|FC Edmonton head coach Dwight Lodeweges poses for a portrait at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. (Amber Bracken, Edmonton Sun)
EDMONTON - Dwight Lodeweges stood in the middle of Commonwealth Stadium Saturday and had the memories bounce back at him off the seats.
There he was, a 21-year-old kid from Holland, taking the field as a defender for the Edmonton Drillers in the big-time days of the North American Soccer League against some of the biggest names in the game.
Sunday, 31 years later, Lodeweges will lead a start-from-scratch FC Edmonton team onto the same field (other than the grass) against Chilean giant Colo-Colo.
And it’s the same, he says.
“The first time I came here as a player when I was 21, I came for the adventure. Now I’m 52 and I’m back for the same reason again. For the adventure.”
Lodeweges was eligible for the initial adventure because his birth certificate said he was born in Turner Valley, Alberta, and that made him a non-import.
Drawn by a magnet
“I was six when we went back to Holland. I always had dreamed to go back. I have no clue why, but I always felt like there was a magnet drawing me back to the land where I was born.
“It was a wonderful adventure. I’ve always loved an adventure. I still have that.
“It’s why I coached for a year in the Emirates and for a year in Japan. It’s why I flew here three times to talk about this job. What brought me back to do it, in the end, was for the adventure.”
Lodeweges cracked the big time as head coach of PSV Eindhoven, second only to Ajax in all-time titles, his first of two consecutive head coaching jobs in the top league in the Netherlands.
The first was an interim job for the second half of a season moving up from an assistant to coach with PSV Eindhoven, a dream job. He knew interim meant interim, but the job resulted in him being hired by NEC Nijmegan, a job he would walk away from after half a season “because I was working with some people I didn’t enjoy working with.”
That’s when Lodeweges realized his ambition was no longer to be a head coach in the top league in Holland.
“My ambition in life is to have fun and to have adventures.
“I’m 52 not 35. It’s about quality of life now. I enjoyed the Emirates and I enjoyed Japan and my wife did, too. They were adventures.
“I was born here. I played here. My oldest daughter was born here. Canada was always good to me.
“The idea of starting a team like this from the very beginning appealed to me. I’m back for a repeat of my first adventure as a player, but now as a coach.”
He’s not sure how many fans might remember him and that orange-clad team from back in those days. But it all comes back to him when he stands in the big stadium.
“I remember the huge stands. Sometimes we wouldn’t have a big crowd and it seemed like there were 100,000 empty seats in here. Other times we’d have 10,000, 12,000, 14,000, 16,000 and more and it was a really nice place to play. It was a great grass field to play on in those days, too,” he said going into the first soccer game to be played on the new FieldTurf in the stadium.
“I remember playing here against Johan Cruyff with Los Angeles and beating them. I remember playing against Georgie Best, Gerd Mueller and Franz Beckenbauer. I missed playing against Pele by a year. Too bad.
“I enjoyed the travel to all the cities in Canada and the U.S. It was a big, big adventure. I was young and I was having fun.”
Lodeweges rattles off the names of some of his teammates with machine-gun rapidity.
“Peter Nogly. Kai Haaskivi. Edi Kirschner. Ron Klinkenberg. Joe Raduka. Pasquale DeLuca. Ross Ongaro. Norm Odinga. Bernie James. Mike Sweeney. Drew Ferguson. Hans Kraay Jr., Jan Goossens. Lorenz Hilkens ...”
Of the roughly 500 professional games Lodeweges played in his career, which began and ended with the Go Ahead Eagles in Holland, 96 of those were with Edmonton. Now he’s back hoping one day he’ll look back and remember the names of some of the Day Oners on this team.
“This really is an unbelievable adventure so far. When we started there was absolutely nothing there.
“I just hope we’re far enough along for the guys to go into Commonwealth Stadium and be able to give these guys a game.
“For me, it’s a new stage of my life and I can’t wait to coach them in the big stadium where I used to play and go on to the adventures we have ahead.”