From its modest, early beginnings, the Cliff Avenue United Football Club was all about fun.
Providing a place where youth could join together and play the ‘beautiful game,’ in the growing city of Burnaby.
This past weekend more than 250 people gathered to celebrate the club, its spirit and those who help make it run.
A gala event at the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown brought together former players, former and present coaches, club founder Merrill Gordon and a number of municipal dignitaries to regal in the success of Burnaby’s largest soccer organization.
“It was something we thought about and planned for a while,” CAUFC president Guido Titotto said of the evening. “We thought, ‘This is something we should celebrate.’”
And celebrate they did.
Gordon, who founded the club in 1956 as an activity for attendees of the Cliff Avenue United Church’s Sunday school program, attended Saturday’s feast and was honoured.
“I had no idea it would be around 60 years later,” said Gordon, soon to be 88 years old. “Just today (Monday) I was visiting my eye doctor and someone in the office came up to me and asked me ‘Are you Merrill Gordon?’ I said ‘Yes,’ and he told me he was in my first Sunday school class.”
The Sunday school had enough boys to make a team – girls at the time were not encouraged to play soccer.
“I always said that I was not the best Sunday school teacher but I thought I could teach them a little something about soccer,” said Gordon.
Titotto recalled how the club’s bright orange colour came to be.
“At the time, (Gordon) knew a man who made life jackets, and he had the material to make uniforms – it was light, durable for the weather, and bright orange. We’ve been orange ever since.”
Also in attendance was long-time Cliff Avenue technical director and one-time national team coach Tony Waiters, who was presented with a Lifetime Achievement award as well as a surprise 80th birthday cake.
“Tony is an icon and been involved with so many areas of soccer in Canada,” said Titotto.
Joining in the celebration were Cliff Ave. and Whitecaps alum Buzz Parsons, Bobby Lenarduzzi, Carl Valentine and Les Wilson.
The club also honoured the late Mark Stockdale, who served 17 years as club president, presenting his sons with a plaque. Receiving the honour were his sons John and Luke Stockdale.
“We wanted to honour his many years of volunteer service,” said Titotto. “He was always out there, involved and a very visible presence with the club when I was growing up.”
Titotto, himself a former Vancouver 86er and one-time national team member, said the club has withstood numerous challenges and changes over the years, with the program now providing 2,200 kids on 150 teams a place to play and thrive.
“It’s all about the kids, as it has always been,” he noted. “Cliff Avenue has become a place for both recreation and competitive players.”
When asked where his starting the soccer club stands among all his accomplishments over the years, the one-time city alderman and community activist said it was without a doubt an extremely satisfying venture.
"It was one of the best things for sure I was ever involved with," said Gordon. "It's been such a long and successful association, and anything you do that makes things better for kids is worthwhile."
The club’s registration has more than doubled over the past dozen years, from 1,000 players to its present size. While some community associations have been amalgamated or disappeared over the years, Cliff Avenue continues.
“It’s a great success story,” added Titotto. “The club has stood the test of time, and continues to be a place where kids benefit and learn about the sport.”