There might not be an office in Sudbury that is more chocked full of local soccer history and heritage than the ground floor meeting room at 34 Bulmer Avenue. Home to the Italia Flyers soccer club, the space is conveniently located just down the street from the Delki Dozzi field, the very epicenter of Flyers activity in 2017.
That certainly wasn’t the landscape for the storied soccer group in the years following the founding of the club back in 1949, nor the early decades that ensued. “Soccer was different then,” noted current Italia Flyers president Rob Dagostino.
Now just 38 years of age but having served on the board for some ten years or so, Dagostino must rely on the stories that have passed along by his father (Angelo) and his contemporaries who were actively involved during the glory years of the group.
“There were a lot of European teams in town, and my understanding is that there would be a couple of thousand people at each game,” Dagostino continued. “It was competitive.” The Flyers clubhouse is strewn with images of this wonderful yester-year, a time when the level of play, locally, demanded a certain amount of soccer excellence, just to prevail within the Nickel City.
The fact that so many of these Sudbury teams, donning the colours of the Flyers as well as their primary rivals in these parts, would go on to enjoy success against some of the top programs in the country speaks volumes as to the caliber of player that was attracted to Northern Ontario in that era.
In the realm of adult competitive soccer, the Flyers continued to operate a team right through until slightly beyond 2010, about the same time another metamorphosis would take place in that ever evolving local soccer scene.
Roughly a quarter of a century earlier, the Italia Flyers had expanded their base of involvement to include the local men’s recreational league. “Sudburnia did not want to take men’s recreational division anymore, so the Italia Flyers, my dad and some of the more senior executive that are still involved now, took it over, and it’s been running ever since,” said Dagostino.
Truth be told, there was clearly self-interest at play, as the men’s rec league served as a wonderful transition phase for those who long enjoyed a highly competitive game of soccer, but had perhaps grown somewhat long in the tooth to keep up with the annual influx of new young talent to the premier league.
Fast forward to 2010, and on to the present, and the evolution continues. This current summer marks the second straight season in which a premier league under the stewardship of the Sudbury Regional Competitive Soccer League has not existed. And depending on how you look at it, the Flyers recreational loop have served as primary benefactors or victims.
“The last few years, we’ve definitely really noticed it,” said Dagostino. “We started getting an influx of 20 year olds. I still remember those year-end meetings we would have, as an executive, when we could see the competitive league potentially folding and the players coming in.”
Not exactly what the Flyers had in mind when it came to offering the product that they had long since prided themselves on. “We’ve always tried to provide a recreational league and we still try to stick by that,” Dagostino continued.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that there is a place for the competitive players to play right now, so they have been coming to us. We’re not going to say no to them, but there have been repercussions to the point where we feel that we’ve lost some of the recreational players to other leagues. I don’t blame them, in a sense.”
“We’ve looked at ways to try and accommodate both groups, but it’s a challenge.” For the elder statesmen who have been in the shoes of this next generation of athlete, there are mixed feelings. “Those young kids really should still be playing competitive,” said veteran Flyers board member and active league participant Dave Simon.
“They are 25 year old premier players and they really should be playing in a premier league in the city, but it doesn’t exist.” So the group tries to make due as best they can. The eight team league, this summer, features a pretty clear-cut break between the top quartet or squads, and the balance of teams that remain at least somewhat more recreational in make-up.
The juggling involved with trying to satisfy the varying needs of these squads is not one that comes easy to the current Italia Flyers executive, but one which they tackle with much diligence. “We have a nice mix of senior members who have been here a very long time, and some newer members,” suggested Dagostino.
“We’ve kind of been able to blend well and try and run a pretty smooth league. We have our issues, like anyone else, and we’re always looking at ways to improve it. But we always say, every year, that we provide a pretty good product. It’s easy for players to just sign up and go. It’s always at Delki, same nights and it’s familiar for everybody.”
As for Dagostino and Simon, they will be suiting up, once again this summer, with the Zulich Enterprises entry. “I’m almost forty, the average age on our team is likely closer to 45, and we were all pretty good soccer players when we were younger,” said Simon. “But you just cannot keep up with the 20 year olds.”
For as much as this is a recreational league, competitive athletes never seem to completely ever lose their competitiveness. “Buzzy Brown’s had a pretty strong team last year, almost undefeated,” stated Simon. “Tucos Tacos are a good team as well. DQ Blizzards are also really solid – but don’t ever count out Zulich,” he summarized, with a laugh.