–By Ottawa Sportspage, for St. Anthony Soccer Club
After a few lean seasons, St. Anthony Soccer Club has restored its long history of soccer excellence, a welcoming culture, and an ever-present family feel in time to carry on past the 65-year mark on the local soccer scene.
Established in 1952, St. Anthony Italia Soccer Club has long been a fixture on Preston Street. In 2006, the St. Anthony Men’s Premier Team celebrated a Canadian Soccer Championship, but the club shrank in the years that followed, dropping down to just 4 teams in 2013.
“At the time, I think the debate was whether we were just going to keep going or not,” recalls volunteer Claudio Lepore, who joined the club’s board of directors 7 years ago and was thankful that leader Claudio Padovan decided to keep the club alive.
Today, St. Anthony’s is back to nearly 40 teams, including the storied Men’s Premier side – the last Ottawa-Carleton Soccer League team left standing in this year’s Ontario Cup, set to take on Scarborough GS United in the Aug. 26 semi-finals.
Unmatched culture at storied club
While certain aspects of the club have been overhauled in recent years, one thing has remained constant: a sense of family. That’s the glue that has held St. Anthony’s together for so long, Lepore indicates, whether that’s players or volunteers sharing espresso at the St. Anthony’s clubhouse, or welcoming visiting teams for dinner at the Banquet Hall.
“The socializing is important, and it definitely comes from a family atmosphere,” Lepore adds. “The history and the culture is really what this club is all about.”
Few within the club have as tangible a sense of family as Felice Fornieri, a goaltender, assistant coach and captain of the Men’s Premier squad. At 44, he’s the oldest player still competing at the club’s highest level and has watched his teammates grow up around him.
“I’ve been playing keeper for them since they were 16,” he smiles. “It’s definitely like a family. It’s something I can’t even explain. Nobody can really understand how we are as a team or how we bond together.”
Fornieri explains that while St. Anthony’s is a club with strong Italian roots, ‘family’ extends to people and players from anywhere in the world.
“We’ve got a Saudi Arabian boy who plays on the right, and we’ve got a Jamaican striker who is amazing with his feet, and then we have a couple of Italian boys in the middle,” he notes.
Diversity has been a key to maintaining a burgeoning club. Over the years, St. Anthony’s has welcomed countless new Canadians to the club, which is based in the centre of what is traditionally an immigrant neighbourhood in the city.
“It doesn’t matter what your background is, we find a way to make sure that these kids find a place to play, and same with adults,” says Lepore, whose club has brought on several teams born from the Latin American Community Association Soccer Club in recent years.
“We’ve actually taken ‘Italia’ out of the soccer name, just to show that it’s open to everybody,” he adds. “Of course, you’re still going to have a little bit of the Italian flare to it.”
Futuro boosts youth high-performance movement
Part of what has helped St. Anthony’s grow in recent years is building from the bottom. Renowned local trainer Sanjeev Parmar brought his youth development talent and experience to the club 2 years ago, and since then he’s revamped much of the club’s atmosphere around youth training and beyond.
“We’ve gone from having very little structure to now having a turf facility (at the clubhouse), a classroom where we run sessions out of every week, and a full structure in place for all of our teams,” Parmar recounts. “I wanted to have a program in place that was completely committed to developing the best players possible, where they were committed to soccer, they were committed to a lifestyle, and that’s what we’ve got now.”