© Copyright – 2017 – Victoria Sports News

Last Wednesday, I received an email message from Vince Greco, the indefatigable president of the Vancouver Island Soccer League – nothing new there. But this time his message addressed all Greater Victoria media. In a voice of finality, he thanked everyone for their support and to let all know that his time as president was coming to an end.

He is done at the end of the 2017 and 2018 season with his last day being May 30. He wanted to go one more year, but wasn’t about to renege on a deal he made with his wife Sadie and his two children Gino and Antona, who is named after her grandmother.  Gino is just two-years-old, but Antona is six-and-a-half and is getting interested in dance.

If he would have been able to stick out the full eight years, he would have held the record as the longest-serving president of the VISL. But family matters more. And unfortunately for the Victoria soccer community, work matters more too.

Greco volunteers more hours as the president for the VISL than he works at his job with Island Health.

“I wanted to thank all of you who have helped, been part of, published, enjoyed, and shared the love of the amateur soccer game – specifically with the VISL,” wrote Greco. “Whether it was on Monday mornings with Cliff (LeQuesne at 100.3 The Q), drives home with Mark and or Terry (CFAX 1070), the papers with Kevin (Black Press)or Cleve and Mario (TC), the TV with Jordan or Jeff (CTV and CHEK), or the ever-expanding website world – it has been a very enjoyable experience. I must say that dealing with all the interested individuals was a pleasure. Thanks for the last 15 years of support!”

Greco, born and raised in Victoria, grew up like most local kids playing soccer as well as baseball and probably other sports too. He played for the Lakehill Soccer Association and attended Spectrum Community School.

After school, he headed to Florida to train to become a professional baseball umpire.

“I went to pro umpire school for six months, I worked some ball down there, loved it. I made some good money mostly working single A or senior college ball, but I got homesick.”

Greco came back completely out of shape for soccer.

So he worked with All-Sports managing their division 2 team. They had a great year and moved up to division 1.

“We had a great year at division 1 too, but there were some disagreements at the end of the season and everyone went their separate ways. “

Greco moved onto the now-defunct division 1, Victoria Athletics, who played out of Royal Athletic Park and at Heywood Field in Beacon Hill Park.

And then along came Sadie, who happens to be a registered nurse.

There is little doubt, that on occasion, perhaps in the dead of winter and at the end of a 12-hour, all-night shift, a nurse might just emerge from a hospital, look out into the darkness and wonder, is it time to go home to make breakfast or dinner?

At the end of one of those gruelling, 12-hour graveyard shifts, Sadie saw a sign.

It was Parade Day in Langford and Greco had fashioned a 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood reading, “I love you, Sadie, will you marry me?” He displayed it right on the parade route.

“And it was homemade,” he emphasises with a scat-eating grin.

Clearly, the sign worked.

Grilling him with names, he is clearly connected to the Victoria soccer community. “Hey you know this guy?”

“Yes and….”

He knows everyone – it’s his community.

In and around the year 2000, he started with the VISL, doing minor volunteer tasks, getting to know the ins and outs of the league, how the board functions and which levers to pull and which ones are just for show. He got to know the people that organised the league and soon took on the job of Score Recorder.

Then he took on the position of the Chair of the Discipline Committee.

“It’s a thankless position,” he says with a sorry, I am just doing my job-type of shoulder shrug. “Rules are created because the VISL is an organisation and it must function as a structure. The board votes on the rules. So while you love the game, you have to suspend guys, you have to fine them and deal with all that heavy stuff. You know, guys have to go to work in the morning, yes, but it is not intramurals, here; it’s competitive soccer.”

In 2003, Greco started the All-Star program, it was his brainchild. The All-Star game started with two teams each made up from a draft of a mix of players from divisions 1 and 2.

Stuff rolls downhill.

Even though the winter-break all-star match is a so-called “friendly” the teams still want to win.

“Yes, winning is still a priority,” he says with a laugh.

Greco and fellow soccer personality, Kjeld Brodsgaard, would draft the teams. They began to get competitive and would one-up each other. It was friendly competition, but it was indeed competitive.

Brodsgaard was inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2013 in the builder’s category for two sports: wrestling and soccer. He is currently president of BC Soccer.

The all-star game is well regarded, province-wide.

Greco and company began to create a greater dialogue with the women’s league as well as the youth leagues. They meet at least quarterly to progress the sport. They have an ongoing dialogue.

The VISL with the Lower Island Soccer Association (LISA) function so well that BC Soccer recognised them with the President’s Award for being the only group like it in the province to come together to work collaboratively, to make the sport better, kids, women and men’s soccer-alike.

The VISL is going to miss Greco and the amount of work that he puts in. Of the many hours that he spends working to better the sport, no one has responded to take on one of his smaller tasks – which isn’t really all that small – communicating to the media with weekly and bi-weekly press releases.

Currently, the VISL league fees to register a team are right around $3000-year, 25% less than the leagues on the lower mainland, which have paid administrators, working full-time to produce a program that offers less to its members and players than the VISL does.

The VISL should raise the league fees by $500-per-team and use those funds to pay for a full-time administrator.

Greco is uncertain about the league succession plan right now.

“There is discussion as we speak with the executive group to have a paid administrator.”

Asked if he would like to be the one to take that position, he lights up, “I would love to do that full-time. This is my passion. I love this game, and the community and I enjoy working with all the people. But I have stepped aside for my family as well as to remove myself while the discussions take place.”

“Everyone thinks that I am already paid. Even my neighbours think that I am working as the president and not volunteering. They look at me in disbelief because of the near full-time hours that I put in.”

The title sponsor, The Strathcona Hotel, branded as “The Strath” (even on Greco’s shirt) have been supporting the league since at least 2000 and likely before then. In 2012 Greco suggested that the landmark hotel and nightlife hub should be a title sponsor. They have been since.

“Their support is unbelievable,” says Greco. “I can’t thank them enough. They have been absolutely great for the league, no question.”

Currently, there are over 1800 men playing soccer in Victoria. Add in volunteers, referees, other officials you have 2000-plus involved in the sport. There are approximately 1100 women playing as well.

Whatever may happen with the VISL, Greco leaves the league in a great condition.

In that final-sounding email he wrote, “Times are a-changing. The League has grown with community investment and involvement, expectations from membership, requirements from parent organisations, and the overall desire for us to provide a quality service to all people involved.  We have survived the past 122 years as a volunteer organisation – one of the very few in men’s soccer across the province. There have been great players come through our league, unbelievable teams, and mentors in leadership that have sacrificed plenty of their own time for the betterment of the league.”

Greco wonders aloud about the McGavin Cup as well as the 103-year running of the Sir John Jackson Cup, the all-star program and the long list of sponsors, he rattles them off by memory, The Strath, Heineken, LifeMark, Soccer World, Team Sales, Fifteen Fifties…he carries on…

“It has been a pleasure for me to get seven years in as president, and another 10 or so in with other board member positions, thank you for your support,” he wrote, this last.