Jorge Sanchez was always destined to become a soccer fan.
Born in Montreal to a soccer-mad dad, himself steeped in the traditions of Spanish giant Real Madrid, Jorge’s indoctrination to the game probably began in the womb.
His parents, mum originally from the Basque heartland of San Sebastien, father from Salamanca, the custodian city of the Spanish language, met in Madrid, married, and later decided to emigrate to Canada before starting a family. That was in the early 60’s.
“My dad was a huge fan of Real, played at their youth academy as a child, but for financial and family reasons was unable to continue. But he did become a season-ticket holder along with his brother and cousins, and retained his love for the game after coming to Canada.
“My parents were proud of being Spanish, but they had made this decision to come to Canada, so they wanted us to immerse ourselves as Canadians. We learned the language at home but didn’t go to Spanish school like some of our friends did. My passion for soccer is tied-in to the discovery of my heritage.”
Growing up Jorge didn’t really know much else when it came to sports. Whenever friends were playing hockey baseball or football, Jorge and his mates were kicking a soccer ball. These were formative years for someone who was to carve out very respectable coaching credentials, particularly in the Women’s game, but more of that later.
Now 52, still incredibly passionate about the game, Jorge recalls an early incident that was to help him understand the culture within the game, although admits to being more than a little bewildered at the time.
“Something happened when I was a kid. Someone from my family, I don’t know who, sent a package overseas, and when we opened it up, it was an Atletico Madrid kit. My dad took it and sent it back, saying, ‘No Atletico Madrid kit is coming into my house’.
“As a kid, you are saying, ‘Wow! it’s for me! It’s a soccer uniform!
“Again, I remember it vaguely and over the years when we tell the story, it probably takes on grander proportions but ... I don’t know which family member would’ve done this, maybe they did it as a joke to tease my dad, I don’t know, but that’s the kinda’ thing .....
“It wasn’t so hard core. I mean my dad bled Real Madrid, but he could still appreciate Barcelona is a great club. And he likes the sport, still does. Like last week he, my brother, my nephew and I, all went to an Impact game, so it was like a family sharing their passion. Even my brother and my nephew, they like the sport, but they’re not as passionate as my father and I have been.”
Soccer changed as a ‘sport he practised in the summers’ to the deep-seated love and passion he’s held ever since, in 1982. That’s when the country of his heritage hosted the World Cup.
“My father and all his Spanish friends were really excited that the World Cup was in their country. First one I really vividly remember. It opened my mind. I remember going to watch Montreal Olympique in the Autostade, but like any kid, I didn’t know there was a whole other world out there.
“I knew I was Spanish, but I didn’t really know what that meant. It was just that my parents came from another country. But the ‘82 World Cup opened my eyes ... Wow! This soccer thing is huge!
“The World Cup in Spain got me to see something else. [Made me] more in touch with my Spanish roots, got to me the pride of being Spanish. Because I am half Basque [significantly for me] it was the first WC where they were saying, ‘will the Basque players be proud of being Spanish?’ So it was more now, than just a sport - a sport that came with cultural baggage and stuff.”
Jorge begun to avidly follow Spain in World Cups, recalling with great clarity a decent run they had in the competition in 1986, including Emilio Butregueno’s four goals against Denmark after La Roja had fallen behind. Then 1990 wasn’t so good, ‘a nightmare’ in fact.
I couldn’t resist asking him if he had any recollection in ‘82 of 10-man Northern Ireland’s victory over Spain in Valencia? Quick as a flash, he responded, “I’m not totally sure if I saw that game, or read about it. Not all the games were on here. But what I do recall was Norman Whiteside in the NI team. All the talk was of him being the youngest player ever to play.”
Bang on! Whiteside, at 17 years and 41 days, remains to this day the youngest-ever player to play in a World Cup tournament.
A fantastic opportunity came Jorge’s way in 1994. With the USA hosting the World Cup, the Spanish squad came to Montreal to prepare, and played a game against Canada at Claude Robillard (2-0, Spain). He describes the event with a great sense of occasion and awakening, patriotic pride.
“And I remember going there. About 80% of the stadium cheering for Spain. And the flag flying, I was so proud. Like it was one of those moments that, ‘I’m part of something big here.’
“My father was heavily involved in the Hispanic Association and he had ties with he Consulate and they had a little reception for the Spanish team, so I got to go and meet Javier Clemente, the coach.
“I had just started coaching and I liked the way he coached. Clemente told me, ‘I don’t care if a player doesn’t start for his club. That’s his club coach. My team is my team’.
“There were players playing for him regularly, who sometimes weren’t playing a lot for their clubs. He was criticized for it. But he said, nobody tells me how to coach my team’. I thought that’s how I want to be as a coach. He was an early influence from a coaching point of view.”
Soccer also led to romance, Jorge meeting his wife, Lorraine, through the club for whom he played, Lakeshore. Lorraine had been a top player at Lachine and transferred, going from AA to AAA.
