Cavalry FC was officially unveiled as Calgary’s new professional soccer team at a launch event at Spruce Meadows Thursday.
The club will compete in the new Canadian Premier League, set to kickoff April 2019, and will play its home games at a 5,000-seat facility to be built at Spruce Meadows.
The club’s name, colours and emblem are primarily inspired by the Calgary area’s military history, and particularly by Spruce Meadows’ relationship with Lord Strathcona’s Horse.
Cavalry FC general manager and head coach, Tommy Wheeldon Jr., who will begin duties full-time in autumn of this year once his season with Foothills FC wraps up, says he’s been working towards this day since he came to Canada over a decade ago.
“This country has adopted me,” said Liverpool-born Wheeldon. “All I’ve tried to do is give back to the game that’s given me such a great life.
“Today it’s here. It’s proudly Canadian. It’s for Canadians and for local homegrown talent. It’s one of the best days of my life.”
Having witnessed firsthand top-level soccer’s past struggles to take hold in Calgary, Wheeldon believes Spruce Meadows Sports & Entertainment is the perfect ownership group to bring professional soccer back to Calgary, and keep it here.
“I think sometimes you have to go through life and it’s got to be hard,” he said. “Because when moments like this come and you have an infrastructure, you have a sporting entertainment group and an ownership group that is going to back a team, then all you got to do is concentrate on what’s important for the players and that’s develop them and put them in an environment where they’re going to accelerate. I can’t wait to get to work.”
Ian Allison, President & COO at Spruce Meadows Sports & Entertainment, says his group, known for putting on world-renowned equestrian competitions, is ready and very capable of taking up this new challenge.
“I think in many respects, it’s somewhat less complicated,” Allison said, when asked what makes Spruce Meadows an optimal venue for the new soccer team. “We’re not having to go through what some interests have to for stadium deals and parking and working out land scenarios and all of those types of things.
“We’re an established facility. We have food and beverage. We have parking. We have central billing. We have a media group. We have production facilities. So all of those things work very well within our current system”
And Allison believes it’s similar to launching a new division within the business.
“And then to bring in, if you will, a new department, the professional soccer team, it’s not, with all due respect, very different than us managing our horse program,” laughs Allison. “Except they have different diets and twice as many legs.”
Canadian Premier League Commissioner David Clanachan, who was in Calgary to attend the club’s launch, is a big fan of Spruce Meadows being the future home of Calgary’s new soccer club.
“This venue, for me, speaks to world class,” said Clanachan. “When I look at the venue and what the supporters will experience when they come here, it won’t be about coming to a 90 minute soccer game, it’ll be about coming to a three or four hour event where they can enjoy themselves, where they can bring their families, where they can have fun, where it becomes an event overall, not just a game. It’ll be something they own and are members of. It’s a beautiful place.”
Spruce Meadows owner Linda Southern-Heathcott sees Cavalry FC as an opportunity for her to build on her family’s legacy of helping Canadian athletes fulfill their potential.
“It is about helping Canadians,” said Southern-Heathcott, a former Olympian who competed for the Canadian Equestrian team at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. “We have the best athletes in the world. It’s just a matter of having the right avenue to get them to top international competition.”
And this is where Southern-Heathcott and her new club GM and head coach, Tommy Wheeldon Jr, see eye to eye.
“I know the talent’s always been here,” said Wheeldon. “And I’ve seen that when I first came. And there was just that untapped market. And now we’ve got a pro club in their backyard, where they’re going to get an opportunity and they no longer have to leave to go overseas to have this opportunity. They can do it right here in their backyard in front of their friends and family.
“I can’t wait for that opening game of the season, where you see the march of the crowd, and you see a packed stadium of local people looking at local talent and a good product. I can’t wait for them to see the Cavalry.”
Cavalry FC is offering a $50 ‘membership’ they say will provide front-of-line access to buy tickets when they eventually go on sale. Season ticket holders will receive tickets to 16 home matches per year – 14 CPL matches and 2 special event matches. The CPL season will run from April to October.