Lakehill and Gorge compete for Jackson Cup

In its eventful 103-year history, the Jackson Cup soccer playdowns have included World Cup players George Pakos, Jamie Lowery, Ian Bridge and other multi-capped Canadian national team performers such as Bob Bolitho, Ike McKay and Brian Robinson. Dynastic teams have included Vic West and, most recently, Cowichan FC.

But what the annual Vancouver Island Soccer League knockout competition, which began in 1915 patterned after England’s FA Cup, has never had is Lakehill lifting the Jackson Cup.

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Lakehill will attempt to have its name finally etched upon the trophy when it meets Gorge FC in the 2018 Jackson Cup final today at 2:30 p.m. at Royal Athletic Park.

“After 103 years, we are hoping for a Cinderella story,” Lakehill coach Mark Bhopal said.

“It’s a privilege to go into such a setting as a cup final and we hope to make some noise. Trying to put Lakehill on the map has not been easy. I am very proud of our players. They are hard-working guys. It’s been a learning curve, but we are on the up and up. After game seven, it started to jell for us, and we are 8-1 in our last nine games [six regular-season and three Cup games].”

Fourth-seed Lakehill, led by 24-goal Ryan Andre, the league’s highest scorer, blanked second-seed Vic West 1-0 in the cup semifinals.

Bhopal, a Duncan resident, is in his fourth year at the helm of Lakehill. He has taken his side from promotion up from the Second Division to the Jackson Cup final and vows this is not a one-shot deal.

“We average players 20- to 24-years-old and are a team others will be aware of in the future,” he said.

A key has been in attracting graduating University of Victoria Vikes players, such as the talented Tarnvir Bhandal.

“There is so much competition in the VISL to recruit the best players,” Bhopal said.

“When you’re ninth or 10th in the league, nobody wants to play for you. Now, top players have a reason to play at Lakehill. It goes in cycles, and Cowichan dominated for a long time.”

Fifth-seed Gorge FC upset top-ranked Cowichan FC 3-1 in the Jackson Cup semifinals. Cowichan was looking to make its eighth Jackson Cup championship-game appearance in the past nine years and winning a sixth cup in that span. Gorge, however, threw a spanner in the dream.

For finalist Gorge FC, it’s a hoped-for return to glory for the club, which won six consecutive Jackson Cup championships ending in 2010 and four Province Cup B.C. titles from 2001 to 2010.

“It’s taken a number of years to rebuild but it’s starting to happen,” said Gorge FC head coach Danny Van Gylswyk, who has been with the Gorge organization for 50 years as a player, manager and coach.

“Gorge is a great club, with the emphasis on club.”

That was evident on Saturday as the VISL’s championship weekend began at RAP with Gorge FC of Division 3 defeating Saanich Fusion 2-0 in the George Pearkes Challenge Cup final for teams in Divisions 3-4.

Gorge’s organizational depth will again be on display today at noon in the VISL Tony Grover Masters Cup final between Gorge and the Cowichan 49ers.

Cowichan and Vic West met Saturday in the George Smith VISL U-21 final with Cowichan prevailing 1-0.

Lakehill beat Saanich Fusion 1-0 in the Terry Price Cup women’s Lower Island final last weekend.

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