For those who aren’t aware, Canada is possibly the friendliest, most welcoming and inclusive country on Earth. Across the world, football – or soccer – is followed relentlessly and often aggressively. From partisan crowds and hooliganism to vile abuse, the darker side of the beautiful game is not to be celebrated. But, in Canada, the sport, like most things, is done properly. The fans are passionate, sure. They wear their colours with pride and sing their songs like all supporters. However, there is one major striking difference – they support one another as much as they support their own.
When the Canadian Premier League was launched, it was done so as a single unit to benefit all who took part. Each club, each player, each fan can enjoy the game and participate in its growth. Dwarfed by other sports in the country, like ice hockey, there is a lot of work to do but despite any and all obstacles, the league is succeeding and will continue to do so.
One of the main objectives is to promote and improve Canadian soccer. To maximise the potential for success for the men’s and women’s national teams, you must first nurture the youth. Get grass roots right and you stand a good chance in the future.
A fine and unique example of just that is Jack, a 12-year-old boy with a love of soccer who plays and talks about it – a lot. Living in Halifax, Nova Scotia means that his local team is CPL club HFX Wanderers. The journey of Jack and his father, Andrew, is an interesting one to say the very least. Jack started out as a ball boy at Wanderers Grounds and has managed to transform himself through dedication and passion into a budding journalist, interviewer and podcast host along with his dad.
Instead of them asking the questions, we spoke to them both about this surreal career they have embarked on.
HoF: You’re a ball boy at HFX Wanderers, is that right? How did you get into that and do you enjoy it?
JACK: Yes, I was a ball boy and to be honest it has been one of the best experiences of my life!
For the inaugural season in the Canadian Premier League, my soccer academy, Farias Soccer Academy supplied the Ball Kids. My academy asked about a dozen players from their performance stream to be ball retrievers. Since I was in their performance stream they asked me and I accepted.
I made some great friends during that season with players, fans, other ball kids and some of the staff. I’m very grateful that I was able to have that experience of being right beside the action.
One of my favourite things to do as a ballboy was to carry out the Canadian flag before the game. It was such a rush to walk out onto the field with the Canada flag and hold it during the National Anthem. Once the National Anthem was over we would run over to the sidelines, give our flag to one of our supervisors, grab a ball and then run to our designated spot on the sidelines.
It was definitely one of the best experiences of my life!
What hooked you both about football/soccer?
ANDREW: I played a couple of years as a kid, and I played co-ed house league in university for one year. But I didn’t really play competitively.
The way I got into soccer was the World Cup. That was the gateway into soccer. I started to watch some of the World Cup games, and by 2008 I started to understand the game better.
I really liked the flow of the game – like without ads – which is very different from hockey, which I grew up watching.
Then I started playing in a men’s league – which most people take so competitively you’d think they were getting paid, lol. I love playing it – and I just love the game as a whole.
JACK: When I was really young my dad and I would play soccer in the kitchen. I would always look forward to doing that. My mom would watch us and cheer us on, especially me! By always playing and having such a fun time with my parents it was such a special time, and I really fell in love with the ball.
Then I started playing summer soccer, and my dad was the coach. I loved everything to do with the whole experience.
Even to this day my favourite thing to do in the whole world is to play soccer. I truly am obsessed. Right now I play up to six days of the week and play four and a half hours of soccer everyday with my academy and club. Football is truly everywhere around my life, all the time!
The other thing that I think really impacted me was watching soccer. My family and I would always watch the Euros and the World Cup, and when I was little, one team that I loved to watch was La Furia Roja!
I may have been young at that time but I loved watching Spain play. Right now if you asked me who my footballing heroes were more than half of them would be from Spain. Their play is so smooth. I also love the culture. Spanish food is completely and utterly amazing. I love the language – hence why I’m currently learning Spanish.
I literally cannot express to you how in love I am with Spain, and it’s just from watching their National team.
So you guessed it whenever the Euro and World Cups start, Spain is the team that I love to watch.
How did you go from ball boy to journalist and interviewer?
JACK: That is quite the story. I already told you about how I became a ballboy.
How I became an interviewer was really kind of funny.
