The man considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of Abbotsford soccer has died at the age of 78.
Barry Crocker passed away from heart complications at Ridge Meadows Hospital on Friday, closing the chapter on a remarkable life that saw him grow the sport he loved on both the national and local level.
He was born and grew up in England, played high-level soccer as a youth and then served 17 years in Britain’s Royal Air Force.
From there he moved to British Columbia in 1977, briefly working for the Workers’ Compensation Board before starting his own physiotherapy private practice in Abbotsford. It was during that time period that Crocker became more involved with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The entire #VWFC family is mourning the loss of Barry Crocker today, an integral part of our 1979 championship season and and dedicated member of the BC soccer community.
Our condolences to Barry's family and friends at this difficult time. https://t.co/2lc1jp3D4k
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) April 2, 2021
He was hired as an athletic therapist for the Whitecaps in 1978, and it was through those years of diligent work that he would eventually get the nod as a staff member for Canada Soccer. He was a staff member of the first, last and only men’s Canadian soccer team to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 1986.
In the 1990s he began helping to build up the Abbotsford Soccer Association. He served on the ASA board in a number of roles, mostly as general manager, and was one of the catalysts to help develop and organize youth soccer in Abbotsford. Under his direction the local club won back-to-back U18 boys national titles in 2002 and 2003.
His later years saw Crocker move to Mexico to live in the sun, but the soccer bug kept biting him and he remained involved in the game by helping to coach local youth teams.
Sean Crocker, one of Barry’s sons, told The News it’s been a somber few days since his dad’s passing but he’s been overwhelmed by the response from the Canadian soccer community.
“He was something special,” Sean said. “I’ve had phone calls from soccer royalty over the last several days here. Bob Lenarduzzi, Frank Yallop, Alex Bunbury – all of these guys just speak of the quality man that he was. And not just when it comes to soccer and what he did on the field, he was a sounding board for these guys off the field and just really cared.”
Sean said his dad was ahead of his time as far as physiotherapy goes, using hydrotherapy and pool work out of his one-time office inside the Matsqui Recreation Centre. He was also a believer in improving mentally can also lead to a better athlete and quality of life.
“Sometimes his approach would be let’s just go for a walk as a group and chat and socialize,” he said. “It wasn’t just the physical aspect that he was concerned with, he enjoyed having a laugh with clients and athletes – most of the time it was at his expense, but a lot of times he was in on the joke.”
He said his dad, who was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame with the 1979 NASL Soccer Bowl championship Whitecaps team in 1988 and the Abbotsford Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, could have used his connections to get many things for free in the soccer world but always liked buying a ticket like the average fan. He admitted that a few years ago Barry arranged for Sean’s family to attend a Whitecaps game with box seats, a memory seared into his two children’s memories.
“Everytime they would talk to him on Facetime they would bring that day up and talk about the time they got to see the Whitecaps first class,” Sean said. “It would always bring a big smile to his face.”
Upon the news of his death, the ASA put out a press release with words from other influential figures in local soccer.
“His love for the kids he was coaching or watching was incredible,” stated Colin Miller, the first-ever ASA club head coach. “He wanted the kids to have fun and simply enjoy the game. The time he devoted to ASA was incredible. He owned a physiotherapist clinic in Abbotsford and probably spent more time working and overseeing ASA than he did with his own business. He actually told me the amount it probably cost him each year, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way. To see how the club progressed pleased him so much. He would talk for hours about the game and everything to do with ASA. He was so proud of the people that we were surrounded by that helped develop the club into one of the best in Canada. He was always respectful and so generous with his time if someone had a question. So many clubs now follow the lead and vision he nurtured here in Abbotsford.”
ASA club coach Alan Errington also weighed in with his thoughts.
“Barry was a visionary and way ahead of his time,” he stated. “His hiring of Colin Miller as the first full time Club Coach led the way for all other clubs. The ASA was held in high esteem by clubs all over Canada due, mainly, to Barry’s dedication and enthusiasm. Barry cared for all of the people around him and I know for a fact that he quietly subsidized families that found it a struggle to pay for registration and trips to tournaments. He was the kindest and most caring person I’ve ever met.”
John Werrell, the current ASA club president, said Barry created the vision for how soccer in Abbotsford could succeed.
“Barry was a true visionary and knew how to develop the game of soccer in a community like ours,” he stated. “He helped develop a club that was truly admired by others and, with the hiring of Colin Miller, established the foundations for how clubs would operate in the future. I was honoured when Barry approached me to help coach in the club and, here I am 23 years later, as club president.”
Memorial plans are still to be determined and, with COVID-19 lingering, it’s unclear when a gathering could occur. But Sean said there are plans to keep Barry’s memory alive.
“We’re going to create a foundation to work with underprivileged kids who cannot afford to play the sport and help provide them access to funds to be able to play,” he said. “Dad always put players first, especially the younger ones and I can’t tell you how many players he personally paid for their registrations just so they could play. We’re in the midst of planning all that.”
Sean said he is working with the ASA on the foundation or scholarship and hopes to release details in the future. He added he is appreciative of all the kind words from those in the soccer community and in Abbotsford.
“We just really miss him at this point,” he said. “But he was well loved by all of his family and we will not forget him.”