Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First family of soccer

O'Connors transplanted love of sport to new life, business in new land

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Christine and Cavan O'Connor were just 22 and 26 years old when they arrived in Winnipeg from Manchester, England, in 1974 with 13 pieces of luggage, their two-year-old son and a dream.

That, and their devotion to the sport of soccer, was all they needed to make Winnipeg their home.

"They made us so welcome in Winnipeg. There were so many programs in Canada at that time to help newcomers," Cavan said.

The O'Connors lived in the Marlborough Hotel for two weeks. But "within six months, we were living in a new house, our mortgage was subsidized for five years (by the Canadian government.) And it was lower than rent."

They left Manchester because of the turbulent political and economic climate of the time.

"The whole country was in strife," said Christine. "You'd come home, somebody else would be on strike, and you'd have no electricity. Or another day, you'd have no gas to cook with."

The couple, now marking 42 years of marriage, raised their sons Brad, 40, Adam, 34, and Dylan, 21, in a family where soccer practically had a seat at the supper table.

Cavan, who has coached soccer for 30 years, beginning with Brad's Greendell Community Club team, and Christine worked to put female soccer on the map in Manitoba by founding the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League. In 1983, he started coaching the Sweat Shack women's team Christine managed and the store sponsored. The team dominated the women's soccer scene in Manitoba for more than a decade.

Christine's soccer management skills saw her become the first administrator of Canada's national women's soccer team in 1986 when it was formed. She has served in many volunteer and administrative roles provincially and nationally in soccer during the last 30 years.

Christine is the president of the Manitoba Soccer Association, the first woman to serve in that role. Last month, she was the Canadian Soccer Association's first female head of delegation as she led Canada's national women's under-20 team at the 2012 CONCACAF Women's Under-20 Championship. Canada won a silver medal and qualified for the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup.

The O'Connor family was attracted to Winnipeg by an ad for a job opening at a Winnipeg clothing manufacturer Cavan saw in the Manchester Evening News. He was already working in the garment industry in Manchester so it seemed a good fit.

Cavan changed jobs a few times in the early years, then he and Christine started their own business and began making sports uniforms, with Cavan sewing track suits at their kitchen table.

"We became a retail store where we sold our own products, and it evolved into selling equipment," Christine said.

"We evolved into being, probably, everyone always says this to us, one of the best soccer stores."

It is Winnipeg's iconic soccer store, one of a kind, and they've run it for 32 years.

When the 1999 Pan Am Games came to Winnipeg, it was a massive and historic event in the city -- and to the O'Connor family. Sweat Shack was awarded the contract to make the uniforms -- all 6,000 pieces -- which Team Canada wore at the opening and closing ceremonies.

Middle son Adam is now Sweat Shack's general manager. He's worked there since high school and has gradually taken over in the last few years. He's also president of the Manchester United Supporters Club in Manitoba, which is a collection of devoted fans of the famous English professional soccer side.

"It's my passion. It's something I love doing," Adam said of managing the Sweat Shack. He's also taken over coaching the Sweat Shack team.

Brad, who now runs a business-consulting firm, played for the former Winnipeg Fury in 1990-91, and Dylan, a goalkeeper, continues to play with the WSA Winnipeg team in the Premier Development League. He won a national men's soccer title with Hellas in 2009.

In 2010, Christine was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame as a builder in recognition of her many volunteer contributions to soccer.

"We are builders," Christine said.

"We built a life, a store, a team, anything we can in soccer. That's what we do."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 J15

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