Daddy and I loved hearing pundits and soccer analysts debate about soccer. We had some podcasts that we listened to covering other leagues around the world, but there were few covering the CPL.
The way it started was that I saw a fan from York United named “Nathan” on Green Lions and I really liked his show and asked him to come chat about soccer with us – he became our first show about the CPL.
Then Angus Mcnab from York United saw the show we did and reached out to us. Around the same time, I was also invited to the “Down The Pub” podcast, another awesome show run by Anthony Abbott. He asked me to come on and I was interviewed by Anthony, Carlos Benites and Chris Searl who now has his own amazing show “My Name Is Searl” and the 3 of them interviewed me about my time as a ball retriever for the Halifax Wanderers.
So with all of that happening in a matter of a couple of weeks, we thought why not talk more about the CPL. We already loved talking about it, and because we had already been putting videos up on my YouTube channel about champions league games it was easy to add it in. Creating CPLFever was taking the next step, niching ourselves and starting to give our opinion on the CPL.
Once the CPL officially announced its second season I feel like that is when I started really reporting instead of just interviewing.
Because of COVID, the press conferences in the second season were done using Zoom, and so we were granted a press pass to the Island Games, which took place in PEI.
This third season, I started doing a lot more writing for CPLFever. I like how this gets me more involved in soccer from a different angle.
Have you found strong support from the Canadian Premier League and each club?
ANDREW: Once we had met some of the players through local meet and greets, we reached out to a couple of different players asking if they’d sit down and chat with us, and they said “yes” which was awesome. It started from there. So most of our reach outs have been successful, but not all of them.
We have had some very strong support from the Canadian Premier League. They granted us press passes to The Island Games, which were held in a single location because of COVID-19. In terms of the clubs, we have only had a big amount of support from a few, namely the Wanderers, York United, Cavalry, and Edmonton FC.
We have also felt some great support from individual coaches we have interviewed or communicated within the press room, in particular, Tommy Wheeldon Jr, who liked some of Jack’s press questions in the Island Games because they were more specific into the tactical aspects. He has been amazing and Jack has loved talking to him. Jeff Paulus and Stephen Hart have also been incredibly supportive to us. Angus McNab from York United has also been terrific and so generous with his time.
JACK: Yes, we have gotten so much strong support from multiple clubs and the Canadian Premier League itself, which I’m so grateful for. Multiple individuals have given much support also like Angus Mcnab, Ben Fisk, Stephen Hart, Tommy Wheeldon Jr, Jeff Paulus, Peter Schaale and others.
We also have had numerous fans reach out to us and me that we are doing a great job, that they love our episodes and our take on Canadian soccer.
I know that people watch our show, but when we get these nice messages out of the blue, it is a nice reminder that people enjoy what we’re doing, and it gives me the drive to keep growing the show and to be the best host/co-host I can be.
So if you have watched our show in the past or have sent us a message like that, please know that it means a lot to me and my Dad. In fact, I get a lot of messages from the players’ parents – their moms and dads. They reach out and let me know how much they appreciate us telling their sons’ stories with so much respect – it means a lot to me when I get those types of messages.
I do have to give a special shout-out to all of those fans who have been with us since the beginning. I’m so grateful that so many fans and people who love the CPL listen to our show. It is amazing to see the number of our listeners on our podcasts go up and up each month.
Sometimes random people in the streets of Nova Scotia will come up to me and ask me questions, like what has been one of my favorite interviews that I’ve done or when is the next episode of the show coming out? So that is really awesome when it happens. It does surprise me a bit because we are still a relatively new show.
I trust that you’re a fan of HFX Wanderers but how has it been covering rival teams and talking to opposing players/managers?
ANDREW: We are fans of the Wanderers, so we have interviewed more Wanderers players than any other club. But we have interviewed players and managers from other clubs, and recently interviewed former Canadian National team player, Iain Hume. To be honest, we just love the game, so we’re quite comfortable watching a game between two different teams and jumping in the press room afterward. I like talking to players of different teams, and even players in different leagues.
We had the chance to interview Joel Waterman, who had moved from Cavalry into the MLS with CF Montreal. He had some great insights to share.
