Let’s be honest… Canada is not exactly a country you associate with soccer. If it’s not moose and lumberjacks you’re thinking of, Canada’s involvement in soccer is generally focused on the Canada Premier League or the likes of CF Montreal and Toronto FC in Major League Soccer (MLS).
Maybe you’ve heard of the Bayern Munich defender Alphonso Davies? Davies was a Liberian refugee who got his Canadian citizenship in 2017, allowing him to play for the national team. He was only 16 when he played his first game, a friendly against Curaçao, his original homeland.
Believe it or not, Canada does have a national soccer team that can date its origins back to the mid-to-late 19th Century. To date, they’ve managed to qualify for their first World Cup back in 1986. It didn’t go well but we’ll get to that later. The most important thing is that Canada is once again qualified for the tournament in Qatar, almost 4 decades later.
But how do we go from a seemingly gentlemanly game of the 1880s, to their first appearance in the 1980s and then today? We’re so glad you asked…
1859 – 1876 –
It’s unclear on a definitive start for ‘Association Football’ or ‘soccer’ appearing in Canada. Games were played with a variety of different rules in the UK and it’s expected that those same types of games were played in Canada. Evidence is patchy but it’s believed that the first game that remotely looked like football/soccer was played in Toronto in 1876.
The first national football association created outside of the British Isles is formed in Canada with the first game played under the ‘London Association Rules’. The first game was played between the Toronto Lacrosse Club and the Carlton Cricket Club in Parliament Street Toronto. No sticks or bats were needed to play this new-fangled sports revolution.
A new football association is formed called the ‘Dominion Football Association’ which included teams from the Toronto area. There were 3 seasons and then it seems to disappear in a puff of smoke. The book on the rules and regulations on how to play are detailed in the ‘Dominion Football Association’ rule book published in 1879.
1880 – 1890 –
A new football association is formed in Berlin Ontario, the Western Football Association. The association helps develop soccer in Southern Ontario. New teams included: Seaforth, Mildmay, Listowel, Woodstock, Ingersoll, Brussels, Dundas, Aylmer, Ayr, Tavistock, Preston, Galt and Berlin.
During this period, the WFA was sending teams to compete against American ones from the American Football Association. The first unofficial international game was played in 1885 where Canada actually beat the USA at their ground in Newark New Jersey. The score was 1 – 0. A year later, the US beat Canada 3 – 2. This resulted in regular games between both teams in subsequent years.
In 1888, the WFA sent a team to represent Canada on a tour of the British Isles. The team managed to win 9, draw 5 and lose 9. Sixteen of the 17 players in the team were Canadian born while their organiser had emigrated to Canada. The WFA would do this again in 1891.
The British would send a team over to tour Canada. The team would be called the Pilgrims and would play against Montreal, Hamilton, Niagara Falls, Berlin and Galt. The Galt game was billed as a World Championship. The game ended in a tie 3 – 3 with an attendance of 4000 fans.
KEY YEAR 1912
It’s the inauguration of the Dominion of Canada Football Association 24 May 1912. Canada forms it’s first recognisable international team and becomes a member of Fédération Internationale de Football Association on New Year’s Eve that same year. It begins 1913 as a member of international football.
1919 – 1956 –
Two World Wars, a worldwide depression, economic turmoil and even internal struggles between competing football associations within Canada, contribute to a very turbulent yet integral part of building soccer in Canada. Many new teams form and tours from countries like Scotland help to test them.
KEY YEAR 1957 –
Canada forms a new national team to compete in the qualifiers for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. They face the US and Mexico. Canada beats the US 5 – 1 in Toronto and 3 – 2 in St Louis. They lose twice against Mexico in Mexico City; 2 – 0 and 3 – 0. Mexico goes through to the World Cup.
Canada tours the Soviet Union and plays games in Moscow, Kharkov, Donetsk and Leningrad. On their way back, they stop off in the UK to play games against Dundee and West Bromwich Albion.
Canada withdraws from the 1962 World Cup. According to football historians, the Canadian Soccer Association were afraid they couldn’t afford the trip to play in Chile and thus forfeited their $250 entry fee but still had to pay a $100 fine.
KEY YEAR 1986 –
A big year for Canada. The country had just qualified for the World Cup after beating Honduras 2 – 1 but it was not going to be the best debut performance they were looking for. In Group C, they faced France, Hungary and the Soviet Union. They lost all of them, 1 – 0 and 2 – 0 in the latter games.
1990 – 2018
Canada’s Men compete for a place in these World Cups but do not qualify. Canada’s Women qualify for the finals in 1995 where they lose against England, Norway and draw with Nigeria. Then in 1999, the Women play in the US, tying with Japan and losing against Norway and Russia.
KEY YEAR 2022 – Fast forward to 2022 and Canada has qualified for the World Cup in Qatar. They sit in Group F with Morocco, Croatia and Belgium.
Do you want to know more about who they are up against? Check out this story about Who is Canada up against in Qatar?
It’s going to be a challenge facing teams which have more experience playing in the World Cup but we’ll see how it goes, won’t we.