O’Keefes: 50 years since ‘Wrong Team’ won

Peter Brett was from England and Jim Menzies, Tom Westwater and Ed Carson had come out from Scotland and commuted from jobs in Port Alberni to play.

They all came together under the demanding but deft coaching touch of Frank Grealy.

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The 1967 John F. Kennedy Cup champion Victoria O’Keefes celebrated their title Sunday at Uplands Golf Club with a half-century reunion exactly 50 years to the day of winning it. It was the team’s first reunion since its 10th on May 7, 1977.

The old Pacific Coast Soccer League was the top level of the sport in the province and the local team was known as Victoria United before the O’Keefes beer sponsorship.

The Kennedy Cup, inaugurated by the late U.S. president in 1961 as part of his physical fitness initiative, was contested between the champions of the PCSL and the amateur champions of Washington, Oregon, California and Mexico. It was the only sports Cup named after JFK. To make it to the tournament was no easy path.

“With the likes of Vancouver Columbus and Firefighters, every week in the Pacific Coast League was tough competition,” recalled Grealy.

The O’Keefes proved to be the pick of the bunch in Canada’s Centennnial year.

“These were intelligent, smart players. I always believed in attacking soccer, and sometimes I enjoyed so much what I was watching with this group that I forgot I was coaching,” said Grealy.

The PCSL hosted the Kennedy Cup tournament that year at Empire Stadium in Vancouver, so needless to say, Lower Mainland soccer officials were dismayed by the lost marketing opportunities because of having an Island team as the host PCSL-champion club.

“Oh, Oh, Wrong Team,” read a headline in a Vancouver Sun story on May, 8, 1967, by legendary sports columnist Jim Kearney. He was from Victoria, and no doubt reveled in the Lower Mainland organizers’ discomfort about who the host club turned out to be, after the O’Keefes won 19 of 21 games in the 1966-67 PCSL season with Sadler recording 10 clean sheets.

“That was not expected and the PCSL executive was pretty disappointed,” recalled MacKay, with a chuckle.

“Our home Royal Athletic Park field was very good, but the natural turf field at Empire Stadium was immaculate, and helped our style and to play good football. It was a huge deal for me at 18 to play Mexico.”

The O’Keefes didn’t disappoint. Victoria beat Los Angeles FC 3-1 in the semifinals and then shocked the Mexico representative, which was a national select side, 2-1 in the final before more than 6,000 fans.

B.C. soccer legend Stothard, a member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, credits Grealy’s punishing training regimen and notes that’s why the O’Keefes didn’t fade late in games.

“We went at it hard, even in the last 20 minutes,” said Grealy.

Oak Bay High grad MacKay, a former NASL Portland Timbers pro with seven starts in nine World Cup qualifying caps for Canada, was enshrined into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame as an individual athlete with the Class of 2015. Now he enters the hall for a second time, when the O’Keefes are enshrined in the team category with the Class of 2017 during the induction ceremonies Oct. 28 at the Westin Bear Mountain.

Despite all he has done in soccer, MacKay said the 1967 Kennedy Cup title with the O’Keefes remains high on his list of accomplishments.

“It was a thrill for me to play with these guys,” he said.

Goalkeeper and Vic High grad Sadler had backstopped Vancouver Firefighters, as an emergency injury pick-up the year before, to the 1966 Kennedy Cup title in San Francisco. But the 1967 championship with his hometown O’Keefes remains the most special.

“It just clicked for us that year . . . it was a true team effort,” he said.

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