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Remembering Charlie Goeckel, Penticton's 'Mr. Soccer'

The clubhouse of the Penticton Soccer Club has now been demolished and removed, bringing an end to the structure's 38-year reign as the hub of the sport in Penticton.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> All that's left of the clubhouse is the concrete pad

For the two-storey building that for so long stood guard over the King's Park pitches and housed important stuff like change rooms, a referee's room, a concession, a board room, observation decks, a banquet/meeting/games room and of course washrooms, the date with the wrecking ball was not surprising.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> The clubhouse in January

The last few years and months were not kind to the clubhouse, built by the club on City-owned dedicated park land in 1985 and leased back to the club for one dollar per year (plus utilities) ever since.

Never a thing of architectural beauty in the first place, it ultimately fell victim to a leaky tar and gravel roof and the extensive damage it triggered underneath.

When PentictonNow viewed the interior in mid-January, it was…severely waterlogged. Seemingly from top to bottom. It was clearly uninhabitable.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> PFC vice-chair Mike Strain, City of Penticton's Anthony Haddad and Anthony Policicchio, Pat Conway during final clubhouse clearout

Exacerbating the situation, crews examining the water damage discovered asbestos in the vinyl flooring. Ultimately, the decision to tear the clubhouse down and replace it rather than bandage it made a lot of sense.

Bandaging, you see, had become rather commonplace over the years at a building that probably should have seen a new roof many years ago and thusly a longer lifespan. In terms of construction, after all, 1985 isn't that old.

At the clubhouse that day in January, helping remove club items from the building in preparation for demolition, was treasurer and acting president Pat Conway.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Pat Conway in January, loading clubhouse items in a container

Conway, who's thrilled a new clubhouse is on the way, said the roof was problematic for "years."

"It's leaked for maybe ten years," he said. "Unfortunately, we kept bandaging it. Then on Sept. 23rd (2022), it happened. It was kind of strange, we were so hot and in a drought, and all of a sudden the alarms are going off in there. So the City came down and there's water just pouring in everywhere.

"It was the first rain we'd had in September after the drought. So I guess the hot weather just opened up the cracks in the roof."

According to Club VP Tom Goeckel, "Tar and gravel roofs have lifespans of about 25 years. Over the course of 15 to 20 years there were several leaks. And then in the fall it just hemorrhaged like a sieve."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Tom Goeckel

City of Penticton GM of Community Services Anthony Haddad, who says restoration at this late stage of the game would have cost a bare minimum of $400,000 and pegs the demolition bill alone at $130,000, knows the City could have handled it better. And he says changes are in the works to prevent similar issues in the future.

"The roof had been repaired and patched over the years but no complete replacement was budgeted for over the last few years," he admitted.

According to Haddad, the City has now developed an "Asset Management Investment Plan."

"We should be spending an average of $6.9 million to upkeep existing facilities," he said. "We spend an average of $1.9 million, which is why our plan moving forward needs to be sustainable and part of the reason we're looking at multi-use facilities where they make sense."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Lots of trophies were pulled from the clubhouse before demolition

Happily for everyone, the club doesn’t seem particularly overwrought. They know they'll function without a permanent structure in 2023 and potentially 2024 too. But they also know a modern new facility is on the way -- the shape and size and cost of which is yet to be determined.

Still, the passing of the clubhouse comes mere months after the passing of one of the people most responsible not only for its existence but for the rise of soccer culture in Penticton. And that makes it a sad time for the sport.

His name was Charlie Goeckel and he died at 88 years young on July 15, 2022 after a six decade-plus love affair with Penticton-area soccer.

<who>Photo Credit: Penticton Herald</who> Charlie Goeckel circa 1957

And now his son Tom, who we chatted with a few paragraphs ago, and who today runs the business his dad founded way back in 1967 (Modern Millwork on Okanagan Avenue), wants folks to know all that Charlie accomplished.

"A lot of people come here and don’t know where it all came from," said the younger (65) Goeckel when we spoke recently. "But soccer was my dad's life. When it comes to soccer and King's Park and the clubhouse, he's the man."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Tom Goeckel today at the family business, Modern Millwork

Charlie Goeckel arrived in Penticton in 1955, a 20-year-old immigrant from Germany who took a ship across the Atlantic to Montreal and a train across Canada to finally reach the Okanagan.

Why Penticton? He had an uncle here. But also because Goeckel, a jock from a young age (soccer, naturally) had a chance to meet members of the Penticton Vees earlier that year when they famously defeated Russia for the world championship in Dusselfdorf.

In meeting and befriending the Vees, Charlie became fascinated by this far-flung Canadian locale. And soon he was making his way here.

He arrived penniless, the unfortunate victim of theft during his journey. But that didn’t stop him from getting back into the game he loved mere days after his arrival.

