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Over the Pond: Coaching Soccer in Canada

Football Careers Head of Web Content, Iain King, moved to Canada in 2017 with a UEFA A Licence and two Scottish Lowland League trophies as a Head Coach as his key currency. Iain has gone on to forge an exciting new life and career in his adopted homeland. He is now a permanent resident of Canada who has prospered in various roles in Toronto, Halifax, and the beautiful island of Cape Breton.

This is his story, told in the first instalment of our Over the Pond blog series.

By Iain King

Six years ago, I walked up a snow-covered Toronto avenue with a head full of dreams and a stomach full of nerves.

My 50th birthday was looming and I had taken the plunge to emigrate to Canada and throw myself into my new post as Technical Coach with North Toronto Nitros. It was a huge step.

Looking back now, I feel my success in landing a full-time football role in Canada was a mixture of planning, education and luck.

The seeds of planning my Canadian adventure were planted the day after I was sacked as Chief Executive Officer of Scottish League One club Airdrieonians. After a successful career in sports journalism, this was the first time I had been told by an employer that I had failed. It hurt deeply.

I was reeling. Mentally, I was in a dark place: my confidence was battered and I was worried sick about my future. I needed a fresh start. On long walks with my faithful Cocker Spaniel, Crunchie, I started to get my head straight. What next?

Iain King and Mark Hateley during 2015's Scottish League Cup draw
Iain King and Mark Hateley during 2015's Scottish League Cup draw. Image: SNS / Ross Brownlee

Planning, education, and luck


In my days as a writer, I had been fortunate to travel the globe covering top sporting events. I sat down and thought of my five favourite destinations. Toronto was up there, and Canada was a country I’d grown to love on family vacations that kept beckoning. The research phase began.

Planning. I got my CV in order with Football Careers. It looked superb and the endeavour of getting it updated began to rebuild my shaken confidence. I’d achieved a lot, winning the SFA Challenge Cup back-to-back in the Scottish Lowland League with East Kilbride FC and BSC Glasgow when both clubs were in their rookie seasons in the professional ranks. I had my UEFA A Licence in my back pocket and a proven track record in youth coaching in club, provincial and national programs.

Slowly, from my lowest point, I began to believe I could be an asset to a club in North America if I could just get that break.

Education. Back in 1987 when I emerged from what is now Napier University in Edinburgh, my journalism qualification had been a Higher National Diploma. I decided to go back to complete the degree, lecturing in the morning at the University of the West of Scotland and studying as a mature student in the afternoons.

Now I had my degree, a level of education and commitment which I’d learned was prized by football employers in the USA and Canada. I was ready to start looking for the right role.

Luck. Yes, you make your own fortune. But in the second club interview I had I came off the Skype call shell-shocked, having been offered a full-time coaching job with North Toronto Nitros. The rest is my history.

Iain's last game at North Toronto Nitros saw '06 OPDL Girls midfielder Emma Inciarte score a last-minute equaliser.
Iain's last game at North Toronto Nitros saw '06 OPDL Girls midfielder Emma Inciarte score a last-minute equaliser.

Adjusting to a new life in Canada

In those first months in Toronto, with my wife Lorna and son Bruce still back home as we waited to see if this was the right move, there were sacrifices.

I celebrated my 50th birthday alone with a glass of wine and a pizza in my basement apartment in Roncesvalle after doing a double session on the field. For a spell, I sofa-surfed with my daughter Caitlin (who had moved to Toronto in 2013) and we learned to live and laugh together.

I missed Lorna and Bruce but stayed focused on adapting and improving as a coach at Nitros, where I grew to love the culture and the club. For three and a half happy years after Lorna moved out to join me — with the COVID-19 pandemic the only real blight — I learned and prospered through job promotions and reached the stage where I itched to run an organisation in my own right again.

I’d come to Canada on a three-year work permit, had a one-year bridging visa and then – after one false start – we had both been awarded our permanent residency. My mistake was trying to go through that intricate PR process on my own. I made a small error on the application, which saw us booted down the queue again and caused untold stress. I bit the bullet and hired a lawyer to help. It ate into the savings again: but it was worth every cent.

By then, my confidence on the field was repaired and I had a quiet feeling of renewed self-worth. I committed 100 percent to the Canada Soccer pathway and have now earned a Technical Director’s Diploma, a Youth Licence and a Children’s Licence.

Too often I hear UEFA-qualified coaches insist they shouldn’t need to go on courses in the USA or Canada. That arrogance is a big blunder in my eyes. For all the strengths “soccer” in North America has, it is still a developing sport and imported coaches have a duty to not only take part in the coach education here but to try to enhance it.

I have made many friends and met many superb educators through bettering myself here. I treasure my UEFA A Licence, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of who I am now.

Iain joins in the celebrations as the Cape Breton University Men's Program lift their sixth successive Atlantic Canada USports Championship this summer.
Iain joins in the celebrations as the Cape Breton University Men's Program lift their sixth successive Atlantic Canada USports Championship this summer.

Advice for football coaches aspiring to move to Canada

If I had key advice off the field for coaches aspiring to move here it would be:

  • Have a savings nest egg
  • Understand the visa situation
  • Plot your course carefully
  • Get your football CV in order to help you stand out
  • Research the area where you want to work and the opportunities that could arise there
  • Build yourself into a coaching commodity before you come
  • Get educated both academically and in football terms — this is a competitive marketplace


With these principles, I was able to move from Toronto to United DFC in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, first as Technical Director then as Director of Soccer. My work there led me to meet the President of Soccer Cape Breton and hear his captivating vision for rejuvenating the game on the island. I was sold from our first meeting.

Six years on from that nervous walk up Eglinton Avenue in Toronto to my first meeting at North Toronto Nitros, I’m writing this in our little bungalow four minutes from the beach in postcard-perfect Louisbourg. I’m nine months into a five-year contract as Regional Director of Development for Soccer Cape Breton and I love it.

Alongside my work with young players and developing coaches, I am an Assistant Coach with the powerhouse Cape Breton University Men’s program and I had the privilege of being a part of their sixth successive Atlantic Canada title last season.

We’ve overcome the obstacles of long-distance relationships as a family with some treasured vacations together and as a person and a coach, I have flourished. There are tough times, trials, and tribulations in coaching over the pond but when I have to face them, I think back to how low I felt after getting the axe at Airdrie.

I made the right move.

Follow Iain on Twitter | Connect with Iain on LinkedIn

Over the Pond is a blog series that explores the experiences of football professionals working abroad. Sign up for our free newsletter to be notified of new blog posts, career advice, and client news from Football Careers.

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