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Decades on the pitch: The inspiring journey of soccer devotee, Jose Oreamuno

A lifetime of dedication discussed in this Q&A with the award-winning volunteer.

The beautiful game has given Squamish's Jose Oreamuno a beautiful life.

But fútbol, as soccer is known in Oreamuno's native Chile, was not part of his early life, surprisingly. 

Yet when The Squamish Chief sat down recently with Oreamuno, at our office on Second Avenue, he brought a photo album and file folder that overflowed with photos and newspaper clippings of a life well lived on the pitch. In his more than four decades of volunteering with soccer, he has coached players of all ages. He is also a long-time referee and mentor to other coaches and referees.

In other words, if you have ever been involved in soccer in Squamish—or beyond—chances are you have crossed paths with a smiling Oreamuno.

The now 71-year-old father of four and grandpa to seven grandchildren chatted about his life, his love of soccer, what he is looking forward to and more.

What follows is a version of that conversation edited for length and clarity. 

Question: When you were a little boy in Chile, did you play soccer? 

Answer: You're not going to believe it, but when I go back to Chile and say that I'm a referee and a soccer fan and everything, my friends there say, "I can't believe it. You used to hate soccer!" 

Soccer was a very aggressive, violent sport back then. So, I used to just stay away from it. I was more into politics.

I played volleyball and other sports but not soccer.

When I got older, I played on the team of the company I worked for.

And then I came here, and everything changed. A switch came on.

I wanted to coach my kids. So, I started by coaching little kids—my son was on the same team.

When and why did you come to Squamish? 

It was Dec. 24, 1978 when I arrived. And I had to leave my family behind in Chile. We had three boys at the time and my wife was pregnant with our fourth son.

I came to Squamish because my sister sponsored me; she was living here in Squamish. I never left after that. I've been in love with this town since. 

I came for economic reasons, looking for a better life for my family. 

My wife and kids came about nine months later.

That must have been hard?

I have to tell you that I've been so lucky because I met the right people. I made the right friends; friends who taught me about the outdoors, friends who taught me about cycling. Bobby Mahnger introduced me to refereeing 25 years ago.

We have suffered some. My son, Cristian, was killed in a car accident in 2015. It was sad. He was on his way to work in Whistler. He was a really good soccer player.

I am so sorry about your loss. The local soccer teams wore black armbands in honour of your son after that, right? 

I am so grateful to Squamish Youth Soccer. They honoured my son for a couple of weeks, wearing black armbands and doing a moment of silence. That was very emotional.

That first Soccerfest that we had after the accident, the Vancouver Chilean team came and they all wore a picture of Cristian. So that tells you about the friends here. Oh, my goodness. It is so lucky to have all these people who support you through tough times.

What was Squamish like when you came in 1978? 

It was so different. Everybody knew each other. We used to go cycling and come back to a coffee shop and I'm telling you, 99% of the people in the coffee shop, I knew. Now you go to a coffee shop, and you don't know anybody except for one person.

It was a small town; the prices for houses and everything were different.

We used to have so much industry. We used to have BC Rail and Woodfibre. We used to see 10 or 15 logging trucks coming from wherever on our roads. 

There would be trains going by all the time. 

One day, I waited at the crossing there and I counted rail cars; it was about 115 cars and I bet you that maybe 70 of them had lumber on them. But we can’t stop progress, I guess. The community is growing.

You were a mechanic in your career, correct? 

Yes, I started working for BC Rail, then I found a job with Seaspan in North Vancouver. The best job ever. I am so grateful. It was a big family.  

I worked there for 30 years. I retired in 2017. I am telling you, they are really good people. The glue there was because of the people. If one guy suffers, everybody cares for each other.

You commuted all those years? 

Yes, I'm going to tell you something that you're not going to believe. When I started at Seaspan, in the beginning, I used to travel by myself and I used to pass maybe one or two cars from here to Horseshoe Bay. My major concern was to break down on the highway because who was going to stop? There was nobody on the roads. It was empty.

Later, there were other locals going down at the same time, so we bought and insured a van to go back and forth, and we took turns driving. We did that for about 15 years together.

You have been involved with soccer in Squamish for decades and continue to be. You still love it? 

Oh, I still love it. At the end of my career in soccer, the thing I am doing is mentoring young kids to be referees. Right now, we—there's about three of us— have a pool of about 10 young referees. Every weekend, we go and watch their games, and we support them.

Mentoring is awesome. These 10 people could be the future of refereeing in Squamish. We have a couple of female referees and they are so good. We don't have female referees at the senior level and I am looking forward to having them move into those positions in the future.

A big question, but what has soccer given you? 

A lot of good things. For example, when I go to the field, and a mother comes to me and says, "Thank you for all that you do." What is better than that? 

I get recognition from the people—like from every president who has been with youth soccer. Beautiful people.

One of the things I always say is that Canada accepted me here. How can I pay it back? I think I have done it.

I think that we have such a good pool of volunteer coaches. They are teaching and mentoring young people, being there every weekend. I know it's a sacrifice. But you know, in the end, I think that it will bring something to them too. 

Soccer, or doing any volunteering, will give you a lot of things in your life. We cannot have soccer without volunteers. We cannot have any event without volunteers. 

What are you most looking forward to?

I am looking forward to having a second artificial turf field. We built the first field. When we first built it, people weren't sure about it. Now, it is so popular. It is so crazy. You cannot get time on it unless it is late at night. Everything else is booked. We need a second turf field; it is so important. You're going to see the increase in use, and not just for soccer. 

You've mentored so many young people. What is some life advice for young Squamish?

I'm just talking about refereeing—being a good soccer player is good, but being a referee is going to bring you so much. 

It's stressful, but you need to learn how to deal with it on the field. I always tell them to smile a lot. A smile will make negative people say, "How come that guy's smiling?"

I'm telling you, if you referee, it will be such a good part of your life. And it will teach you how to deal with different situations. It teaches you to calm down. You cannot get angry. You cannot swear. The other guy can swear, but that goes on the book. It doesn't matter. But you cannot swear. So, you have to control yourself. 

I have been in some tough situations as a referee, but that is only about 5% of the time; 99% of the games are going to be awesome. They're going to be good. You are the one who decides to be fair. Another thing about it, refereeing keeps you in shape.

Recently, you received the Bill Manson Citizen Award at the Squamish Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards. How did that feel? 

It was awesome. I can't believe it. I still don't know who nominated me. I also volunteer for the District so maybe someone there? 

I drive seniors to different events for the District, too. 

I just want to say thanks to whoever nominated me, and thank you for all the support that I get from Squamish and Youth Soccer and the District. I just want to let them all know that what I do is something that comes from the heart. I love it.


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