Under a different name, that is.

His son explains.

<who>Photo Credit: Unknown</who> Charlie Goeckel (left)

"One of the first places his uncle took him when he got here," said Tom, "was Queen's Park, which is where the SOEC is now. That's where they used to play soccer in the days before King's Park, and there was a group of guys down there, Scottish guys, the McLaren brothers, and they asked what his name was."

Goeckel answered "Karl." Several times. Because that was his given name. But with his rookie English on full display, the brothers heard "Charlie." And Charlie stuck.

Soon, Karl/Charlie found himself on the 1955 edition of Penticton's premier soccer team, the "Queen's Park Rangers," coincidentally founded just one year earlier. And with him on the squad, the Rangers won the "Royal Cup" championship, emblematic of Okanagan soccer supremacy.

<who>Photo Credit: Charlie Goeckel</who> Page from Charlie Goeckel's notebook

Ditto in 1956, when Goeckel added coaching and managing to his duty list. He got himself hitched in '56 too --- to long-time sweetie Johanna Keller.

"He basically took over that team in 1956," said Tom. "He ran it, he managed it, he played for it. His true passion in life was soccer and he was always there.

"As time went by, he'd even sponsor teams. When a womens' or mens' team didn’t have a sponsor, he'd sponsor them. Just because he loved the sport.

"And he never charged a nickel for his time. I told him that if he'd had spent half the time at the office as he did on soccer, he could have retired a long time ago."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Goeckel tells the story of a family drive to a Kelowna soccer tournament one day in the early 1970s. His dad stopped the family car at a fruit stand along the way, where he'd spotted a young guy expertly juggling a beach ball with his bare feet.

"The old man watched him a bit," said Tom, "and then went up to him and asked if he played soccer. He said he did, and dad asked if he wanted to come and play for the weekend. He said he had no boots, but dad's feet were the same size and he said he had spares."

Soon enough the new recruit was in the car and headed up the highway. A couple hours later, the Penticton squad found itself down a couple goals.

"So dad asked the new guy if he could crank it up," said Tom. "And he did. In no time at all he'd scored five goals. One after the next he went through the entire team like they were pylons. So my dad asked him to turn it off again.

<who>Photo Credit: Unknown</who> Charlie Goeckel

"As it turned out, this guy was on his way to Montreal. He'd been signed by the Montreal Olympique of the NASL."

Tom Goeckel's not 100% sure of his name, but maintains the guy was part of the Olympique squad that came to Penticton for a June 1972 friendly ultimately won 5-1 by Montreal in front of 1,000-plus fans.

"And after the game, all the players headed back to our place for a barbecue," added Goeckel. "It's just the way my dad made connections. He was the guy who reached out to everybody."

By the early 1980s, Queen's Park was feeling the land pinch. Penticton's new curling rink and community centre had been constructed on the parcel and more projects were envisioned. And soccer was losing its long-time home.

Thankfully, there was a bunch of land and a couple of fields less than a kilometer away at King's Park.

But as soccer's popularity surged amongst both adults and kids, there was a need for something King's Park didn't have -- change rooms. And washrooms. And maybe even a place to socialize.

The park needed a clubhouse.

<who>Photo Credit: Unknown</who>

So the club went to work. Penticton soccer veterans like Ivo Jagger, Oscar Beirle and Nick Holtz. But according to Tom, Charlie was the driving force.

"Dad was friends with Ivan Messmer, who was mayor at the time before he moved on to being an MLA," he said. "They'd been friends for a long time. Ivan was a contractor and my dad used to do the millwork portion of many of his houses with him.

"Anyway, Penticton needed a facility like this. They needed washrooms, they needed change rooms. So Ivan told my dad he'd give him all the support he needed. Get her done, and my old man took charge and off they went.

"He spearheaded the construction of it, helped raise the funds to pay for it, then handed the keys over to the City."

<who>Photo Credit: City of Penticton</who>

The estimate for the structure, seen above handwritten on Penticton Soccer Club letterhead from the time, was $169,650. Fortunately, Goeckel and the other club members were able to source ample assistance.

"There was a grant from the BC government for $56,000," said Tom, "and one from the federal government for $53,000. The city kicked in $30,000 and the soccer club kicked in 30 grand.

"But there was a lot of free labour in there too, done by volunteers. I know. I was one of them. And there were things like dances and raffles and special events and even bottle drives to help pay for the club's portion.

"And bingo too. At that time there was a bingo hall down where the (Fairfield) hotel is today. They were close friends of my dad and they said if you want to come in and hold bingo games, go ahead."

According to Tom, Charlie's strength lay in his assertiveness.

