It was a new tournament played in challenging conditions, but the 1989 Francophone Games soccer competition turned out to be one of Lyndon Hooper’s most rewarding soccer moments.
He scored the first goal in Canada’s 4-1 upset win over favourites Morocco before a partisan crowd of nearly 55,000 in Casablanca.
Hooper and his teammates, including Jamaican-born Kevin Holness who also scored, were inducted as the Team of Distinction into the Soccer Hall of Fame last Saturday.
“It was a trying trip, but it remains one of my favourites,” said Hooper who was inducted as an individual last year. “I went there not knowing anything about the competition and as a team, I sensed we didn’t have much expectations of doing well as we had never played together.”
Canada bounced Burkina Faso 3-1 in its opening match and played to a scoreless tie with the Ivory Coast to finish on top of its group by goal difference and advance to the semi-finals against the Congo.
“I don’t think it was until we got to the semi-finals that we thought we could win and make it to the final,” said the midfielder who represented the national senior team 67 times. “Up until that point, several of our players were unwell because the water we were provided with gave us diarrhea.”
Canada defeated the Congo 2-1 in the semi-final to advance to the championship game against the home side.
“The locals kept telling us we were going to lose to their boys by a three nil margin, but in front of their King and over 50,000 screaming fans, we shocked not only the crowd but ourselves with a sterling performance,” said Hooper.
The former Toronto Lynx assistant coach said the other highlight of that trip was the camaraderie between the soccer players and the national track and field side.
“We stayed in the same compound with them and it was good to meet the athletes, some of whom had just competed in the 1988 Summer Olympics,” he said. “We socialized together and hung out by the pool.”
Hooper said he became close friends with educator and retired 400-metre runner, Anton Skerritt, who represented Trinidad & Tobago in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics and Canada in the Seoul Games four years later.
Canada won the soccer tournament again in 1997 in the Francophone Games held every four years.
BY RON FANFAIR