Canada’s most dominant women’s soccer pioneer finally received her due when she was recently inducted into the Soccer Hall of Fame.
An original member of the national women’s program which was launched in 1986, Charmaine Hooper joined her older sibling Lyndon as the first brother and sister combination to go into the sport’s ultimate pantheon. Lyndon, who went in as an individual last year, was inducted again as part of the 1989 Francophone Games side which entered the Hall as the Team of Distinction.
Hooper, who resides in Texas with her husband, Chuck Codd and their daughter Charlie, was the first national player to be capped 100 times. She achieved the milestone in 2003 in a friendly international against Mexico in Vancouver.
“I am not one to get really excited by awards, but going into the Hall is a great honour and privilege,” she said.
Overall, Hooper turned out for Canada 129 times and scored 71 goals – both national records at the time – in a sterling 20-year career that ended in 2006. She represented Canada at three World Cups, including the 2003 tournament when the national side achieved its first ever win in the global tournament and advanced to the semi-finals.
Hooper said Canada’s 1-0 win over China in the quarter-finals stands out as the highlight of her career. She scored the game’s only goal in the eighth minute.
“I was playing defence and I came forward for the free kick and headed it home,” she recalled. “We hung on for the historic victory.”
One of the game’s outspoken and dedicated players, Hooper refused to play under coach Neil Turnbull, blaming him for what she perceived to be Canada’s inept preparation for the 1999 World Cup finals. She paid the price for her candidness by losing her Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) funding.
The hiring of new coach Even Pellerud rejuvenated Hooper and sparked interest in the women’s game in Canada. The relationship however soured when Hooper and veteran players Sharon Nonen and Christine Latham were suspended from the national team after failing to attend an exhibition series against China in August 2006 following a dispute with the CSA over the residency camp.
An arbitrator later ruled against the three players and upheld Pellerud’s decision to suspend them. The players were opposed to the coach’s plan for national team members to live and train in Vancouver. When they missed their deadline to agree to the move, he suspended them and cut them off from the $1600 monthly stipend for national team players funded by then Vancouver Whitecaps owner Bob Kerfoot.
Hooper, who a decade ago was suspended a game and fined $250 by the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) for wearing a T-shirt featuring the logo of a competitor of one of the league’s sponsors, never played for Canada again.
“The way my career ended with the national program has to be the lowest point of my career,” she said. “The situation was handled badly by the coach and it ended my career and those of Christine and Sharon who were blackballed because they supported me. They were brave enough to stand up when other team members failed to do so. Had I not been so vocal and strong enough to speak up for what the team deserved, we would not have been where we were.”
Hooper said she does not hold any grudges against the CSA.
“I have moved on,” she said. “I have great things in my life to look forward to. That’s in the past. I have always been outspoken and that will not change. I definitely think I had a lot more to offer to the program and I was denied that chance.”
She said she is open to proposals to contribute to Canadian soccer.
“I think I will relish doing that because I love the sport and I enjoy working with young people,” she said.”
Hooper started playing the sport in Zambia when her father was posted there as a Guyanese diplomat for two years before the family moved to Ottawa in 1978.
“Whoever wanted to play the sport in school in Zambia did so,” said Hooper who teaches and dabbles in real estate. “It didn’t matter which sex you were. Whatever Lyndon did, I did. When we came to Canada, I saw girls playing here and I was surprised. I was around 11 years old and that was when I started to play organized soccer.”
A 1991 North Carolina State University graduate where she is the all-time leading scorer with 58 goals and 145 points and a three-time Most Valuable Player, Hooper played professionally in Norway, Italy and Japan from 1994-1997 before returning to the United States to dominate the WUSA league with the Chicago Cobras and the Atlanta Beat with whom she was a three-time MVP. She was the first – and along with University of North Carolina’s Mia Hamm – the only players to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in scoring. Hooper recorded 15 goals in 1988 and 26 the following year.
Hooper has been rewarded for her excellence with many accolades. She was an honorary ambassador for the first ever International Soccer Federation (FIFA) Under-19 World Cup in western Canada in 2002, a two-time Golden Boot winner as the top goal scorer in Japan, the H.C. Kennett Award winner in 1991 for being North Carolina State University’s Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year and the MVP of the 1999 World All-Star classic.
Last April, Hooper – Canada’s Female Player of the Year in 1994, 1995 and 2002 – was appointed to the FIFA Task Force 2014. She will be inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame on October 18 in Calgary.
By RON FANFAIR