June 12th, 2024

Cavalry FC coach/GM Tommy Wheeldon Jr. rewarded with new deal on eve of CPL season

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on April 11, 2024.

Cavalry FC has rewarded coach and GM Tommy Wheeldon Jr. with a new contract that runs through the 2026 season with the Calgary-based side. Wheeldon Jr., left, receives his coach of the year award from commissioner David Clanachan, in Toronto, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson

A chance encounter prompted Tommy Wheeldon Jr. to leave England in 2002 to play for the Calgary Storm of the now-defunct A-League.

Twenty-two years later, Wheeldon is still in Calgary. And he has a new contract that will keep him as coach and GM of the CPL’s Cavalry FC through the 2026 season.

A Liverpool native, Wheeldon’s move to Calgary was inspired by Calgary Storm owner Mike Vandale, a local businessman who was also a director of England’s Exeter City. On a visit to England, Vandale connected with Wheeldon’s father, who was Exeter’s assistant coach.

The two chatted and with Tommy Wheeldon Sr. going through a divorce, he was open to a move. Later that year he visited Calgary and got a job as the Storm’s technical director.

“Long story short, I then came to visit. Mike Vandale talked me into sticking around and helping build something,” recalled Wheeldon Jr., who had played in England for Swindon Town and Torquay United. “I had just left university, got the first part of my coaching licenses and still had the hunger to play – I was 22-23.”

Back in the day, the A-League was home to the likes of the Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact, Toronto Lynx, Portland Timbers and Rochester Rhinos.

When the Storm folded, Wheeldon Jr. never left.

“What I’ve worked towards is just trying to give something back to a city and a country that’s adopted me,” he said. “I’m proud to be a Canadian now. My kids, my wife, they’re all Canadian.”

He eventually joined the Calgary Foothills club, then in 2018 he was hired to build Cavalry FC at the ground floor. His father eventually returned to England.

The younger Wheeldon has taken the Calgary side to the CPL championship game in 2019 and 2023, winning coach of the year honours both years. And while Cavalry lost to Forge FC both times, the club qualified for the CONCACAF Champions Cup this year after topping the CPL regular-season standings at 16-5-7 to finish 13 points ahead of runner-up Forge.

Cavalry led the league in goals scored with 46 while conceding the fewest in 27 last year.

The team closed out the regular season with five straight wins, part of a nine-game unbeaten run (8-0-1). Cavalry lost 2-1 to Forge in the playoff semifinal but, thanks to the CPL playoff format, took advantage of a second post-season chance by beating Pacific FC 2-1.

That led to the Oct. 28 championship rematch with Forge, which prevailed 2-1 with all three goals coming in extra time.

On Thursday, Cavalry rewarded Wheeldon with a new contract replacing his existing deal.

“Tommy is part of Cavalry FC’s DNA and has been since we first started this journey in 2018,” team president and COO Ian Allison said in a statement. “His success on the pitch is obvious.

“He has recruited, mentored, and coached more than 100 players, coaches, and support personnel through our system, and we are delighted that he will be doing so for at least the next three years. His belief in the game, this community, in the Canadian Premier League and in our club’s values, goals and objectives align perfectly.”

Veteran Cavalry midfielder Sergio Camargo has played for Wheeldon at both the Foothills and Cavalry.

“It’s been awesome,” said Camargo.

“He’s been a very big mentor for me these last five, six years,” he added. “Just to see the way he runs his business and his circle around him, whether it’s his staff or whether it’s family and friends, it’s very eye-opening and it’s something I’ve taken into my own life.”

Cavalry opens the CPL season on Saturday at Forge.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2024

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