Pigskin promise

By Jim Vibert - March 22, 2010

Can you identify this player from the 1970s?

In the winter of 1977, Jim Neale was one of three Dal football players to meet with the university’s VP of finance in a last ditch effort to save the program. “But it was a done deal. The decision was made and it was over.”

He brings an interesting perspective to the plan afoot to bring football back to Dalhousie in the form of a club team, competing with similar non-varsity squads, including the Holland College Hurricanes, UNB Saint John Seawolves, Moncton Junior Raiders and UNB Fredericton Red Bombers. Dalhousie's "Bengals of Halifax" were unanimously accepted into the Atlantic Football League fold during its annual general meeting on the weekend in Moncton.

Recruited out of Ottawa by Dal’s last head football coach Bob Thayer, Mr. Neale was a starter on the last Tiger football team and, despite its demise, stayed at Dal to complete his academic program, remained in Halifax after graduation and, for the past 25 years, has worked as a senior official in the university’s human resources department.  Jim Neale knows Dal.

“I don’t believe that football, whether a club team or varsity football, will suddenly result in the kind of school spirit that people say is missing,” he says, then adding, “Would it be good for Dal? Probably.”

Another Dal grad and current member of both the board of governors and alumni board, Jim Wilson didn’t play football. When he attended there was no football team to play on. But today, he’s a driving force behind the effort to bring a football club to Dalhousie.

“Club football presents an opportunity to bring football back to Dal, without the big financial commitment from the university that a varsity program demands,” says Mr. Wilson. He believes football will generate excitement and fun for students and alumni.

The team's glory years were the 1950s, when Atlantic teams competed for the Purdy Cup. Dal won the cup in 1951 and 1954.

Mr. Wilson is part of a group of Dal loyalists and local football enthusiasts working to get the club off the ground. In the two weeks since word started getting around, more than 100 students have expressed an interest in playing. As well, response to a Dalnews story online has been overwhelmingly supportive, and a new Facebook group already has more than 500 members.

Finding players may not be the biggest job in getting a Dal team ready to compete in the nascent Atlantic Football League by September. Although Mr. Wilson’s group has found experienced and interested coaches, and is actively raising money, a myriad of other logistical hurdles have to be cleared, including finding a place for the team to practice and play.

Wickwire Field was called Studley when it was home to a Tigers football team that regularly churned its natural grass surface into a sea of mud. The pristine artificial surface that now covers the field—ironically named for one of Dal’s greatest football players, Ted Wickwire—is not lined for football and is under constant demand for field hockey and soccer.

Mr. Wilson is confident the details can all be worked out in time for the 2010 season and a home Bengals football game, somewhere in Halifax as part of a fall homecoming event.

For his part, Jim Neale, thinking back on that fateful meeting 34 winters ago, believes its may be time for football again at Dalhousie. That sentiment would be shared by the VP finance of the day, Andy MacKay, who was probably more upset delivering the news than were the players receiving it. Long before he became VP and later President of Dalhousie, Andy MacKay, too, starred on the Tigers football team.

Interested in playing football in the fall? Please e-mail to jsjpond@dal.ca and place “Dal Football Club” in the subject line.

SEE STORY: Atlantic Football League grows in the Telegraph-Journal.


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