Williams Lake soccer talent Karl Russell recently competed in Azerbaijan for the CISM (Conseil International du Sport Militaire) World Football Trophy as a member of the Canadian Military Men’s National Soccer Team.
Russell is currently home in the lakecity this week on duty flying helicopter for the Air Force. He is a member of the 408 squadron which is conducting army support and tactical missions operating out of the Chilcotin range.
Sixteen teams took part in what was the first annual event with all games held in the capital city of Baku from July 2-14. Azerbaijan is part of the former Soviet Union and borders Turkey along the Caucasus Mountains region. Russell’s Canadian side competed in Pool A with the likes of Mali (Africa), Iraq and hosts Azerbaijan.
“Many of the countries competing have their military team consisting of many professional players under contract,” said Russell. “For instance, Iraq sends a team of all national players and Azerbaijan had professionals sign a two-week interim military contract just to play in the tournament because they were hosting.”
Despite losing all three of their games which included lopsided defeats of 7-0 to Iraq and 6-0 to Mali, the highlight of the team’s trip was holding Azerbaijan to just 2-0.
“The game against Azerbaijan had us playing in front of 3,000 people and it was nationally televised. It was easily the largest crowd I’ve ever played in front of and to only lose by two goals was a huge accomplishment for us,” said Russell.
Russell is employed as a helicopter pilot for the Canadian Forces Base in Edmonton, Alta. where he has been stationed the past three years.
He credits much of his soccer pedigree to his years spent as a member of the Williams Lake Lightning soccer team coached by Clark Glanville where he and older brother Bryden starred. The team had a long list of accomplishments and traveled extensively exposing the players to the highest level of soccer throughout the country.
Russell joined the military immediately after graduation and was stationed in Saint-Jean, Que. for his first year. He then moved on to the Royal Military College in Kingston where he earned a History Degree and captained the soccer team for four years.
After a one year stint in Trenton, Ontario he spent a year each at air force bases in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan and Portage La Prairie, Man., where he earned his wings as a pilot and became a captain in the Air Force in 2010. Once pilots earn their wings they owe the military seven years of service and Russell has four years left on his contract.
“The military has been great for me. I get to fly helicopters and play soccer for a living,” laughs Russell. “I’ve been involved with the military now for over 10 years now and there’s been a lot of ups and downs but I’ve had an amazing experience.”
Russell’s involvement with the military soccer team has taken him across the globe. He competed at a tournament in Suriname (South America) last year, the World Military Games in India in 2008, a tournament in Ireland and a camp in Germany prior to that as well as the Americas Cup in Victoria, B.C. back in 2005.
“It’s been absolutely awesome to represent Canada and the soccer has taken me to many incredible places and I’ve met some great people,” adds Russell.
The CISM motto is Friendship Through Sport and Russell and many of his Canadian teammates have made some lasting friendships with other players abroad.
“We often come across the same guys at these tournaments over and over such as the Germans, Americans and the Brazilians so there are a few guys I keep in touch with,” said Russell.
When Russell heads back to Edmonton next week he will try to help his club team, Scona Blues, win the Alberta provincial championships with a berth to the Bank of Montreal Club Nationals on the line.
Russell’s parents John and Maryann still reside in the lakecity with the three youngest of their seven children currently attending high school in town.