From Canada Kicks

CPSL's Faltering First Steps
Year one was not a smooth sail by any stretch.
by David Bailey, Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 1998 03:28:33 PM

It was on August 20th, 1997 that the Ontario Soccer Association officially announced the formation of a long awaited new venture into premiere league soccer in the province of Ontario, the Canadian Professional Soccer League (Ontario Division).  This new CPSL, the result of a merger between the established but struggling Canadian National Soccer League and the still-born Ontario Professional Soccer League, was designed to help solidify the overly shifting nature of semi- professional soccer in the province and further, to lead the way towards a new “national” soccer entity consisting of CPSL divisions across Canada.

The CPSL (Ontario Division) would consist of five clubs from the old CNSL - Toronto Croatia, Toronto Italia, London City, St. Catharines Roma Wolves and North York (formerly Scarborough) Astros plus four clubs that had planned to be part of the OPSL - York Region Shooters, Toronto Olympians, Glen Shields Sun Devils and Mississauga S.C.

However noble the OSA’s motives, the road to stability for this league has been rough, rocky and strewn with controversy.  When it became known that the Canadian Soccer Association had not been consulted or even informed of the OSA’s plans for the CPSL, long suffering soccer fans were forced once again to shake their heads in dismay.

The head shaking continued when it came to light that Toronto Italia, formerly one of the strongest franchises in the old NSL but now only a pale shadow of its former self, was involved in a war of words with the OSA and CPSL regarding its territory and league policy.  In the end, this once proud franchise would withdraw from the league and may have actually disappeared forever.

As spring fast approached and the Italia issue remained unsolved, the league was not even able to finalize its schedule for the 1998 season.  Finally and with only two weeks notice, the league released their schedule and things started to look like they were falling into place. 

The CPSL was embarrassed by their late start, League Chairman Bill Spiers stated “Ideally, we would have liked all those things settled before Christmas and spend January, February and March doing promotion.  We just weren't able to do that and it turned out that we finalized the schedule and the number of teams then the season opens two weeks later.  It was most disappointing.”

League Director of Operations Voja Jurisic concurred stating, “Every new league and every new business is going to have it successes and failures and we had our fair share of both.” 

Sadly, although play on the field was able to maintain a high level of quality throughout the season, attendance figures dramatically reflected the league’s inability to publicize itself.

London City’s Harry Gauss left no room for doubt regarding the crowds at City’s “Cove Road” facility stating, “This has been the lowest attendance in our 25 year history.  We can live with 600 but what we want is 1000.  We were well below that. This was as bad a year as you would ever want to have.”

He continued “We do our job locally here but we've got to know what we're dealing with.  How many teams there are and who they are and know that well in advance. You can't have a schedule released for your first game and we didn't even have that.  We were supposed to kick off without schedules, without anything and it's pretty hard to market that.”

While attendance is the most visible area of weakness, there are other areas of concern.  At matches this reporter has personally attended, problems included matches starting 30 to 45 minutes later than their publicized kick-off times, non-functioning scoreboard clocks, the non-availability of printed team line-ups to spectators and teams changing uniforms and colours at half time.

If the league wishes to be known as professional, these types of problems just cannot occur, ever.  The increasingly sophisticated sports fans of this era will simply not accept it.

The use of the term “professional” in the league title has come with some controversy in itself.  It is well known within circles that approaches have been made to the league regarding the changing of its name to the “Canadian Premiere Soccer League”. The clubs have not reacted well to this proposal with Gauss being the most outspoken, “We are not going to agree on a name change.  I feel sorry for whoever wants us to change our name because it's not going to happen.  I'm very adamant about it.  We're tired of changing our name.  You can't change it every two weeks.  What's next?  Enough is enough.”

While the clubs might balk at any name change, many observers feel that the very use of the term “professional” does more to illustrate the “wannabe” status of the league rather than the reality of the situation especially in light of the fact that the majority of players are either amateur or at the low end of the semi-professional scale.

With the 1998 season now having concluded with Toronto Olympians taking the League and Cup but with St. Catharines Roma Wolves upsetting them in the Play-off
Final, speculation has now begun in regards to the 1999 season and possible expansion.

“We've spoken to various new groups that have expressed an interest in getting into the league” said Spiers. “We have some difficulties in that we are trying to avoid becoming a Toronto based league but its very difficult when most of the interest is from the Toronto area.”

An outspoken Gauss is not in favour of expansion in the Toronto area , “I'm hoping that common sense is being used.  (The league) is really Toronto based right now and
that makes it tough on a London and St. Catharines for travelling.  If we get 12 more
applications and they're all from Toronto, I don't want to see (it).  

On expansion, Jurisic stated, “The league position and my personal goal is to expand the league by four more clubs.  We have eight so four (expansion) clubs would be perfect. We'll have a stronger league.”

One more area of controversy in the CPSL’s inaugural season was the touchy issue of the Ontario Soccer Associations status in regards to the running of the league.“They shouldn't be involved in running leagues.  I was never comfortable with that, I'm still not comfortable with that and this year is living proof of that.” said Gauss.  “What really has to happen is that the teams grab the bull by the horns and run their own show because the people that are involved now have no idea what this
actually takes.”

Not surprisingly, the view of Bill Spiers was a bit different.  “I think that was perhaps blown out of proportion.” explained the League Chairman, “I certainly will admit that there was a split in the league  between the former CNSL teams and the new teams.  I think the CNSL clubs kept thinking back to the problems they had in the past and were projecting them into this year.  The newer teams were a bit more realistic and said this is a joint effort and everybody's got to pull together here.”  

Jurisic simply said with some bitterness and irony “There were no stormy relations with the OSA, there were no relations!”

So with the 1998 season virtually complete and with plenty of work needed to be done prior to the 1999 kick-off, the political world of soccer is as twisting and turning
as ever.  

The jury is still out on the future of the CPSL but it's all we've got and so the soccer community must hope that the “powers that be” are able to put aside their differences or at least learn to live with them, in order that soccer doesn’t receive one more in a long line of black eyes.

Late breaking news:  

The proposed CPSL Winter League has been cancelled.  According to Jurisic, “(the clubs) can’t afford it - no other reasons”.  The league was to have played out of the Ontario Soccer Centre with London and St. Catharines sitting out.

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