Connor James is excited. FC Edmonton, his hometown professional soccer team, has drafted him in the first ever official draft for the brand new national soccer league, the Canadian Premier League. James, the championship-winning goalkeeper for the University of Alberta’s Golden Bears – hotly tipped as one of the best goalkeepers in the draft – is ecstatic. Now, James has signed a first team contract with FC Edmonton. The city means a lot to him, and he has been playing soccer here from age four, moving on to club soccer after. At age thirteen, having made it to a provincial team, he realized the sport could be a professional calling, not just a hobby. He was picked by the FC Edmonton reserve team at sixteen, cementing his dreams of being a professional soccer player.
A lot of professional players tend to go into club soccer right after school. James, however, has enjoyed the best of both worlds, when he opted to study at the University of Alberta, while also playing for the Golden Bears. The fact that goalkeepers do tend to peak a little later, with more experience than most players, played a part in his decision to opt for a degree first. He is currently a fifth year business major at the University, and due to graduate soon.
What makes a soccer player different? What motivates them to take a chance at a dream that many players have, but a dream most abandon when the going gets tough?
Connor James is nothing if not passionate about everything he does. He talks about soccer as a calling, but also realizes that it is a job requiring a great deal of commitment and hard work, of both body and mind. I ask him if there is one thing he feels that has given him an edge in his choice of profession, and he admits that while he feels that he’s not necessarily a ‘naturally gifted’ player, he makes up for it by being extremely disciplined and working as hard as he can, and by dedicating himself to his sport.
Coming on the heels of not being selected for a tournament, James talks about how this advice from a former coach made him put his head down and concentrate on being the best he could be:
“The best thing you can do for yourself is get fit. It is the one thing you can control about yourself, especially when you cannot control factors outside of your experience.”
This didn’t just encompass physical fitness – though this was an important part of his life – but also the mental discipline that goes alongside. A responsibility to keeping his body and mind healthy, through healthy eating, concentration on work and study and dedication to his goalkeeping craft.
He cites his parents as his inspiration for his success in all areas of his life. Both chartered accountants, and also soccer players, it is easy enough to see where he gets his head for business and numbers, as well as his aptitude for the game. He credits them for his work ethic and discipline, in both his personal and professional life. James also talks about how his parents supported his love for soccer. A lot of parents tend to steer kids away from professional sports, well understanding the fact that it takes a lot of grit, motivation and luck just to make it among the thousands of hopefuls. James talks proudly about his parents, who encourage him to follow his dreams and enjoy being able to play professionally. As he recalls his mom putting it, work will always be there for him, but opportunities to do what he enjoys in life are fewer and far between, and he needs to take them as they arrive. James counts himself lucky to have had this backing. He freely acknowledges that he has been fortunate to have had the encouragement and support of his family and friends, something that is not always easy to come by for everybody. At the same time, he doesn’t shy away from tackling the tough subject of his own privilege and he is very clear that he appreciates it and is humbled by the support from his family, friends, the Golden Bears program and the FC Edmonton community. He considers it his duty to take advantage of the opportunities that he’s been offered.
He applauds the good infrastructure that Alberta has when it comes to soccer, and sports, in general. He is also clear about the fact that he is willing to pay back this support by playing his best and not taking it for granted. And like most Canadian soccer fans, he is thrilled about the Canadian Premier League, looking forward to playing against local opposition (watch out, Calgary), and, like most of us, is looking forward to the CPL being a stepping stone for a lot of younger players to reach professional soccer without as many barriers.
As fans, we’re always interested in the way our team performs, but we rarely get to see the person behind the player. What makes them tick? What keeps them grounded? Who is Connor James when he’s not a goalkeeper for the Golden Bears, and, now, FC Edmonton?
For Connor James, it starts with his hometown. He’s never really wanted to leave Edmonton, despite wondering about what it would be like to play abroad. He admits, freely, that he would have been lonely away from his family and friends, and one of the things he loves about the opportunity to play for FC Edmonton is the chance to remain in this city. It’s clear that Edmonton has a hold on his heart, and his face lights up as he talks about all it has to offer. He has a place here, and he puts Edmonton in that sweet spot where it’s not just a small town, but not a huge city where he’s just another person lost in it. He laughs as he recalls his familiarity with the city, from the warm, festival-filled summers, to the winters (yes, really!), and he reckons that it has made him feel closer to the heart of the city and its people.
It is a good thing that he feels comfortable with the people of the city, because very soon he’s going to have a large contingent of them yelling at him from behind his goal line. After just having his parents, family and a few soccer supporters at his games, he is going to be catapulted into a situation where there is going to be a lot of noise, cheering and chanting. I wondered how he’s going to feel about the fact that he is now going to have fans; that he is going to be seen as a role model, and an inspiration to younger players. He admits to being nervous about the expectations of and from him. He is determined to respect the fact that fans pay money, as well as offer their promise of time and energy to come and watch the team, and he wants the fans to know that he will give his everything for the betterment of the team.
I then move on to the lighter side, and ask him about his life outside of school and soccer. It’s then that I find out that Connor James is a bit of a nerd, who loves his textbooks. We also happily geek out over his love for Green Day and lead singer Billie Jo’s rock star spiky hair and eyeliner, as well as other alternative rock bands of the 2000s. He goes on about his favourite TV shows, The Office, for one. He can also talk your ear off about the social commentary that South Park makes, both of us amused at the “intelligent badness” show. I pretend surprise that his parents let him watch one of his best-loved movies, ‘Pulp Fiction’, but I’ll admit to being secretly very pleased at this.
We end our chat talking about how to inspire the younger generation of players, not just kids who are motivated to take things to the next level, but also about being the inspiration for kids to just go outside, get fit and play for fun. In my mind, I already see Connor James as being one of those inspirations, and along with the rest of the fans, we are really looking forward to the start of the season and seeing what he brings to the field.
FC Edmonton is a proud member of the Canadian Premier League, kicking off in April of 2019. For season ticket information, head to our website – https://fcedmonton.canpl.ca/tickets/