The Loss of Fishtown Soccer Legend, Pat Cain

Pat Cain at the 2017 We Care Soccer Camp. He raised approximately $5,000 each year from local businesses to put on the We Care Soccer Camp. | Photo by Melissa Komar

Playing soccer for Pat Cain wasn’t for the faint of heart. 

“He was a yeller,” said Mike Gallagher, athletic director at J.W. Hallahan Catholic Girls School, “He was loud is the best way to put it.”

During his soccer coaching career – which included coaching boys at West Catholic Preparatory High School from 1986 to 1991, boys again at Roman Catholic High School from 1992 to 2005, and girls at Hallahan from 2006 until last year – Cain built up a reputation for knowing how to get the most out of his players. Oftentimes, it involved pushing people’s buttons.

“He told you when you played good and told you when played bad,” said Billy Gorey, a Fishtown local who played for Cain at Roman from 1992 to 1995. “You could hear him from miles away. There was no sugarcoating it.”

Gorey told the story of Roman’s miserable loss to Northeast High School in 1993, a year in which the team went to the Catholic League championship. Northeast was a far inferior team.

“We were a much better team and we definitely suffered the consequences for losing that one,” Gorey remembered.

According to Gorey, the game was the week prior to Labor Day. After Roman suffered the bad loss, Coach Cain had all his players cancel their Labor Day plans.

Instead, “he made us practice all weekend for losing,” Gorey remembered.

Gorey and others continue to mourn Cain, who died last month of a heart attack. He was 71.

The late coach is being remembered for, among other things, his nonsensical colloquialisms. 

“The famous one was, ‘You let the cat out of the back door, you better not let it in the front door,’ ” Gorey recalled. “Half the s–t didn’t make sense, but it made sense to him.”

When kids in training camp didn’t put in the work, he’d say, “You think it’s all fun and games, but you’re going to be laughing when the fudgy wudgy man on the beach is getting all the girls ‘cause you’re all out of shape,” according to Gorey.

Pat Cain at the 2017 We Care Soccer Camp. He raised approximately $5,000 each year from local businesses to put on the We Care Soccer Camp. | Photo by Melissa Komar

But there was a reason for Cain’s intensity. He wasn’t merely going on power trips; his players knew that his tough-love style came from a place of devotion. He cared about his players immensely.

“He’d say, ‘If I stop yelling at you, that means that I gave up on you because you gave up on me,’ ” recalls John “Fonzie” Sullivan, a longtime friend of Cain who was also active in the Philadelphia soccer community as a coach.

Oftentimes, his players didn’t realize there was more of a soft side to Cain than he led on. When Sullivan fell on hard times and was forced out of his home, Cain welcomed Sullivan, who was like family to him, into his home with open arms.

“He would drop sports in a heartbeat for his family,” said Sullivan, who ended up living with Cain for more than a year and a half.

Speaking of family, Cain’s daughter, Mary Cain Davis, spoke for Cain’s blood-related family.

According to Davis, she was the youngest of Cain’s three children, born in 1977. Her older brother Ryan was born in 1976 and her oldest brother is Pat Jr., born in 1971. She said her dad’s father died at a young age, and as a result, Cain was mostly raised by his grandparents. 

“Me and my brothers were his first priority,” said Davis. “It took a long time for me to realize I had to share him with a bunch of other people because he loved children. It’s just hard to explain him because there’s just so much more about him than coaching.”

In 1994, Cain started the We Care Soccer Camp, which happened annually every summer of every year since. The idea for the event was to have a completely free summer camp for kids to practice soccer in the area. Cain raised money every year for We Care by soliciting donations from local businesses.

“He raised every single dime in those 25 years,” Davis said. “He went around to local businesses and got them to donate money.”

In addition to free breakfast and lunch, every kid who attended the camp received a free T-shirt and soccer ball. About $5,000 was raised each year for the camp, according to Davis.

Before Cain passed away, Davis and her mother convinced Cain to make this year’s camp the last. They could tell the camp took a lot out of him, but they knew he’d never stop on his own.

“The last two years of his life, he did slow down,” said Davis.

As he got older, his coaching style changed. He calmed down and wasn’t quite the “yeller” he’d been in the past.

“The screaming wasn’t as intense unless there was something out on the field he didn’t like,” Davis said. 

Cain had a successful run at Hallahan and is largely responsible for turning the school’s girls soccer program around (Hallahan’s soccer program was “not successful” prior to Cain’s tenure, according to Gallagher. In fact, the school didn’t win its first playoff game until after Cain’s hiring).

Perhaps his most successful years were with Roman. In 1997, Roman won the Catholic League championship under his leadership. He’s the school’s all-time leader in both wins and winning percentage, among its coaches, with a 250-115-14 record. That’s a .687 winning percentage. But those are just two reasons why he was inducted into Roman’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.

According to the bio he was inducted with, Roman hadn’t made the playoffs for eight seasons prior to Cain’s tenure, but made the playoffs in 16 out of his 17 seasons. The team had a 48-game unbeaten streak in the Southern Division from 1993 to 1998, was the Southern Division champion from 1993 to 1997, advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 14 of Cain’s 17 seasons, had a winning record and won at least 10 games in every year but one, and set a school record for most wins in a season (22) and fewest losses in a season (2) in 1997. 

“I never saw someone that was so dedicated to the kids through a sport,” said John Pensabene, who served both as soccer moderator and assistant athletic director at Roman during Cain’s tenure there. “He’s hard to describe. He just knew how to reach the kids and get the best out of them. It was very impressive to watch.”

Because more people knew Pat Cain the Soccer Coach than Pat Cain the Man, his success on the soccer field is no secret among Fishtowners. The Pat Cain many people don’t know is the man who was an impassioned supporter of people in need. 

“He would always be giving stuff to homeless people,” said Gorey. “When someone asked him for money, he’d say its God’s way of testing him.”

According to Davis, strange people would often knock on the door of their Fishtown home looking for food.

“And he’d feed them,” she said. “It’s something that we grew up with.”

Another little-known fact about Cain was his short-lived corner store at Crease and Thompson called Cain’s Corner. The store, which doubled as a deli and a candy store, was opened by Cain in 1994. It closed down in 1997 because “he’d just give things away to people who didn’t have money,” Davis said. “He would have a notepad where he’d write down the stuff they took, and I don’t even know if they paid him back.”

Sullivan described Cain as “someone who gives and doesn’t take credit.”

“There’s so much about the guy,” Sullivan said. “When I think of Fishtown, I think of him.”

In addition to his three children, Pat leaves behind his wife, Dorothy, and three grandchildren, all of whom are Pat Jr.’s kids. Their names are Ava, 15; Audrey, 14; and Paddy 10.