Three days before the national junior soccer squad departed for the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) Under-20 World Cup in the Soviet Union in 1985, Lyndon Hooper learned that he would not make the trip with his teammates because he did not obtain his Canadian citizenship in time.
“I was devastated and I cried like a baby,” recalled Hooper who was a landed immigrant then, having arrived in Canada from Zambia nine years earlier. “I had come through the national ranks from the Under-16 level and was really looking forward to playing in a World Cup. Not having that opportunity then was a major disappointment.”
The tears and disappointment of 26 years ago were substituted with joy and pride last Saturday as the former midfielder was inducted into Canada’s Soccer Hall of Fame.
“Being put into a Hall of Fame is the pinnacle of a professional athlete’s career,” said Hooper who made 67 appearances for the senior national side in an 11-year career that ended in 1997. “When you look at the calibre of players that are in the Hall, for me to be joining them is quite an honour.”
For someone who did not start playing the game seriously until he was in his teens, Hooper’s meteoric rise is quite an accomplishment.
He spent the first eight years in Guyana playing cricket and listening on his transistor radio to the West Indies team play at home and overseas before the family moved to Zambia where his father, who was a diplomat, was posted by the Guyana government.
“Soccer is very popular in Africa and I played in the backyard with my sister (Charmaine) and father (Ivan),” Hooper said.
The family spent three years in the landlocked Southern Africa country before relocating to Ottawa.
“When I came here, I did not think that soccer was a career that I was going to pursue,” he said. “In fact, I did not play the game in my first year in Canada. It was not until some friends encouraged me to pick up the sport did I really give it a shot. When I was about 15 years old, I got my first big break when I was invited to a provincial team tryout in Kingston and I guess the coach liked what he saw of me.”
Hooper, who turned 45 last Monday, began his professional career in 1987 with the Ottawa Pioneers of the Canadian Soccer League while representing Wilfrid Laurier University from 1986 to 1990. He also played for the Montreal Supra and Toronto Blizzard and spent a season with English club Birmingham City before returning to North America to play indoors for a season with the Cincinnati Silverbacks and outdoors with the Montreal Impact for three years.
He spent the 1999 season with the Hampton Road Mariners of the United Soccer League before ending his pro career with the Toronto Lynx in 2005 as a player. He was also an assistant coach with the Lynx for one season.
At the national senior level, Hooper scored three goals and appeared in 18 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches and the inaugural 1989 FIFA Futsal World Championship in The Netherlands.
He singled out the goal he scored in the 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Australia in Sydney in August 1993 as one of the highlights of his career.
“Playing at the Aztec stadium in Mexico before crowds of about 130,000 was also always a high point for me,” said Hooper, the cousin of former West Indies cricket captain Carl Hooper who is the batting coach at the Sagicor High Performance Centre in Barbados.
Hours before the induction ceremony, Hooper and the rest of the inductees were introduced to fans prior to the start of the Toronto FC/Philadelphia Union Major League Soccer (MLS) game at BMO Field.
“I am so proud of how far my son has come,” said Ivan Hooper who attended the game with his nine-year-old grandson, Trey. “I saw how hard he worked and I loved watching him play and running around the field. This is due reward for his efforts.”
Hooper is the second Guyanese-born player to be inducted into Canada’s Soccer Hall of Fame. Striker Alex Bunbury, who turned out 64 times for the national senior side, was welcomed five years ago.
The father of two young children and an Ontario Soccer Association referee instructor is also the second member of his family to enter a soccer Hall of Fame. Sister Charmaine, who teaches and dabbles in real estate in Texas where she lives with husband Chuck Codd and their daughter Charlie, was introduced into the United Soccer League Hall of Fame in 2002.