I received a shipment this week of old Edmonton Drillers indoor soccer programs from the North American Soccer League (1968-1984). Most are from the winter of 1980-81, a strange campaign that saw the Drillers quarantined north of the border due to the NASL’s ongoing labor shenanigans until the playoffs, when they descended into the Lower 48 and, improbably, won the league championship.
This match was a 7-4 Drillers home victory over the Calgary Boomers at the end of January 1981. It was Drillers’ 14th match and already their sixth against the Boomers, their newly formed provincial rivals. The wacky schedule was thanks to a move by the National Labor Relations Board of the United States to bar the NASL’s Canadian franchises from gaining entry to the United States until league owners resolved their collective bargaining impasse with the fledgling NASL Players Association. In fact, the Drillers played their entire regular season schedule against just three clubs – the Boomers, the Toronto Blizzard and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Drillers and the Boomers attempted to lend some meaning to the repetitive schedule by creating something called the Lethbridge Brewery Challenge Cup to celebrate the victor of their endless series of indoor contests. The Drillers’ victory gave them a 4-2 edge in the season series and bragging rights to the Challenge Cup, for whatever that was worth. (The Boomers would fold in September 1981 after just 12 months of operation, so the NASL’s intra-Alberta rivalry was over practically before it began).
The Drillers brightest young star, 24-year old Finnish import Kai Haaskivi was pictured on the cover of the evening’s KICK Magazine match program. Haaskivi went on to finish second in the NASL in scoring during the 1980-81 indoor season and became one of the top indoor players during the sport’s brief rise to prominence in the mid-1980’s.
The NASL resolved its labor and travel problems sufficiently to allow the Canadian teams to take part in the league’s indoor playoffs in February 1981. The lightly regarded Drillers surprised everyone by rolling through the playoffs and capturing the championship in a two-game sweep of the Chicago Sting in early March 1981.