Keith Liddiard inspires impressive legacy

Former BC Soccer Executive Director reflects on a glorious time in the game.

Keith Liddiard had barely unpacked his bags upon arrival in Vancouver before being immersed in the game he loved.  It was Oak Park, Marpole April of 1967, and the 13-year-old, fresh off the plane from Bedford England, started kicking a ball around by himself before noticing a car pull up and stop.  A gentleman wearing a soccer track suit approached and asked which team he played for, and would he like to come play for “Marpole Athletic” (2-time Sun Tournament winners).  2 years later, and young Liddiard was winning another Sun Tournament with the club.  The story perfectly encapsulated Liddiard’s approach in almost every aspect of an almost 40-year relationship with soccer in this province; seize an opportunity, take the initiative.  Keith Liddiard also benefited greatly from good timing because the man knew how to time his runs.  

In between working at Woodwards, Liddiard’s playing career continued with his youth and semi-pro men’s teams enjoying success (New Westminster Blues, Vancouver Sporting Club among others), so much so that Liddiard tried out with the Whitecaps in 1974.  Despite a need for Canadians, first head coach Jim Easton took a pass.  Then it was down to the Portland Timbers where legendary Vic Crowe was in charge.  At half time of a training game, Crowe pulled Liddiard aside and told him “Your pace is deceiving…you’re slower than you look!” From the Rose City, it was on to LA, where the Aztecs had set up shop featuring Dutch greats Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskins among others. Without a Green Card, it was always going to be difficult, and the pursuit of professional opportunities left Liddiard financially strapped which fortunately for the local soccer community, led him back to British Columbia. 

In 1978, a job posting at BC Youth Soccer, became an interview with then Chairman Kenny Lind and Vice-Chair George Graveson. The application went favourably thanks in part to Liddiard producing his collection of medals won in the various Sun Tournaments; something he was immensely proud of.  And so began an extraordinary 20 year tenure with our Provincial body that combined Liddiard’s love and understanding for sport, combined with his keen sense of marketing.  His promotional sensibilities honed in part by the legendary John Plul, then marketing/promotions guru at CKNW, the powerhouse radio station where Liddiard hosted a weekly “Soccer Report” among other part-time on-air duties.

His media experience and confidence with a microphone would prove to be a valuable asset.  Not only did Liddiard chronicle the BC Soccer goings-on with “the Whistle” Newsletter, but eventually, he helped host and produce “60 Minutes of Soccer” on Rogers Community cable which was the springboard to one of his proudest contributions to BC Youth Soccer.

After completing one of the episodes, Liddiard and show producer Greg Bosworth kicked around the idea of televising the Provincial Cup tournaments from Swangard stadium right across the province.  The initial challenge was simply networking all the Rogers community Cable outlets together:

“We had to go to each individual Rogers Cable channel to pitch the idea, but they all loved it because it was live local programming that they didn’t have to produce, they just had to flick a switch.” 

Not long after, live broadcast of the tournaments commenced, airing on consecutive weekends for boys and girls, 4 games on Saturdays 3 on Sundays with the awards wrapping up almost 12 hours of coverage.  When Safeway took over sponsorship from the Vancouver Sun, the tournament was expanded to 4 consecutive weekends.  One of the biggest issues in filling that much air time was finding a host, which ended up falling into Liddiard’s lap as well:

“Not only was I producing the event, and hosting all the in between segments, I was also trying to organize the actual tournament!  That was seven half-time shows, the break between final game and the awards presentations…I’m not sure how I managed it all.  But it was also one of my proudest contributions because during that time, our registrations went from about 83,000 to around 115,000.”

The initiative to televise BC Youth’s top tournaments proved a great benefit to the families and friends of those competing, while also providing a memorable keepsake in the form of VHS tapes (many still boxed in basements awaiting conversion!).  But the core values of Liddiard and everyone at BC Youth Soccer was not just about promoting the game but providing meaningful experiences for young players in the form of camps and coaching.  Liddiard wanted to up the ante on camps, which evolved into his next big achievement;  a residential academy, that completely immersed participants into a total soccer environment for an entire week.  While on a tourist trip to Victoria, Keith saw an ad for Shawnigan Lake Private boy’s school, and off he went up-Island to pay a visit.  The splendour of the facility with its Tudor style main building and numerous pristine pitches, gave off a traditional English, almost “Hogwarts” like vibe. 

It was the ideal setting for the type of experience Liddiard was seeking.  Shawnigan Lake Soccer Academy was born.

The BCYSA board gave their staff the time and blessing to grow the academy, which wasn’t a huge money maker but broke even. When the program started in 1984, it was initially designed for players, but would soon expand to coaches and referees.  Alan Churchard, (Liddiard’s long time friend and former BC Soccer technical director) had the connections to help land some influential guest coaches and Referee instructors. Among them were Scottish International Paul Sturrock, Canadian National team coach Barry Clark, Dutch Women’s National team coach Burt Van Lingen and in years 2 and 3, English World Cup winner Gordon Banks…who by today’s standards, almost volunteered to come over: 

“We paid Gordon about 1,000 bucks over the two weeks and I remember sitting in the school’s lounge where Banks was telling us that Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore were instructing in Kuwait and getting paid 10,000 pounds over 2 weeks!” 

By the time the last summer residential academy concluded in 1998, the amount of people who had participated in the camps numbered well into the 1,000’s.

Shawnigan Lake was the summer staple on the BC Soccer Calendar, but it was a winter event, between Christmas and New Years that became another pillar of the Liddiard era. 

When Dairyland was taken over by new investors, they decided not to continue sponsoring their annual youth jamboree.  This was at the same time, that Liddard was contacted by then BC Place General Manager Harry Renault, who wanted to book more events at the stadium during down times in the year.  That’s how the winter jamboree was conceived; another well timed opportunity during a period when pitches in the lower mainland were generally closed:

 “Eventually we expanded the format to 10 days, running from 9 in the morning until 10 at night.  It nearly killed me at the time because I was living in Pitt Meadows, would leave BC Place at 10:30 pm, and have to be back for 6:30 am set up!  We probably put 300 teams through that event every year.”

Keith’s most recent adventure materialized while he was serving as Technical Director for Pitt Meadows Soccer Club.  Long time friend Tom McManus had wondered whether Keith might be interested in taking on Kamloops Youth Soccer.

“I remember getting in my car and driving to McArthur Island where the club was going to set up shop.  When I got there and looked around I said to myself…this is heaven.”

Once getting into the role, the mountain of issues and obstacles became much more apparent; creating perhaps the biggest challenge in his career:

“There was a big sign on the highway just before you turned into Staples, that said VANCOUVER 350 KM’s and I’d look at it sometimes and say to myself…just keep driving.”   

After a complete overhaul, and more than a decade in the Thompson Okanagan, like so many projects Keith Liddiard took on, KYSA was in a far better place than when he arrived, which made it much easier to retire from his role on November 30th.  And while he won’t rule out other opportunities, Liddiard’s one challenge now will be to decide where he and wife Teresa will travel! 

BC Soccer offers its sincere congratulations to Keith Liddiard on 38 incredible years of service and dedication to the game in British Columbia.