Dad’s influence big on Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s success with Cavalry FC

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Tommy Wheeldon Jr. knows Dad will be watching his Cavalry FC side with pride Saturday.

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It’s just better if he’s doing so from his home in Cornwall, England.

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Dear ol’ dad’s positive vibes, it seems, ran out after last weekend’s Canadian Premier League semifinal victory.

“Well … don’t tell him that,” said Cavalry gaffer Wheeldon, when asked if his father’s presence in Calgary for the 2-1 playoff win over Pacific FC brought good juju to the home side at ATCO Field.

“He’s in the room, as well, ain’t he? So he’s going to be now talking about being a good-luck charm.”

Whatever works, Wheeldon and the Cavs will take it for Saturday’s CPL championship match against nemesis Forge FC at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton (4 p.m., OneSoccer,

So if that means shipping family members back home, then so it shall be.

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After all, this shot at the playoff crown — five years after their only other appearance in the finale — has long been in the making for the club.

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“He won’t let me go with them,” said Tommy Wheeldon Sr. “Because last time I went, they got beat.”

“Yeah … he’s going on a plane home,” confirmed the Cavs’ GM/head coach, with a cheeky grin. “Last time, we went to Hamilton, we lost. So he’s not coming to this one when he came to that one in 2019. He said, ‘I’ll just get you into the final, lad. The rest is up to you.’”

Indeed, it is for the younger Wheeldon.

But the push to get to this position for a shot at a double championship in the 2023 CPL season perhaps doesn’t happen without a lifetime of input from his father, once a coach himself in this city.

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The Cavs gaffer admits he’s learned a lot from the man who used to head up the USL A-League’s Calgary Storm.

Dad has had a hand in what’s happened with Cavalry.

“He always taught me about energy and enthusiasm and whatever you put in your mind to do it with the best of your ability,” said the 44-year-old Wheeldon. “I was probably never the most talented soccer player and never the most talented soccer coach. Anything, really, didn’t come easy. But I attacked everything with energy and enthusiasm, and it probably created the resilience that when there is a bad or tough time, you’re able to see it through.

“And Dad also really encouraged me to be different, and you see that a lot with the teams we put out and with the players we signed. Everything’s just that little bit different. We’re very unique, and he always encouraged that. And I think he’s been great for me in that way.”

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It isn’t just the way Wheeldon goes about it that’s got a familiar feel to how his dad did it.

It’s the actual game-planning and strategy, as well.

Wheeldon has taken what his dad put out on the field and built on it.

The Cavs you see on the pitch today have evolved from what his father planted in his head many years ago.

“And dad loves it,” Wheeldon said.

But none of that is a surprise given how much time they’ve spent together in the same system. Dad signed Tommy twice to be on his side — once while Wheeldon was a teenager for Swinton Town F.C.’s youth team in the U.K., and then for the Storm here in the city for Wheeldon’s “first taste of professional soccer” from 2002-04.

Cavalry FC coach and GM Tommy Wheeldon Jr. hoists the Northern Shield with teammates and coaches following CPL soccer action between Cavalry FC and Pacific FC on ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows in Calgary on Saturday, October 7, 2023. Jim Wells/Postmedia

“Back then, we played with a back three in both clubs,” Wheeldon said. “So I’ve kind of grown up with that. And my dad was very much influenced by a lot of the (English soccer’s) Liverpool and Everton teams of the 80s, where there were a lot of two-touch play. And we do a lot of that now.

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“One really cool thing we’ve done is with (centre-back) Daan Klomp and (midfielder) Charlie Trafford, where they rotate positions. It was something we watched live at Swindon Town under Glenn Hoddle and we talked about a lot — about putting your best footballers in that position.

“So my dad has influenced a lot of the things that I carry on now.”

Dad is still doing some influencing back at home, too.

These days, the 67-year-old is coaching a feeder team of 16- to 18-year-old females for Chelsea F.C., which includes three Canadians.

“We are very similar in what we try to do,” said Tommy Sr, whose father was also a high-level footie player. “Tommy’s charisma and style, I think that comes from me. We love footballers. We’re very basic. We’d like to see people playing the game. We like technical football. We like characters. We don’t like miserable people. We like people who want to play football and enjoy.”

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Wheeldon agrees, “I think if you ask people, we’ve got a very similar, charismatic approach. I would say now he was visibly more passionate. He’s actually a hybrid of me and (technical coach) Leon Hapgood put together. Leon, visibly, he’s all excited and passionate like that. I’m actually a bit more methodical and calmer than my dad.”

More like his mum, Dee.

“Yeah, Mum would always provoke a thought, She would just give that balanced approach and say, ‘Did you try?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah.’ She’d say, ‘Well, then, it’s alright. Try again.’ She was more the calm one.”

But together, they’ve created one helluva team player.

“Obviously, Tommy’s tries to make a difference,” added the elder Wheeldon. “It’s not just about the team. He’s trying to make the difference in Calgary and Canada. I mean … he’s one of the drivers of the Premier League. You know, it’s not just about Cavalry. He was actually making sure that this league was going to exist.

“He’s just driven. And he loves Canada. When I first brought him over as a player, he just fell in love with Canada. And he wanted to stay. And Jonathan, my other boy (who is technical director for Calgary Foothills Soccer Club), is the same. They just love making a difference to people.

“Incredibly proud of both my boys. They’ve affected people’s lives in a good way.”

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