League team in Ottawa last season.
“It’s been a great first year,” he said. “It enables me to go out into the community and grow the many camps and programs that the Whitecaps are putting into place and it’s been a lot of fun.”
This was Valentine’s third trip to Vernon and shows Broadhurst and Paterson that the Whitecaps are sincere and in this “for the long haul to build the game.”
Growth in B.C. has impressed Valentine.
“I watch these players and see not just their technical ability, but their awareness of what they see on the field and it’s very impressive.”
Getting more touches is the key to development and Valentine says times have of course changed since he was a young lad in England.
“When I was 10 or 11, I could be gone for seven, eight hours and my mom or dad weren’t really concerned where I was. You had lots of touches on the ball and we obviously had to go out and use our imaginations with no computers, no cell phones, no PlayStations and stuff like that.
“So, it’s certainly different. So anytime they can get out, great. It’s one of the most healthiest sports. From a technical ability, the more times you can be on the ball, you can appreciate the game, the more you get a passion for the game, and if you’re like me, with good knees, you can play over 60s, over 70s which is a great benefit.”
He likes the marketing savvy being shown in the MSL and says it’s essential teams develop their own players via academies.
“There’s so much money in the game, especially in England, in the Premier with TV, and the Championship (leagues), trying to get some of those players over is difficult because the money’s astronomical now. But, the MLS, like the Whitecaps, have kind of led the way with their residency program. They’ve expanded this year. They’ve gone from 25 to over 80 players that are full-time in the residency program down to players as young as 11 years of age.
“They want their teams to develop young players and it makes sense because you can’t go out and buy them. To have some sustainability, you gotta go out and develop young players.”
While in Vernon, Valentine told young players they are lucky to have such high-calibre coaches.
“David and Claire promote a great passion because they can teach them how to play the game what I call right. Twenty years ago, well there was a lot of kicking and running, and players were still enjoying the game, but as we know, it’s a team game and it’s great if you can show these kids about how to work together, and pass the ball and movement off the ball.”
Divorced and living in the North Shore, where he coached at the club level for seven years, Valentine spent a few years instructing at a private academy in Richmond. His daughters, aged 24 and 17, used to play at a high level, and his 22-year-old son, also blessed with Carl’s speed, still plays.
Valentine has no regrets on leaving England.
“When I first came in ‘79 from Manchester, I was 20. I only thought I was coming for two years. It was fantastic for me. I think, in my second year, Manchester City came in to buy me and the Whitecaps said no so they lied to me. I tell that one to Tony (former Caps coach Waiters); it’s not true. I’m glad I came to Vancouver and certainly it was the right decision to bring up a family here. Being back with the Whitecaps now, it’s a dream come true for me, even more so in the role I’m in.”