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For those unfamiliar with soccer, a red card signals suspension. In the middle of play, Barb’s opposing player crashed to the ground, writhing in pain, and the referee bestowed the red card. No one on either team could keep a straight face, however, and the practical joke, devised to mark Barb’s retirement from the league, was exposed.

After almost 60 years playing soccer, Barb Rowlands is hanging up her boots. She turns 75 today, July 13. It’s also the day Barb and her teammate Jean Raby, 71, play their final game.

Lancashire born and raised, the two lived about an hour apart: Barb in Salford and Jean in Blackpool, but they met in North Vancouver 40 years ago when Barb and her mother were here visiting family.

A pre war baby born in 1939, Barb remembers her Mickey Mouse gas mask and the shortage of candy due to rationing. The gas mask is no more but, says Barb, “I still have my identification card somewhere. We played in bombed out buildings. I always loved exercise: swimming and netball. We walked or cycled everywhere so we were very fit.”

Barb was 15, working as a machinist in the local factory, when she heard that a women’s soccer team, the Corinthians, was starting up. No matter that the games and practices weren’t in Salford, at least there were enough women to make up two sides. Barb would get her uniform, a man’s white shirt, black shorts and men’s soccer shoes (no women’s shoes in those days) and cycle miles to games and practices. “There weren’t many teams in Lancashire. We played in Yorkshire and even the Isle of Man,” she says.

Soccer, or more properly, football, is Britain’s national sport and Manchester United is one of the nation’s iconic teams. One of Barb’s first dates with fireman and husband to be John Rowlands took place 10 minutes from home, a Man U game on the hallowed ground of Old Trafford stadium.

Barb and John married in 1962 and lived on the grounds of the fire station. Four children arrived within five years, “in steps and stairs. They were all born at home,” says Barb in her soft north country burr. “There were that many of us young ones living at the fire station, we all helped one another.”

In 1975, Barb’s summer holiday in Vancouver prompted a move to North Vancouver, where the Rowlands have lived ever since, except for the years in West Vancouver when John served as the municipality’s fire chief.

Barb and Jean rekindled their friendship and started playing soccer on the Metro league’s North Vancouver team. They played alongside teammate Linda Sullivan, a player with a vision of a recreational league geared towards women who had never played the game.

The North Shore Thirty Something Women’s Soccer League launched in 1992 with two teams and finished the season with six. Today there are 18 teams in the league, including Barb and Jean’s team, the Waves. They play midfield in the over 45 division, spelling each other off during their games.

Off the field, there’s always time for Barb’s family and friends, even those still in Salford, including the midwife who attended so frequently. She swims, cycles, walks and mows the lawn with a push mower.

After Jean hiked the Grouse Grind, Barb decided it was time she tackled the climb. The two friends have a “grind” planned for this week.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with my Sundays now,” said Barb. In the next breath, she is encouraging women to give soccer a try. Surely the years of experience gained on and off the soccer pitch by players like Barb, Jean and Linda would be useful in a league mentorship program for new members. Call it the Seventy Something Division. After all, as Barb says, “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders.”
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