JACK: You are right we are fans of the Wanderers, but we are also fans of the league so I honestly was just so delighted that I was able to interview players and managers from all these different clubs in a league that I love.
I think that it has been an amazing experience. I have loved learning more about these different clubs; learning about the club culture and players of each club.
You have a podcast too on which you’ve had some great guests and chats, how fun is that to produce?
ANDREW: The podcast is great. I love interviewing players and coaches and getting to ask some deeper questions about player development and the kind of stuff you wouldn’t get to know otherwise. Sometimes our interviews can run over an hour, but we usually could talk even longer about formations and tactics. It’s a lot of fun.
My wife does the video editing and social media graphics with my son, so I’m a little less involved in that, but I want to make sure we produce a good quality product. The real heart of the show is getting into the stories of how these players became pro – so that young players can hear the interviews and it can help them make better decisions and hopefully have a chance to have a go for themselves.
JACK: We do have a podcast/YouTube show. What we do is we record the interviews with video and audio and we put it up on YouTube. I write a blog post about the interview and we promote it on our social media accounts and then my Dad takes the audio and uploads it into an audio podcast.
We truly have had some incredible chats with people that have so much knowledge about football!
When we started interviewing people on CPLFever one of our main goals was to interview players around more of a different topic. What we wanted to do was talk about the player’s journeys and show young people that becoming a pro was not just easy for them, that there were ups and downs in their career and that in soccer, mindset is essential.
To answer your question I really enjoy every minute of the process from writing players or managers to doing the research, getting the questions ready and publishing the interview. It’s hours of work but so much fun!
Have you had any specific memorable interviews? Any that were strange or fun that stand out in your mind?
ANDREW: I really enjoyed interviewing Joel Waterman. He has such a passion for helping.
I also really enjoyed talking to Stephen Hart. I really liked hearing about his memories of soccer back in Trinidad back in the day.
JACK: We have done over 33 interviews and there have been a couple that really stand out in my mind!
Benjamin Fisk was one interview that I really loved for many reasons. He was funny, and very friendly. He had great energy and what was really cool is that he played in Ireland (I’m an Irish citizen) and he has also played in my favourite footballing nation, Spain!
He also has Nova Scotia connections and in that interview, I felt like I had just met an extremely kind person. So when someone asks me about an interview that stands out, it is his because I had such a great time doing the interview.
Another one that stands out is one of our most recent ones with Canadian soccer legend, Iain Hume!
Iain spent a bunch of time with us and I just loved talking to someone who loves the sport so much. He was just so knowledgeable. I also love his mindset and you got to hear that in conversation.
Another one is Cavalry FC coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. I talked to him in one of my first press conferences when I was still learning the ropes of being a reporter. Tommy is one of my favorite people to ask questions to in the press rooms and he has really helped grow my knowledge of the game.
Another is Stephen Hart. I can’t say enough good things about him.
Peter Schaale, I’ve interviewed twice and he’s such a great person.
Angus McNab, he was my first big interview and I am so grateful that he took a chance on such a fledgling show.
You clearly have the passion for journalism, reporting and playing the game itself; with so many strings to your bow, Jack, where do you see yourself heading when you get older?
JACK: Like you just said I have a couple of different arrows that I could fire sending me in different directions in the sport. I will continue to do this for a long time and I’m very excited to see where the show goes next, but my ultimate goal is to become a pro soccer player!
I have a number of different idols, people whose game I love and want to try and emulate and learn from. I try to be the best player I can be.
I play soccer for an elite level academy in Halifax NS and at the academy, they teach us all about tactics, like the Italian checkmark; they also teach us the proper technique for essential skills in soccer. My academy has sent multiple players to Europe and I want to be the next. I also have the best coach for my club, where I play in the Valley. She is really invested in her players and will always answer my questions and she gives me so much more to think about. She has trained me since I was 5.
I know that when I grow up I want to be involved in the sport for sure, I will be continuing to do this for a long time and I’m very excited to see where the show goes next!
Thank you very much for sharing your experiences. Sincerely, we wish you both all the very best for the future and we’ll continue to follow your progress.