At least one good thing came out of the massive flood that hit Calgary in 2013 – it sparked the creation of Airdrie’s very own semi-professional football team.
The Airdrie Irish Football Club is now in its second season in the Alberta Football League (AFL). Team president Matt Squires was playing with the AFL’s Calgary Wolfpack when the June 2013 flood hit.
“There was some damage to Shouldice Field – the stadium had heaved,” Squires recalls. “We had a playoff game coming up between us and the Calgary Gators and we were without a field.”
A friend of Squires’ suggested the game be played in Airdrie at what is now Ed Eggerer Athletic Park, behind Genesis Place. “We had the playoff game there and besides it being a good facility, it was the amount of fans … a lot more fans than we expected came out,” Squires says.
The next season, the idea was hatched to expand the AFL and add an Airdrie team. “I did my due diligence and, corporately, Airdrie has the highest corporate growth of almost any other city in Canada, so I thought it would be really good from a sponsorship opportunity,” says Squires, who is also AFL president. “We wanted to bring a team to Airdrie and have some really good football in the city.”
The appeal of semi-pro football is the excitement of having seasoned veterans with university and even Canadian Football League experience playing alongside athletes fresh out of school.
We want our guys to get involved in the community and take pride that we have Airdrie on our logo and in our name … Airdrie is a great football community,” says head coach Sean Stewart, who played for almost 30 years.
“We’re not just there to play football. Being a newer franchise, we have to develop that foundation.”
For offensive line right guard Brent Scherschel, now in his first season with the Irish, the team offered him a chance to get back into the game after taking several years off to recover from a torn shoulder.
“It’s something we want to help build with the community,” says the former University of Calgary Dino who, when he isn’t playing in Airdrie, can be found coaching at the high school and midget level. “That’s the main reason I joined. I talked to Coach Stewart and said I want to be part of something – I had my opportunity to play high-level football and I just want to have fun. I’d love to mentor kids in Airdrie.”
Linebacker Gunnar Godhe, whose day job is communication consulting, came to the Irish after several years with the Calgary Wolfpack.
“We’ve had our challenges – there are a lot of new guys to the league – but I feel like I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit,” says Godhe, who is now in his 20th season playing football. “It’s an absolute love for the game. I’ve played all over Canada and the U.S. and played junior in university.”
Godhe says he hopes to be able to pass along his experience to a new generation of players. “I do coach high school in Calgary, and we’re looking to try and start an annual camp for kids in the Airdrie area – non-contact, and no experience required,” he says, adding there wasn’t enough lead time to get a camp going for 2016, but he hopes to see one next year.
Squires says he sees the Airdrie Irish as “kind of a family.” Indeed, the players’ wives, known as the Blarney Babes, come out to entertain the crowd and host events like a bake-sale fundraiser for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation that raised $500.
Above all, Squires says, “It’s really good, family-oriented football.”
For more information, visit airdrieirish.com
Where did the name Airdrie Irish come from?
Team president Matt Squires says the Irish background of himself and some of the other founding members inspired the moniker.
“If you think about Irish football, you think Notre Dame and Notre Dame’s core beliefs are foundation, family and structure,” he says. “We wanted to start with a sound football organization that has really good beliefs, is really good in the community … not flash and dance and guys who get into trouble and do stupid things.
“I want my guys helping out with charities, helping out in the community coaching – that’s what the Irish is about.”