<who>Photo Credit: Bob Munday/Penticton Herald</who> Charlie Goeckel (left) and player adn future youth soccer coach Manuel Borba (right)

"My dad got things done," he said. "He didn’t suffer fools and he had zero tolerance. And he didn’t agree with committees. He just took charge. A lot of people who got to know him really liked him, but if you didn’t know him well enough it might have been a different story.

"When he built that clubhouse, he basically volunteered people. And when Charlie volunteered you, you went."

But the clubhouse was just one of many projects in which Charlie was intrinsically involved. Another was the establishment of youth soccer in the early 60s.

"On a summer morning in 1961, he brought a couple of balls to the soccer field and expected 20 to 30 kids to show up," wrote Okanagan Saturday jounalist Kathy Rumleski (who now works with CTV News London) in December of 1994. "Amazingly, 150 kids came too play. Goeckel formed the first youth soccer league that day."

<who>Photo Credit: Penticton Herald</who>

Decades later in the early 90s, he led the charge for a major King's Park revamp that would see a third field built, another field get enough lighting for night games, and improved fencing all around.

"He did a lot of other things too," said Tom. "Like the tournaments (Goeckel's "May Classic" began in 1962 and continues today), the square dances (which attracted thousands to a makeshift floor at King's Park) and the RCMP Musical Ride. That's a lot of horses and lots of damage to a soccer field, so he'd actually raise the money to repair it."

Even the colourful "Penticton Soccer Club" sign over the clubhouse front door was a Charlie Goeckel production -- created and painted at Modern Millwork. And inside, you would have found "Karl's Gasthaus," a little corner of the clubhouse that Charlie/Karl turned into a bar with a walk-in cooler and beverage service during special functions.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

And there were a lot of special functions, says Tom -- stuff like soccer clinics, weddings, birthdays and even celebrations of lives. Charlie's own celebration of life was held there on Aug. 6, 2022, almost three years after that of his beloved wife Johanna.

And now, the Penticton Soccer Club looks ahead, wondering what the replacement will look like.

"It's too bad it had to come down," said Pat Conway. "It was solid. It was a block building. But it was a mess. The mold and the mildew. The rats had taken it over.

"But all good things come to an end and now we'll go to the next chapter and see how it works out."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Karl's Gasthaus

Conway ideally wants to see four individual change rooms, at least a couple of "nice" washrooms, "some type of indoor concession," and meeting rooms.

He also wants a second floor and a viewing deck, just like the first clubhouse.

"The old building was built facing east because of the one field that was here at the time," said Conway. "Now we want to see it twisted a bit to look out over all the fields."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Junior action from spring of 2022

Manuel Borba, who played for the senior club for years under coach and manager Charlie Goeckel and has since made a name for himself as the head coach of youth soccer, has grander hopes.

"We have a couple of ideas," he said. "The first is to build a grandstand here and make this our feature stadium. Because right now there's a semi-pro league in BC (League1 BC) and a pro league in Canada (Canadian Premier League). So if we were to ever get a team here, the number one thing we'd need is a stadium.

"And on this side of the stadium we'd have some rental space downstairs, have our clubhouse and maybe even some dorms up top to rent to the college. This would probably cost four or five million. I don’t know if the city has the appetite for it."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Manuel Borba

The second, more realistic option, said Borba, is to "rebuild the same footprint."

"But two change rooms aren’t enough anymore," he cautioned. "When the clubhouse was built, we had three ladies teams and maybe 600 kids playing soccer. Now we have 1650 kids in Penticton and we have four or five games at the same time.

"So we need at last four change rooms. The whole thing needs to be redesigned for where soccer is going in Penticton."

According to Borba, current Club members have a "responsibility" to those who came before.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"Charlie and a lot of the old-timers built it and donated it to the city," he said. "So it’s our responsibility now to get it back up at least to where it was and respect what Charlie did for the community."

Anthony Haddad of the City knows a King's Park clubhouse is a big deal, but cautions that the replacement process is complex and just beginning.

"Our agreement to use that building was with the adult club, but both soccer organizations (the "adult" Penticton Soccer Club and the "junior" Pinnacles Football Club) and other organizations and the community will be involved in the planning and design of the space," he said.

<who>Photo Credit: Kathy Rumleski/Okanagan Saturday</who>

"There are questions that need to be answered. Do they need that type of space going forward? Do they need a different type of space now? Are there bigger visions? Is the sport growing? Are there other sports that could be part of those multi-use facilities?

"We also have events that use the park. The Scottish Festival, for example. We'll be looking at what infrastructure they need as well."

As for Tom Goeckel, he believes there's a bright future for King's Park and for Penticton soccer. He just wants folks to know what came before.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Tom Goeckel

"My dad certainly wasn't alone," he said. "He had a lot of friends in right places and he had a lot of help from a lot of good people in and out of the club. There was a lot of community assistance.

"But my dad's name needs to be remembered. He really was the man."

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