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COLUMN: No time for Rovers' Beckford to kick back

One week after coaching Rovers FC to Ontario League1 title, former Manchester City player taking part in youth soccer camps stateside
The Simcoe County Rovers FC celebrate after winning the League1 Ontario championship last weekend.

Jason Beckford was back to the grind this week.

Less than a week after leading the Simcoe County Rovers FC to an Ontario League1 title, he was travelling to the United States to attend youth soccer camps.

“Back to my day job,” he said during a drive to Indiana.

Beckford, 53, grew up in Manchester and turned professional while still a teenager. He came through the youth system of Manchester City in the 1980s, the club that has since grown to be one of the top teams in the world and is the reigning Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup champion.

Beckford played 20 games through all competitions for his hometown club before making a move to Birmingham City. It was in that English Midlands city that Beckford started to experience injury issues, and knee problems eventually cut short his career in his mid-20s.

He soon moved to coaching, mostly in the English academy system. A fortuitous move to Canada came 11 years ago.

“It was more lifestyle,” he explained. “My wife (Collette) always wanted to live abroad, the kids were 13 and nine at the time … but no, coming to Canada wasn’t because of football.”

When it was put to Beckford, a man who grew up in the cradle of English football, he acknowledged his Manchester City connection makes for a nice conversation starter. That’s for sure.

“It’s always nice to go back, see games. The club still treats me very well. With all that City have done and Manchester United before that, it’s pretty good to say that you’re from Manchester,” he said, and then made an unthinkable comparison before catching himself.

“It’s a bit like being from Liverpool in the 1970s and ’80s.”

For a Mancunian to credit Liverpool for anything, well, it could only happen on this side of the Atlantic.

Beckford loves his life here. He concedes that if a plum football job were to come up in England, he would consider a move back, but for the most part, he’s settled nicely in his new home. His son, Ethan, is a former Rovers player after playing at Penn State and has turned professional with Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League, based in Calgary.

Ethan Beckford, by the way, plays for Tommy Wheeldon, a Liverpudlian, in Calgary.

His daughter, Sadie, is a student at the University of Ottawa.

Beckford continued to coach at the youth level when he arrived in Canada, but his move to the Rovers and the success that has followed have been his most significant accomplishments so far in his adopted home.

“In two years, to make the semifinals the first one and then win it the second year is a huge deal … a huge accomplishment,” he said.

“I think what Julian de Guzman and I were able to do (with the Rovers) is that we understand how things are done in Europe and we are able to (demonstrate) what it takes to be professional.”

The league championship win speaks for itself, but the most significant development could be what it portends for next season. The Rovers have now earned a spot in the Canadian Championship, a cup competition that will provide an opportunity to play teams at least one step higher on this country’s pecking order, perhaps even higher.

The draw is yet to be worked out, but the Rovers will likely join two other League1 champions from across Canada, eight Canadian Premier League clubs and three Major League Soccer (MLS) teams in a knockout competition. It’s conceivable that a fully professional team could be travelling to Barrie to play at J.C. Massie Field, the Rovers’ home ground.

“We could face Toronto FC, or the fully professional teams in the MLS (and) Canadian Premier League … It’s a great opportunity,” said Beckford.

It’s now the off-season. There will be some informal kick-arounds, and Beckford plans to spend some time in England next month. Once he gets back, the cold weather will soon arrive and the club will get back to work in earnest in the new year, by which time the team’s league and cup schedule will be better known.

There will be some personnel moves as well.

“There may be some players who move and (look) at turning fully professional. We’ll (have to see),” said Beckford.

For now, he, like his staff and players, is just grateful for the journey.

“You never accomplish something like that on your own. Credit has to go to everyone,” he said, rhyming off the names of a half-dozen or so club personnel, before adding, “but (ultimately), it was the players that ended up getting it done, and all the credit has to go to them.”

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Peter Robinson

About the Author: Peter Robinson

Barrie's Peter Robinson is a sports columnist for BarrieToday. He is the author of Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto, his take on living with the disease of being a Leafs fan.
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