“In 1991, one of my one of my team-mates at Lakeshore who had volunteered to coach the team, asked me to be assistant coach, because he thought I had the unique qualification that I always went to the games anyway. He suggested this way you could be assistant coach and you would not have the conflict of interest, coaching your fiancé.
“And he actually quit halfway through the summer, so I found myself Head Coach at 25. No experience, never had ambition to be coach, and from there 27 yrs of coaching experience came about.”
It was to launch a career of reward and satisfaction, but not of the financial kind.
“In the early 90’s coaches weren’t getting paid at all. And women’s soccer coaches were treated even worse than that.
“There was never enough support. Canada I find, has an event driven mentality. Things are going well, we promote, invest, get behind, and when things go badly we complain, criticize, take the money away.
“Always remember one of my players, now in the Quebec Soccer Hall of Fame, Annie Caron who went to the World Cup in 1995. I went with her to a friendly with China in Ottawa. 75 (that’s seventy-five!!) people in the stands. The recent World Cup semi-final had 53,000. You see where it’s going. Is it because the women’s game has grown to that level or is it because social media streams more specialty sports channels, providing more coverage? It’s in your face so to speak.
Either way coaching provided Jorge with a new way to link his passion for soccer and spend more time with Lorraine.
“At 25/26 I couldn’t keep playing because of injuries, but still got to live all the passions of being in the competitive environment and became an early proponent, as a coach, who wanted to coach women’s soccer. It became a responsibility to advocate women’s soccer.”
Last year after 27 years coaching, Jorge finally called it a day. He had served Lakeshore, spent 6 years on the Quebec program as a staff coach, was involved with the National Training Centre and had been head coach at Concordia.
Plenty of exceptional talent passed through his hands. In fact this latest World Cup was the first in which there wasn’t a player on the Canadian roster he hadn’t coached. Even then there was a tentative connection with Desiree Scott, with whom he worked briefly as part of a Canadian team which competed in the World University Games.
Those he worked more closely with included (WC years listed); Annie Caron (1995), Luce Mongrain (1995), Isabelle Morneau (1995, 1999, 2003), Amy Walsh (1999, 2007 and 2008 Olympics), Rhian Wilkinson (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and three Olympics), Jose Belanger (2015 and 2016 Olympics), Marie-Eve Nault (2011, 2015 and 2012 Olympics).
Spurs fan, Jorge has a varied list of players when it comes to icons, idols and influences. Amongst his favourite players he lists a few Real Madrid heroes; Emilio Butregueno and his namesake, the wonderfully talented Mexican, Hugo Sanchez, of the Huguinas and celebratory somersaults. But because of the position he played, neither would be the one he most wanted to model himself upon.
“I was a big fan of Fernando Hierro. In my limited playing career I played centre-back. I was somewhat on the smaller side, but regards Hierro, it was like if I could be a centre-back, then that’s the centre-back I’d want to be.
“Everybody was afraid of him because of his physicality, he was a leader and he could score goals. When he played for Bolton that one season, some of his British team-mates said, ‘Man, we found at the end of his career he was so good. Imagine how good he must’ve been 10 yrs ago’.”
But there were others ...
“I was taken on a trip to London in the early 80’s. I got there and all these soccer magazines. At that point I was a big Liverpool fan and I really liked Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish, of whom I was later intrigued that he could manage and play at the same time. Remember this was a time you didn’t have games [on, in Canada] every week.”
“Not sure how I became a big fan of Enzo Scifo, I think because I liked his story, that he had Italian parents but played for Belgium. I had posters on the wall, and I thought he was an amazing player. Moments when there wasn’t a team I would follow, I’d read about a player, like his story and start tracking how he did.”
Jorge has achieved much in a life-long soccer career, the major part of his contribution realized through 27 years of coaching, clearly carried out for the love of the sport over financial gain. Canadian soccer remains in debt for the huge contributions and sacrifices made by newer-generation coaches like Jorge, who became involved because they wanted to coach, not because their kids needed an organizer to run the team, commendable as that is too.
Typically for a coach, he’s a deep thinker of the game, with a font of knowledge embedded, even from an age when soccer was a rare spectacle on Canadian TV channels. There’s a balanced opinion on most things soccer, he calls it as he sees it, and displays passion, ideas and reflections aplenty.
We also discussed some Women’s World Cup, Canadian Men’s National Team, coaching women’s soccer, Montreal Impact and the game’s culture in general. But that will have to wait for another day.
This has been about Jorge Sanchez, the man, the coach, the volunteer, the player and fan. The son of a proud, Real Madrid-supporting father, who discovered his cultural roots through the beautiful game before it was so-called, and lent his knowledge to development of the sport in the country of his birth.
Please do keep an eye out for some of Jorge’s musings from the rest of our discussion, which MountRoyalSoccer.com will publish in the coming days.
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Should any of our other readers like to be featured in this series, do please get in touch. I’d be delighted to come and talk with you. You don’t have to be an Impact fan, although it helps, just a football fan that can display his or her passion for The Beautiful Game!