FeatureSports

Conquering soccer in Calgary

Calgary has its first professional soccer club in twelve years, and just like the European teams, it starts from the ground up.

Foothills F.C. has been one of Calgary’s finest soccer clubs since it was established in 1972, and with alumni such as Owen Hargreaves, Kevin McKenna, and Sam Adekugbe, it’s hard to deny that playing for Foothills isn’t a great accomplishment.

Tommy Wheeldon Jr., technical director for Foothills F.C., has spent the last eight years re-tooling the academy, beginning at the bottom.

“We’ve built ourselves an army.”

Wheeldon has amassed 2,500 players under the Foothills F.C. banner
and continues to grow it with every chance he gets.

With ages ranging from U-3 to U-23, there is a spot for everyone.

The U-23 team is about to enter into the professional Premiere Development League (PDL) for the first time, and that’s something to be excited about.

The last professional team Calgary had was the Mustangs, which folded following the 2004 season.

Last year, the Foothills team went undefeated and secured a position in the PDL, which is home to many of the Major League Soccer (MLS) farm teams.

“This is the pre-eminent pathway to having a MLS team in Calgary.”

Wheeldon is very optimistic about soccer in Calgary.

“[Calgary is] such a great sports city, all the teams, the fans, everything.”

Calgarians can be assured that Wheeldon is the right man for the job, as he boasts some impressive points on his resume.

Wheeldon is a former Calgary Storm player, and spent time on Swindon Town F.C. as well as earning his UEFA A License in coaching.

“Just like what the NCAA does for its athletes, I hope Foothills can do for its players.”

Wheeldon came to Calgary 13 years ago to play for the Storm, and once the organization went under, he had the chance to go back to England to play.

“I fell in love with the people and [Calgary] so I stayed.”

The United Soccer League (USL), which the PDL is part of, is just one step below the MLS in terms of competitive level.

“The goal in three to five years is to be in the USL.”

The excitement isn’t just at Foothills; Calgarians are turning out to the friendly matches in droves.

The average attendance for matches hosted in Calgary has been around 1,000 fans, and that’s being modest.

Wheeldon has set that number as the goal for the upcoming season.

The academy has begun an aggressive marketing campaign that has included asking fans to choose the home kit for their introductory season.

“It’s about how we market it [that determines the success].”

A key member of the U-23 team, and to the academy as he serves as the skills coach, is Tommy Wheeldon’s younger brother, Jonathon ‘Jay’ Wheeldon.

Like most sports, it’s about forming friendship and life skills as much as it is about the game.

The goal by 2020 is to have 4,000 players in the academy and having one of the top teams in the country.

“When you start from the bottom, everything falls into place.

“This is going to be an exciting year.”

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