The University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer program marked a changing of the guard this week.
Head coach Alan Errington has retired after 11 years at the helm of the Cascades, and he’s being succeeded by Tom Lowndes, his assistant coach the past two seasons. Lowndes will serve a one-year term as interim head coach.
“How fortunate we have been at UFV for 11 years having Alan at the helm of the men’s soccer program,” Cascades acting athletic director Chris Bertram said. “When the team moved to the CIS in 2006 we needed someone who could put the team on the map quickly, and that’s exactly what Alan has done. He leaves a great legacy at UFV and indeed across the B.C. soccer landscape.
“The choice to offer Tom the interim coaching position was an easy one to make. He knows the game, the team, the system, and is in the perfect position to help take the team to the next level this season. We couldn’t be happier to have Tom take over the head coaching duties.”
Errington is closing the book on a legendary coaching career, and he can pinpoint its start date – Nov. 10 1974, when he suffered a broken ankle playing soccer for a team in Richmond, B.C. and thought, “If I can’t play, I might as well coach.”
After cutting his teeth coaching in the B.C. provincial program, Errington took the reins of the Vancouver Whitecaps reserve team, helping develop players who contributed to the team’s North American Soccer League (NASL) Soccer Bowl title in 1979.
He credits his early years coaching with the Whitecaps, spending time with great soccer minds like Tony Waiters, Les Wilson, Bob McNabb, John Giles, Nobby Stiles, John Craven and Richard Dinnis, as pivotal in his career.
“I couldn’t have had a better group of people to learn from,” he said. “I was in a good environment with good mentors. They all made the game as simple as it could be, rather than making it difficult. I’ve carried that all the way through.”
Errington would go on to serve as Bob Lenarduzzi’s assistant coach with a Vancouver 86ers side that won four straight Canadian Soccer League championships (1988-1991) and had a record 46-game undefeated streak in 1988-89.
He also worked extensively for Canada Soccer, both with youth and senior men’s national teams, and was part of the coaching staff of the men’s side that qualified for the 1986 FIFA World Cup. Later on, as Lenarduzzi’s assistant coach, he helped guide the squad to within one game of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup.
Lenarduzzi, now the president of Whitecaps FC, was in attendance at Tuesday’s Cascades awards banquet and paid tribute to Errington for mentoring him as he made the transition from player to coach.
“He’s had an impact on many lives, and there’s no question he’s had a massive impact on my life as well,” Lenarduzzi said.
In Abbotsford, beyond his contributions at UFV, Errington is remembered fondly for guiding the Abbotsford Magnuson Ford Soccer Club’s U18 boys team to back-to-back national championships in 2002 and 2003.
Errington steered the Cascades men’s soccer team through its transition from the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) into the Canada West conference of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS).
Facing incredibly stiff competition in the Pacific Division of Canada West, arguably the toughest university men’s soccer division in the nation, the Cascades didn’t make the playoffs until their eighth season. They broke through in 2013, not only punching their post-season ticket but going on to win a conference bronze medal. Errington’s final campaign, 2014, saw the Cascades return to the playoffs for a second straight year.
The 65-year-old isn’t departing the soccer world entirely – he’s coaching a U13 boys team for the Coquitlam Metro-Ford Soccer Club. But he does plan to spend more time on cruise ships with his wife Ruth – the couple celebrates their 45th wedding anniversary on Saturday.
“I’ve got mixed emotions about retirement, because I really enjoy the job,” said Errington, who has twice been inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame with the 1979 Whitecaps and the 1988-89 86ers.
“I enjoy the people at UFV, and the players. The only thing I don’t enjoy is the hour’s drive there and back (to his home in Coquitlam). But I feel ready to retire. I want to spend more time with my wife, and do the things that I haven’t been able to do because football always got in the way.”
Lowndes, a 26-year-old who hails from Undy, Wales, is a former academy player for Bristol Rovers FC in England, and played varsity soccer in North America at Baker University (an NAIA program in Kansas) and Simon Fraser University (NCAA Div. II). He was a two-time all-conference honouree at Baker University and helped the Wildcats to the 2011 NAIA Final Four.
At the conclusion of his university eligibility, Lowndes transitioned to the coaching ranks as an assistant with the Baker men’s and women’s teams, and helped guide the Wildcats women’s squad to the NAIA Sweet 16 in 2012.
He joined the Cascades in 2013 to work under Errington, and called it a “big honour” to follow in his footsteps as head coach.
“He’s done so much from the program, built it from the ground up and taken it from a college program to a team that’s consistently challenging in Canada West,” Lowndes said.
“This is probably the proudest moment of my professional career so far. I’m looking to put my own stamp on it. Alan did a great job of establishing the program, and I’m looking to take it to new heights. With the squad we have coming back and the incoming players, my goal is to contend for the Canada West title, which sounds like an ambitious goal but I think we can do it.”
Errington said that Lowndes, nearly 40 years his junior, is a better coach than he was at that age. Errington’s soccer connections being what they are, he recalls coaching Team Canada against Welsh national teams featuring Lowndes’s father Steve.
“I think Tom is a perfect fit at UFV,” Errington said. “He’s grown up in a professional environment. That’s invaluable, because 99 per cent of coaches in Canada get their experience form coaching courses. Tom’s learned from a pro. He’s well-prepared because of that, and the players really like him.
“I feel that the program is in good hands.”