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HomeFeatures'I like giving back': How Mohawk's soccer coach John Gibson lifted others

‘I like giving back’: How Mohawk’s soccer coach John Gibson lifted others

For Mohawk Mountaineers men’s soccer coach John Gibson, his involvement with the sport has always been about supporting others. 

Gibson was born in Scotland but spent his childhood in Hamilton, living on the Beach Strip before later moving to Central Mountain. From an early age, soccer has been a part of his life. When he was 8, Gibson joined the soccer team Linden Park Church. 

“At that time, in the 60s, there was only one team in the area, and it was all ages,” Gibson said. “I think we went from [ages] 8 to maybe 12 or 14.” 

Linden Park Church was one of the first teams in the Mount Hamilton Soccer Club, the largest soccer club in Hamilton. Gibson later played for British Imperial and Dundas United, going on to coach the latter. He said that throughout his career as a player and a coach, he had a strong ability to read each game and adapt to it. 

Gibson originally enrolled as a full-time student at Mohawk College but decided to do night school after starting a full-time job at Stelco in 1974. 

“At that point, when you got a full-time job on salary, you took it because [usually] university graduates were getting full-time jobs on salary,” Gibson said. 

While at Stelco, Gibson coached professionally in the Canadian Soccer League. He coached both the Kitchener Spirit and the Hamilton Steelers. While coaching professionally remains one of Gibson’s proudest achievements, there were parts of the job that he did not enjoy.  

“Coaching professionally is about life or death,” Gibson said. “You win, you stay, and you’ve got a job. You lose, you’re out of a job.” 

For Gibson, one of the goals of coaching is to help develop each player into not just a better athlete, but a better person. For him, the focus on winning took away from that. 

“Making the young players into better human beings was more important to me than me keeping my job,” Gibson said. 

Gibson found his way back to Mohawk College after his long-time friend John McDonald asked him if he would want to coach the men’s soccer team. 

“When he was stepping down from the position, he called me, and I had just finished coaching professionally, and he asked me if I would be interested in in the Mohawk job,” Gibson said. 

Gibson went on to coach the college’s men’s soccer team from 1992-2001. 

“Mohawk was a lot of fun,” Gibson said. “Couldn’t wait to get there, didn’t want to go home.” 

He described himself as being a “players coach,” always willing to socialize with his players while still asking for respect from them. He stayed true to his goal to make each player the best version of themselves, with former player Jerry Cipriani saying that Gibson helped each player grow. 

“John was well respected for his knowledge of the game and, more importantly, had a great talent for understanding the different personalities of the players,” Cipriani said. “This allowed him to get the most out of each and every player on the team.” 

Gibson also stressed the importance of doing well in school, telling his players they couldn’t play if they didn’t pass their classes. He always made sure that there was a tutor with the team on the bus rides to and from games. 

In 2017, John Gibson was inducted into the Mohawk Mountaineers Hall of Fame. Gibson said that this was especially meaningful to him, as many coaches are measured and judged for induction by the number of championships they won.

An older man in a grey suit smiles and holds a glass trophy
Along with being inducted for his coaching abilities, Gibson was also credited for his team winning the OCAA Central West Championship in 1992.

“I got measured by what I contributed to the school and what I contributed to the team,” Gibson said. 

Gibson’s career post-Mohawk has been quite extensive. He created the Hamilton Soccer Hall of Fame, the first city-specific soccer hall of fame in Canada. Gibson has also worked for Fieldturf, one of the largest manufacturers of artificial turf internationally, and was on the legacy committee for the Pan American Games. 

It was through his involvement with the Pan American Games that he met Bernie Morelli. The two worked together to create the ArcelorMittal Grassroots Soccer program, a free soccer program for children in Hamilton who live at or below the poverty line. Each season sees 500 kids attend, with each one receiving a free soccer ball, jersey and other swag. 

“The thought I had was that you see kids go to school wearing their Mount Hamilton shirt, which is a registered club, or they’re wearing their Hamilton Spartas shirt, or they’re wearing other clubs’ shirts,” Gibson said. “And these kids now were able to do the same thing. They’re able to go to school and wear their soccer shirt.” 

Gibson is currently director of interprovincial affairs with the Canadian Premier League, as well as the interim general manager of League1 Canada. Though Gibson has said that retirement may be on the horizon, he isn’t done with soccer. 

“I do want to continue to be part of the game,” Gibson said. “I do want to continue being part of the development of the game. I like giving back.” 

 

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