The Antigonish Soccer Club—Origins & Early History
A public meeting held at Antigonish [now Dr. J. H. Gillis] Regional High School on April 17, 1978 resulted in the formation of the Antigonish Soccer Association (ASA). Its mandate was two-fold—to oversee the operation of a local Senior Men’s team, and to establish a minor soccer program. Frank Isherwood was selected as President, while R. M. “Mac” Murray—Senior Men’s representative—held the position of Vice-President and Bruce MacDonald was appointed secretary-treasurer.
In its initial year of operation, the ASA offered youth programs in under-10, under-12 and under-14 age categories, at a cost of $ 5 per player or $ 8 per family. Operation commenced on the weekend of May 13/14, with over 100 participants. It involved two 90-minute weekend morning sessions, one for each boys’ group and a fourth that included girls from all three age categories. The highlight of the initial season was a “six-a-side” tournament held at Columbus Field on the weekend of June 17/18. The competition involved all age groups from youth to Senior, with a total of 40 teams participating in the event.
In the spring of 1979, club programs moved to a week-day evening and included boys’ under-10 and under-12, girls’ under-10, under-12 and under-14 sessions every Monday. An under-12 boys’ league featuring teams from town and several county locations operated during the months of June and July. The club experienced significant growth in 1980, with the establishment of an under-12 boys’ league that included teams from Antigonish Landing, St. Josephs and Fairmont, as well as two teams based in Antigonish town. An under-14 league included teams from Antigonish Landing, St. Josephs, Fairmont and Saint Andrews. The competitive highlight of the club’s third season occurred when an under-12 boys’ team participated in Soccer Nova Scotia’s “B” Provincial tournament, placing third among five entries.
By 1981, the Antigonish minor soccer program had a total enrolment of 300 players and offered under-8 and under-10 evening programs, along with under-12 and under-14 “house” leagues. Frank Isherwood continued to occupy the President’s chair, with Bruce MacDonald as secretary/treasurer. As the creation of leagues required a pool of officials, William A. “Duffy” MacDonald volunteered his services as referee-in-chief.
The club’s programs expanded to include the use of Columbus Field and the St. Francis Xavier University field hockey pitches, located at the time on the grounds of the present-day Millennium Centre. The under-12 boys’ program expanded to a six-team league, while the under-14 boys’ division involved four teams. The club also operated a separate girls’ program for ages under-8 to under-14, and—for the first time since its inception—an under-16 boys’ night.
The highlight of the 1981 season occurred in September, when an under-14 boys’ team coached by Kevin Riley and Bruce MacDonald won the Provincial “B” championship, completing the five-team tournament with an undefeated record. The win was quite unexpected—it was the first year at that age level for many of the players, who were proud to bring home the club’s first provincial title.
The 1982 season saw continued growth, with the club operating a five-team under-12 boys’ league, a four-team under-14 boys’ league, an 11- to 14-year-old girls’ program, and boys’ under-16 and under-18 competitive teams. Registration fees increased to $ 8 per player and $ 15 per family. The club continued to impress at the September Soccer Nova Scotia “B” Provincials. The under-12 boys’ team finished first, while the under-14 boys narrowly missed repeating as champions, placing second.
The club’s sixth year of operation witnessed an “explosion,” as over 500 youth registered for its 1983 programs—double the previous season’s numbers. Over 130 boys and girls participated in the under-8 program, while almost 100 registered in the under-10 division. The under-12 boys’ league expanded to include seven teams, with the addition of Pomquet and Maryvale.
For the first time since its inception, the club established a four-team, under-12 girls’ house league. A second innovation involved the introduction of a three-team, “11-a-side” under-14 boys’ house league, along with a similar four-team, under-14 and under-16 girls’ league. House league competitions ran from May to the end of July and concluded with a weekend “jamboree.” The remainder of the summer was devoted to preparation for the annual Soccer Nova Scotia provincial tournaments, held each September.
The club introduced another new program in January 1984, when it organized the first elementary school, indoor six-a-side tournament. The summer program included more than 550 registrants, a large number of whom participated in separate under-8 and under-10 evening programs. The under-12 boys and girls competed in separate six-a-side house leagues, while under-14 and under-16 boys and girls participated in two separate, four-team “11-a-side” house leagues.
The annual Soccer Nova Scotia 1984 provincials saw the club register its most successful results to date. Antigonish Soccer Club teams won Provincial “B” titles at the under-10 boys, under-12 boys, under-16 boys’ and Senior Women’s “B” levels. The club commenced the 1986 season—its eighth year of operation—with more than 600 registrants as its numbers continued to grow.
In the ensuing years, the improved players’ skills allowed the club to participate at the “A” level in annual provincial tournaments. When Soccer Nova Scotia established youth and senior provincial “A” leagues, the club fielded teams at both levels. The parallel development of soccer in Pictou, Colchester and Cumberland Counties created additional opportunities for regional competitions throughout the summer months, in addition to the club’s week-day evening instructional programs and annual provincial competitions.
The Antigonish Soccer Association’s early years established a solid foundation upon which a vibrant soccer club has operated in our community without interruption for almost four decades. The recent construction of all-weather, outdoor facilities has dramatically enhanced the club’s ability to deliver a comprehensive program, and ensured that the small program founded by a handful of volunteers in 1978 will continue to serve the town and county’s youth for many years to come.
Submitted by: Bruce MacDonald