With Canada’s National Men’s Team on the verge of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986, a fan who played in the last qualifying game in Newfoundland and Labrador believes that it’s time to celebrate a piece of soccer history that he has kept safe since then.
Until just a few weeks ago, Faron Penney of Mount Pearl, NL, was the owner of the original game ball used in Canada’s first and last Cup qualifying victory for Canada. world, a sacred memory of a match played on a wet day. in St. John’s in September 1985.
Penney, who was 23 at the time, recovered the ball in the Canada-Honduras qualifier. The stakes were high: Each country was one step away from winning a ticket to the big stage – the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Penney and his friends walked the streets of St. John’s to the game, finding a festive atmosphere in what would become one of Canada’s most historic soccer moments.
“It was huge. I wish I hadn’t been so young then and ignored the facts,” Penney said, recalling the scene as Canadian fans flocked to King George V Park on the banks of the Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s east end.
Sitting in the bleachers on the south side, about five rows from the pitch, Penney said he had settled in to watch a trembling Honduran club take on Canada, who at the time were on the hunt for a candidacy. qualification for 28 years. With each ball challenge, the roars of the supporters in the stands flooded the park.
Hang a souvenir
At the start of the match, the first game ball was thrown out of the game, over the heads of the fans, including Penney. It landed near the Rennie River, which runs parallel to the land before entering Lake Quidi Vidi.
Fans gave the chase and Penney was the first to find the ball, tangled in tall reeds across the river.
“I remember walking across the stands and standing by the water,” he recalls. “I was skeptical at first because I knew the water was at least up to my waist and… maybe 15 feet wide.” And it was September, so it was cold too.
Still, Penney crossed the river, wrapped his arms around the ball and crossed back, rushing under the bleachers and climbing up the other side. By the time he returned to his seat, a replacement ball was in play and he had to “watch the rest of the game soaked”.
Since no one asked to retrieve the ball, Penney kept it, wrapping it in his wet t-shirt when he left to keep it as low-key as possible.
Paul Dolan, one of Canada’s two goaltenders at the time, told CBC he remembers that 1985 game well – he was the backup goaltender in the team’s 2-1 win. and would later compete in the 1986 World Cup against France. Canada ultimately lost all three of its World Cup games – 2-0 against the USSR, 2-0 against Hungary and 1-0 against France.
Still, the support from the fans during qualifying was unforgettable.
“The atmosphere was amazing. It was the best home support you could ask for, ”said Dolan, who has a long history with Canada Soccer.
“Everyone stormed the pitch. All the fans ran onto the pitch [and] we jumped off the bench. “
Dolan said the choice of St. John’s as the venue for the game was a peculiar but tactical decision that coach Tony Waiters took to keep the Honduran team away from the heat they were used to in Central America.
“The weather that day was perfect because it was not nice and hot. It was overcast and a bit rainy,” he recalls. “The Hondurans wore gloves and they thought it was very cold.”
Thirty-six years later, Dolan and Penney connected via email.
The object? The game ball.
New life for an old ball
The World Cup qualifying ball, in Penney’s possession all these years, has always come in handy as he often tossed it around the yard with his three children.
A few years ago, Penney said he finally realized the value of the ball after listening to an interview with the late Dee Murphy, a well-known sports host and writer from St. John’s, who recounted his favorite local sports memorabilia. , including the Canada-Honduras match.
“I almost got out of my chair, because I realized I had the game ball,” Penney said.
The ball had been put away in a warehouse after his children left, but when he realized what he had, he built a custom case to house what he considered his trophy, complete with lighting.
He has it on display in his garage, where he spends time working on projects or relaxing with friends.
But with Canada once again close to qualifying for the World Cup, Penney decided he wanted the ball to serve as inspiration and contacted Soccer Canada. They sent him to Dolan, who suggested the best candidate might be the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame in Ottawa.
So, at the end of October, Penney delicately wrapped the balloon and prepared to ship it to Ontario where he will live in the Hall of Fame, with his name as the donor.
In return, Canada Soccer has offered to send Penney two signed jerseys from current team members, and he hopes to secure a signed ball for his now empty personalized case.
“I’ve enjoyed this ball for a long, long time, and I think it’s about time the rest of the world saw it,” Penney said.
“If we can get this ball in the hands of the team and they can pass it around and use it as inspiration to take them to the next level, that’s what I’m looking for.”
Penney said he’s excited about Canada’s upcoming qualifiers at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, where they face Costa Rica on November 12 and Mexico on November 16. The club still have eight qualifying matches, with the last scheduled for March 30, 2022 against Panama.
Canada currently sits third in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football Associations (CONCACAF) rankings behind Mexico and the United States. The top three teams automatically qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which begins on November 21, 2022.
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