John Breen wants to bring another national soccer championship to the province. Jim Buckingham wants to get every kid off of Xbox.
With that in mind, the two had a dream to build an indoor FieldTurf facility that would allow athletes and teams to train all year round.
That shared vision is now reality.
Breen, a former soccer player with Holy Cross who coaches minor soccer, Buckingham and a silent partner own the facility in Pleasantville, where they have a 40-year lease on the land with the City of St. John’s for $1 a year.
Buckingham, the facility’s manager, said the idea came about by chance five years ago.
“John was coaching my son in minor soccer and he phoned me one day and asked if I could help out. I went to a game where I met John for the first time and within 20 minutes we decided we were going to build an indoor facility,” Buckingham explained.
“We had a budget based on what we could beg, borrow or steal,” he added with a grin.
“I’ve always wanted to work with kids and John was looking for a place where young players could train indoors during the winter.”
Buckingham said it’s all worthwhile when he sees the look on kids’ faces when they enter the facility for the first time.
“They’re amazed and the first thing they want to do is kick a ball on the FieldTurf. The next thing they want to do is run the length of the field,” he said.
Looking back on that first meeting with Breen, Buckingham recalls, “We both decided at that point that we weren’t going to back off until it was done.”
Little did they know their determination to have the province’s first indoor FieldTurf soccer facility built would be severely tested.
Ground was broken for the project Sept. 25, 2008 and a towering steel frame was erected, but in January of 2009, winds — gusting to more than 100 kilometres an hour — and a snowfall of 15 centimetres — combined to bring the steel frame down.
Even then, Buckingham didn’t lose hope.
The 72,000 square foot facility, which opened last month, will cost close to $8 million when its fully complete. The playing surface is 290 feet long by 190 feet wide with a 56-foot high ceiling.
There are plans to add a raised indoor track within the year.
Buckingham is offering free hours for metro soccer associations until the end of this month.
Mainly built for indoor soccer, the facility can play host to a number of other sports. Lacrosse, for example, is currently being played there.
“Touch football checked it out recently and were very excited about it. Ultimate frisbee has expressed an interest and touch football, lawn bowling, softball and baseball have shown some interest in it as well,” Buckingham said.
The facility was also used last week during the Canadian junior hockey development camp, where the players went through tests and drills in an off-ice program designed specifically for hockey by Nike.
The facility is open seven days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Buckingham said he wouldn’t be surprised if it’s open 24 hours a day in the future, depending on the demand.
There are five students working at the facility.
Buckingham would like to see a person or some company offer to purchase the naming rights to the building.
“There’s are lots of space for a name here or there,” he said, pointing at various spots on the outside of the facility.
“This is a very prominent part of the city. There are lots of sports facilities in the area, including a couple of softball fields, a rugby field, Quidi Vidi Lake’s across the street and King George V Park is just up the road. There’s lots going on in the area.”
He also says the facility’s indoor walls can accommodate lots of advertising.
There are plans for an outdoor FieldTurf soccer pitch behind the building, but that’s some years away, Buckingham said.
Acknowledging there are “still some bugs to get out,” he says the facility will eventually have bleachers, and divider curtains are being installed shortly.
“We’ve spent a lot more money than we originally budgeted,” Buckingham explained, “so we have to wait a while before we start putting more money into it and complete the finishing touches.”
The new $8-million St. John’s indoor soccer FieldTurf facility in Pleasantville opened for business earlier this month. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram