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The Lunchtime Soccer Game in 2022 with Malcolm Kennard in the backrow (5th from left) next to Scott Robertson (4th from left)

How a game of soccer created a community at UBC

This multi-generational game has brought people together for 48 years

By Aryan Chambyal , in City , on February 7, 2023

On any given Friday, you can find a disparate mix of people — everyone from professors to soccer coaches to first-year students — enjoying a game of soccer on a field at the University of British Columbia.

In 1975, when a group of UBC professors, graduate students and full-time researchers came together to play a game of soccer during lunchtime, little did they know that 48 years later, the “Lunchtime Soccer” game would still be going strong. Every week, rain or shine, you will find 15 to 20, mostly guys, out on Ken Woods Field on the southern edge of the campus.

Malcolm Kennard is proof of the longevity of the game. He started playing Lunchtime Soccer in 1976 at the age of 25. Kennard, now 71, continues to play with the group.

“To me, this game is something that I have done for an awful long time and it is fun. I have always had this attitude; I will play until it is not fun any more and that hasn’t happened yet. And I know quite a lot of the players, so it is like a little club.”

Kennard looks back at the early days of the game and recalls walking onto the field and immediately feeling like he belonged.

“I was doing my PhD at UBC, and somebody told me that they have a drop-in game and ‘just turn up.’ The great thing about the game is that it has always been that anyone can play, however good or bad you are, we don’t care. It is always a policy.”

The Lunchtime Soccer Game in 1978 with Malcolm Kennard holding the soccer ball. Photo provided by Malcolm Kennard

With an open-to-all policy, the game has continued to expand with new people joining every semester and forming a soccer community at UBC. Scott Robertson, who was barely three when Kennard first began playing soccer during lunch, joined Lunchtime Soccer in 1994.

“It has just been a remarkable community. The turnover is constant. There are more people who add themselves than there are people who remove themselves, so it just slowly gets bigger,” said Robertson.

 Robertson, now 51, said he found out about the game when his soccer coach asked him to play more.

“My soccer coach advised me to play as much as I can, and I thought I would just play with the Lunchtime Soccer crew. They didn’t care who showed up, they were going to play anyway.”

The game did face a few obstacles and run-ins with the authorities over the years.

“UBC Athletics got a new leader and he wanted to put a stamp on his leadership and looked at the lunchtime players as intruders who were taking a resource away from the university. A number of times, they sent the field crew to kick us off the field. We kept coming back to play,” said Robertson.

Another time, the RCMP sent some cops over and asked the Lunchtime Soccer players to leave. Eventually, they came to an agreement with the UBC Athletics where they pay $720 at the beginning of each year to play at the Ken Woods Field.

While for some it may seem like a simple game played by random people every Friday, Lunchtime Soccer holds a lot of significance and meaning to those who are a part of this community.

Yuichi Yoshizawa, a 20-year-old student at UBC, played soccer for seven years in Japan and found Lunchtime Soccer when he moved to Vancouver.

“Fridays are my only day off and this gives me a chance to play soccer. I play for my health; sometimes I feel quite stressed out and playing makes me feel refreshed.”

For others, especially those who have been a part of the lunchtime soccer for a while, the game signifies something else.

“I am the oldest player there and it is fun that the young guys don’t mind playing with us. It has been a part of my life and has been very rewarding and fun,” said Kennard, who is the only person continuing to play from the early days.