‘We can’t send him off without a game’

It was a game they wish they hadn’t been playing in, but it was a game they had to play in.
It’s been almost two weeks since the untimely and unfortunate passing of Struchan Gilson, and his former players couldn’t think of a better way of honouring the coach that meant so much to them by playing the game that meant so much to him.
“We can’t send him off without a game,” said Caroline Spencer, who was an assistant coach for Gilson and the Muskie girls’ soccer team for eight years.
“It’s very strange being here, and it’s very difficult to believe that ‘G’ is no longer going to be here. It’s been a very difficult time—to me, he was almost like a second father,” Spencer added.
So when phone calls starting being made, wondering if any of his former players were interested in playing a game in Gilson’s honour, the response was overwhelming.
Twenty-two Muskie alumni converged on the pitch at the St. Francis Sportsfields this past Sunday afternoon, with some players having played in the black-and-gold jersey just last season, while others having not dawned the Muskie jersey for over 10 years.
And though their ages might put them on different wavelengths, they all had one thing in common—Struchan.
“This is one of those things where you want to come and pay tribute to a man, who had an effect on so many people’s lives,” said Angela Shute, who was a captain for Gilson during her playing days a few years back.
Gilson coached hundreds during his time as a soccer and volleyball coach, but it was soccer that was the Englishman’s passion.
He lived and breathed the sport, and without Gilson, who was cremated with a soccer ball signed by his 2000 OFSAA team, it is unlikely the sport would be at the caliber it is at in Fort Frances if it wasn’t for him.
“He was it,” said Spencer. “If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have a soccer league. We probably wouldn’t have a high school soccer team.
“None of us would be where we are. He’s had such an effect on all our lives and not just soccer-wise,” she added.
Good coaches don’t just teach their players about sport—they also teach about life. And Gilson wasn’t only a good coach—as seen by his numerous championships—but a great coach—as seen in how fondly all of his former players speak of him.
“Words that you think of would be his passion, how genuine he was, and his humour,” answered Shute, who when asked what kind of coach Gilson was and recalled a time when he made it to a game despite being involved in a car accident earlier in the day that left him with broken ribs, black eyes, and a broken nose.
Added Spencer: “It was never, ‘You have to win’, it was, ‘It feels so much better to win.’ So that’s what he strived for.
“He never had undue expectations of the girls. He recognized limitations, and never tried to coach beyond that, and because of that he was a great coach.”
That fondness was also evident by a huge card that was brought to the field for the players to sign, which would be given to his family. Except for a poem, whose verses were separated onto different parts of the card, it came empty, but it took little time before it was filled.
You knew what to say to inspire and excite—you shared our glory, and praised what was right.
You understood our passion and frustration. Your leadership gained our relentless admiration.
And even when spirits were quenched by defeat you devotedly pulled us back on our feet.
You took the time to believe in us, you had our respect, friendship and trust.
And Gilson’s family was there to collect the card that didn’t mourn a man’s life, but rather celebrated it.
“He would have loved this,” said Rylee Raymond, who is Gilson’s daughter, and now resides with her husband, Rich, in St. Albert, Alta. with their three children.
“He really believed that people need to mourn in their own ways, and that it should be more of a celebration of life rather than having it be a time of mourning.
“He’s probably up there smiling away.”
That he surely was, as a game that displayed skill and passion was played on a Sunday afternoon where the weather was evocative of that in England—cloudy, a little rainy, a little frigid, with the sun breaking through on a few occasions.
“He’s probably up there orchestrating this right now,” laughed Spencer.
Memories and laughter were shared on the pitch for a man that will be sorely missed, but a man that will not be forgotten—the game will become an annual event—and for Raymond, the support her and her family have received has been overwhelming.
“People can’t do enough for us. Everywhere we go the support has been overwhelming, and it’s so nice to see how many people he affected,” said Raymond, who also played for her dad during her days at Fort High—she still plays in a recreation league in St. Albert.
“I was talking to someone today, and he was talking about his daughter and said, ‘My daughter was one of his many, many fans.’ For my dad, it wasn’t about the sport, it was about the person, and I think he’s passed that on to a lot of people,” added Raymond, whose lone regret when it comes to her relationship with her father was that she “wasn’t able to play in an alumni game while he was alive, because I think he would’ve got a kick out of that.”
But he was watching.
In our budding lives, the part you have played will outshine all the shots, fouls and goals made—thank-you so much for all you’ve done, Coach!