Forty-nine years ago, late in the summer of 1970, Joe Connelly and some other coaches wanted to kick off the North Surrey Minor Football season with a bit of hoopla, so they invited some teams and started a tournament called the Bronze Boot.
“We only had peewee, junior-bantam and bantam, but there were no exhibition games (before league play) at that time, so the first Bronze Boot was just three games, and we invited three teams,” Connelly recalled. “That way we only needed one set of referees, and we had a bit of a social in the pavilion afterward, because we didn’t have this (clubhouse) here at the time.”
And so began a local football tradition that continues to this day, with a 50th Bronze Boot tourney set to return to Bear Creek Park this Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 24-25).
To be clear, it’s not the tournament’s 50th anniversary this weekend – it’s the 50th time it’s been held.
“We worked it out and this will be the 50th tournament, if you count them out since 1970,” Connelly explained. “We argued about that here not long ago,” he added with a laugh. “You gotta count the first one, right. And that first one, I was 22 years old. Now look at me, I’m 72.”
Connelly still helps plan the annual tourney, with club president Jean McPherson as lead planner.
“We have 24 teams in the tournament, in multiple age groups,” said McPherson, who counts visiting squads from White Rock, Vancouver Westside, New Westminster, North Delta, Coquitlam, Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
“Joe’s done all the scheduling for the divisions, and he has all the good contacts so he’s reached out to all the former presidents f the club. He does all the schmoozing,” she added with a smile.
“I’m just a go-for for Jean,” Connelly insisted. “I’m retired now and she has kids and all that. I help out where I can.”
This time around, the football organization is making its flagship event a bit more special by inviting alumni back to the field at Bear Creek. A ceremony is planned Saturday at noon, involving dignitaries, cheerleaders and others.
“The cheerleaders practice as hard as the players, sometimes harder,” McPherson underlined. “And the cheerleading coaches, they were all cheerleaders here years ago, and their daughters are now doing it, so it just keeps going. It’s the same with our coaches.”
The Bronze Boot, now played in a round-robin format, hasn’t changed much over the years.
“The winner gets to take one of our boot trophies home,” Connelly said, before clarifying. “Actually, we don’t let ‘em take the trophies home, just get their pictures with it, because they’re so old now, we don’t want them broken, you know. Some of them, there are 50 plaques on those suckers. That’s a lot of history on there.
Back in the day, one of the football dads made a living bronzing baby boots.
“He said to us, ‘I’ll bronze a football boot for ya,’ and there you have it,” Connelly said. “We have some of the original trophies, three of them to start, and we added some over the years.”
When they come to play at Bear Creek Park, coaches from other associations often say they remember playing for Bronze Boot trophies.
“There are other pre-season tournaments,” Connelly said, “but we’re like the Rose Bowl – the granddaddy of them all. It has a lot of tradition.”
Connelly, who never had kids, describes himself as “just a coach who stuck around forever” – and he still coaches when given the chance.
“No, I’m just a complainer in chief,” he said. “I go down and watch teams practice and think, ‘Hmm. They’re not quite doing it right and they’re not organized,’ right. So that’s when I get involved and help. Last year I coached Atoms, because we had some issues and the coach left. Some of the guys, they know their football and are quality football people, but they might not know how to run a practice and run a sideline, and that’s where I come in.”
Coincidentally, that Connelly-coached Atom team won the Joe Connelly Cup last season.
“It’s funny, right,” he said. “It used to be called the Commissioner’s Cup, so that’s it there,” he said, pointing to a wall of trophies in the North Surrey clubhouse. “We beat White Rock in the final and then I had to present it to the team – my own team.”
“So that trophy has my name on it, and I’ve won a few awards because I’ve just been around for so damn long,” he added with a laugh.
“I get a lot of sympathy votes.”