Legendary player and coach steps back after 34 years with the Vikes
After 34 years of leading the Vikes Men’s soccer team, head coach Bruce Wilson is taking a step back from the pitch. An award-winning coach and a legendary player in Canadian soccer, Wilson leaves behind a legacy of dedication to the sport and has opened the doors for a new era in Vikes soccer.
“I could honestly say I’ve never ever really had a bad day here at UVic,” said Wilson in an interview with the Martlet.
Before beginning his coaching career at UVic, Wilson was already a household name in Canadian soccer. He wore the captain’s band for the national team for 10 years and led them to their best ever finish at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Towards the end of his playing career, he also brought Team Canada to the 1986 FIFA World Cup, which remains Canada’s only appearance in a World Cup ever.
Wilson began playing soccer at six years old in Burnaby, B.C. Encouraged and supported by his father, Wilson found a passion for the game that would end up being life-long. He played right through to university where he graduated with a teaching degree from UBC.
Wilson’s professional career began with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 1974, the team’s inaugural year. At that time, professional soccer was more of a part-time job and Wilson recalls that he had to give up a teaching position to continue to play.
“Getting the opportunity to play at a professional level was something that you don’t necessarily turn down,” he said about the Whitecaps. “I think, looking back at it now, it’s pretty much shaped my whole adult life.”
An iconic figure in Canadian soccer, Wilson has been inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, as well as the US National Soccer Hall of Fame. He was also recognized with the FIFA Centennial Award of Merit in 2004.
After 13 years playing professionally with several different teams including the Chicago Sting and Toronto Blizzard, and after going to Mexico for the World Cup, Wilson decided to hang up his boots. Soon after, he got a call from the Vikes athletic department asking him to come interview for the head coach position at UVic.
“It was a natural transition into coaching at a university level,” said Wilson. “I had had probably 11 or 12 professional coaches in my life before UVic, so I was able to draw information from all of them, good and bad, and that helped develop my … attitude towards the game.”
Pulling from his own experience as a professional player, Wilson built one of the best soccer programs in Canada for the next three decades. He has brought home the Vikes three U SPORTS National Championships and seven Canada West banners. He has also been recognized for his outstanding coaching abilities with 10 Canada West Coach of the Year awards and three U SPORTS Coach of the Year awards.
“Although it’s a university team, it’s not a professional team, we work and train like a pro team,” said Wilson, who is still helping to run training sessions and has not yet fully stepped away from the team.
Evan Libke, captain of the Vikes men’s soccer team and a first team All-Canadian, says that Wilson is a legendary player and one of the main reasons he came to play for the Vikes.
“You don’t have very many coaches who can win one National Championship, let alone multiple,” said Libke. “So that was a big draw for me, knowing that this is a coach who can take me to the next level.”
After playing under Wilson during his university career, Libke said that Wilson is a dedicated coach who expects a lot from his players both on a fitness level and technical level. Libke remembers that one of his first season games with the Vikes was an awakening experience as he didn’t play well and Wilson expected more from him.
“On field, the best memory I have was actually this season,” said Libke. “We beat UBC and clinched the regular season title. I scored the game winner and him and I had a big hug after the game and we all knew at that point that he was retiring.”
Wilson planned to retire earlier than this season, but when the pandemic hit he realized that many of the players would be coming back for another season. He decided to stay on for those seniors.
“It’s something that is really hard to explain. When you have a team for eight months of the year times five years, it becomes like a little family,” said Wilson.
While Wilson won’t be too far from the game as his wife, Tracy David, is the head coach of the Vikes women’s soccer program, he said he looks forward to seeing his kids and spending more time with family.
Currently, the Vikes men’s program has been taken over by the two assistant coaches as the search for a new head coach begins.
“Definitely whoever fills this role will have some big shoes to fill. When you look at Bruce and Vikes soccer, the two are synonymous,” said Libke. “It’s going to be really interesting to see who steps up and is able to take over.”