Success came quick for the Penticton Soccer Club.
After starting in the fall of 1954, the Queen’s Park Rangers went undefeated to win the Okanagan Valley Soccer League, which averaged 28 games, and the Royal Cup, which featured the top four squads, in the spring of 1955. Back then, seasons were split between fall and spring and along with Penticton, the league featured the Kelowna Kickers, Vernon National Hotel, Kamloops United, Armstrong Indian School and Osoyoos Realto Hotel.
Charlie Goeckel, a lifetime director with the club, joined the team in spring of 1955. He said the quality of teams in the OVSL was strong.
“Some had played what now would be considered professional soccer in England and Scotland and Holland,” said Goeckel. “It was tough to make the team because they were that good.”
Goeckel, who was 20 at the time and came from Germany, said the Rangers had a tremendous team. Playing for the Rangers in the fall of 1954 were Graham McLaren, Rob McLaren, Bob Conway, Wally Morgan, Ryan Conley, Charly Preen, George Brochu, Elmer Brochu, George Christy, Stan Kelly, Jim Johnson, Bob Rodledge, Casey Jong, Cherry Ritchy and Len Pinske. Tom McLaren and Goeckel joined in the spring of 1955. The Rangers defended their 1955 Royal Cup title in 1956. Several players came from Europe and the only locals were George Brochu and Preen. The strength of the teams resulted in some heated moments on the field.
“In those days there was a lot of fights that broke out,” said Goeckel, adding that players brought the hockey mentality into the game. “Some of the local players that came in figured it was hockey. They understood the game. You bump a guy and he starts throwing fists.”
Tom McLaren, who played with his brothers Graham and Rob, recalled a small altercation he had with an opponent.
“He ran after me. He had a pole in his hand with the flag,” said McLaren. “Rob just bonked him on the head and knocked him down.”
Among McLaren’s highlights was going undefeated the first year and what the players did once to deal with the heat of Osoyoos.
“It was so damn hot. It was 103. We were playing and at half time our whole team were near the lake and ran into the lake with boots on and everything to cool off,” said McLaren, adding they won the game.
Travel to games in the late 1950s required catching a ferry to get to Kelowna. Goeckel said there were times they rushed to catch the ferry. Driving to Revelstoke required dealing with roads under construction. They travelled up and down the valley every Sunday to play.
The PSC would win another Royal Cup in 1973, this time as the Molson Canadians — Molson Brewery, beginning in 1966, supported the club for 20 years.
To keep a pipeline of players feeding into the PSC, youth soccer was started in 1962. Goeckel advertised in the newspaper for kids ages 12 and over to go to Queen’s Park and try the sport on a Saturday afternoon.
“I figured there would be 15 kids or so that would come out,” said Goeckel, who arrived at the field with ball in hand. “There were 70 kids there waiting. I thought they might be there for hockey, it was October. I asked them what they were doing there and they said they were there for soccer.”
That session lasted for an hour and a half. Goeckel wrote down names and had 120 kids total. During that year, Goeckel, along with Les Robert and Helmut Gedig, coached four teams with players aged 10 to 12. In 1963 they had eight teams, which grew to 11 in a short period.
George Miller, who coached youth soccer in 1972, said the kids had fun.
“It was getting kids together and giving them some skill,” said Miller, who helped reorganize youth soccer and helped get the association going. “Letting them play and letting them enjoy the game. It was good soccer for that time and getting the basic skills. They were enjoying the skills of the game.”
Nearing the end of the PSC’s first 20 years, the club played an exhibition game against the Montreal Olympus at King’s Park in 1972. A crowd of 1,000 watched as Montreal won 5-1. Bob Jonson scored Penticton’s only goal.
“They were the top team in Canada at the time. All professionals,” said Goeckel, who got them to come to Penticton after learning they were playing a game in Vancouver a week later.
The club also started organizing a soccer tournament, now known as the Pacific Western Brewery May Classic, which had its 53rd tournament last month with 24 men’s and women’s teams from B.C. and Alberta.
This story is part of a series to commemorate the Penticton Soccer Club’s 60th anniversary.