Monday, June 24, 2024

Nepean Hotspurs’ Lyndon Hooper returns home for ‘full-circle’ Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame induction

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By Dan Plouffe

For Lyndon Hooper, being inducted into the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame on Tuesday night was the latest in a series of several full-circle moments he’s experienced recently.

A rock of two decades at midfield for the Canadian men’s soccer team, Hooper was officially welcomed into the Hall at Lansdowne Park’s Horticulture Building in the shadow of the stadium now called TD Place, where he donned the maple leaf on occasion, and a few longer goal kicks away from his roots at Mooney’s Bay and the Nepean Hotspurs’ home fields.

Hooper was honoured alongside Dr. Mark Aubry (Builder – Medical), Mike Bullard (Athlete – Hockey), James Duthie (Builder – Media), Lyndon Hooper (Athlete – Soccer), Luke Richardson (Athlete – Hockey), the 1999 Memorial Cup-champion Ottawa 67’s and the 1974 Little Grey Cup-champion Ottawa Sooners.

Read More: HIGH ACHIEVERS: Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame welcomes 3 players, 1 doctor, 1 media member, 2 teams

“It was a little bit of a surprise. It’s nice, especially getting the honour from your hometown,” says Hooper, whose off-field career with Ontario Soccer has now matched the length of his playing career.

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“It also means I’m getting old,” cracks the 58-year-old.

Hooper often comes back to Ottawa from Toronto, where the provincial association is based, to visit his parents, who are now age 85 and 87.

He was proud to have them with him at the induction ceremony, and thanked them for their sacrifices when they made the decision to stay in Ottawa following a five-year diplomatic posting in Canada’s capital.

Hooper was born in Guyana, where cricket became his first sporting love. While his father was posted in Zambia, he discovered soccer, playing at every lunch and recess. He finally joined organized soccer at age 12 with the Nepean Hotspurs, where he says he was fortunate to have many good coaches early on.

He caught his big break when the provincial team was playing a match against a Kingston club, which didn’t have enough players, so they called the Hotspurs to see if they had anyone to loan to them.

Hooper impressed the Team Ontario brass, and that later led him to his first appearance with the Canadian under-19 men’s team in 1985, followed by an All-Canadian university career with the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.

Nepean Hotspurs product Lyndon Hooper matches up with past Ballon d’Or award winner Matthias Sammer in a Canadian men’s national soccer team friendly match with Germany in Toronto. Photo: Canada Soccer

The steady midfielder went on to play 67 international matches for the Canadian senior men’s team between 1986 and 2005 – still among the top-10 all-time.

He played in three cycles of FIFA World Cup qualifiers and came within a goal of qualifying for the 1994 edition. That was of course heartbreaking, but Canada wound up playing several of the world’s best teams in the lead-up to the World Cup, including a 1-1 draw with Brazil, who went on to win the World Cup six weeks later.

“It’s nice playing against some of the top players in the world,” underlines Hooper, who also played for Canada at the inaugural FIFA Futsal World Cup and was a 1989 Jeux de la Francophonie champion. “That was special. And so was traveling to different parts of the world.”

Lyndon Hooper. Photo: Canada Soccer

Hooper was part of the “honour guard” of past players that was present for the game where the Canadian men clinched their berth for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“It felt like it had come full-circle,” indicates the J.S. Woodsworth Secondary School grad. “From ’86, all the qualifying cycles leading up to the ’22 World Cup finally had been fulfilled.”

Hooper says that COVID restrictions may have helped the team a little early on in qualifying, making their road games in Central America less intimidating without full stadiums filled with 120,000 enemy fans.

“No question, the talent superseded what had been there before,” he adds. “And then you’re kind of hoping that it’s going to be a slow, upward rise from there, but that hasn’t been the case because of off the field stuff, that still hasn’t been sorted out yet.

“That part is disappointing, embarrassing really, but it looks like they’re trying to start and build something up.”

Another full-circle moment came with the return of professional soccer to Canada when the Canadian Premier League launched in 2019.

Lyndon Hooper with the Montreal Impact in 1995. Photo: Canada Soccer

Alongside stops in England and the U.S., Hooper played professionally in Canada for most of his career. He started with the National Capital Pioneers in 1987, and played for the Montreal Supra and Toronto Blizzard in the original Canadian Soccer League, then later with the Montreal Impact and Toronto Lynx in the USL A-League.

“The big thing that came out of the league was that you had players you never knew of before the league started,” Hooper recalls. “And then the league started and some of these players then went on to play for the national team or to play in Europe.”

Canadian pro soccer wasn’t lucrative for Hooper, but as a young, single person who was paying $200/month rent in Montreal, he could get by as a full-time athlete.

“It was a good standard,” highlights Hooper. “People ask me, today how would those teams stack up against the current CPL teams?

“The consensus I hear from us older guys is that the top teams in the old CSL would hold our own against today’s top teams.

“But as the coach of the Sooners says in his speech: sometimes as you get older, you get better in the stories.”

Lyndon Hooper was part of the Canadian 1989 Jeux de la Francophonie-champion team in Morocco. Photo: Canada Soccer

The day of the Ottawa Sport Hall banquet, it was announced that Ottawa would be part of the new Northern Super League women’s professional league.

“That’s good news,” Hooper states. “Hopefully they’ll get a good rivalry going with Montreal and Toronto. It’s another steppingstone to get things going. I wish them the best.”

Hooper concluded his competitive playing career with a Canadian amateur club title playing for Scarborough in 2005.

“People ask me do I miss playing? And I say, no, not really, but I miss the camaraderie I had with teammates in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto,” he notes.

Lyndon Hooper played in front of crowds of 120,000 on the road with Team Canada. Photo: Canada Soccer

After retirement, Hooper went to “the dark side”, as some called it, and became a match official. He now works in coaching development with Ontario Soccer.

Seeing more players involved in the sport nowadays with stories like his – who have come to Canada from other parts of the world – represents another type of full-circle realization.

Lyndon Hooper at the 2024 Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame inductions. Photo: Dan Plouffe

“Definitely, there’s been growth on the player side,” signals Hooper, who was among the first few Black players to play for Team Canada. “Part of that, I think is the population dynamics are kind of changing, because a lot of foreigners are coming in from countries where soccer is in their background.”

He sees several areas where the circle hasn’t yet been completed, however. Some “very talented” players sometimes play only with their own ethnic communities, and some play outside of the club system, he explains, leaving room for better integration.

And there remains much work to be done on bringing greater representation of diverse individuals in managerial and administrative leadership positions, he emphasizes.

There was a final full-circle moment that came with Hooper’s induction into the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame – he’s joining his sister Charmaine as a member.

Charmaine and Lyndon Hooper in 1995. Photo: Canada Soccer

Charmaine was the first Canadian player to reach the 100-cap mark, scoring 71 goals for her country and earning a fourth-place finish at the 2003 World Cup.

She now lives in Waco, TX with her husband who previously coached Baylor University, and her daughter Charlie Codd recently debuted with the Canadian women’s U20 team following her first year at the University of Notre Dame.

Lyndon Hooper Park. Photo: Google

Charmaine was inducted into the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame in 2013, and she and Lyndon are both members of the Canadian Sports and Canada Soccer Halls as well. Lyndon recently had a local park named after him in the new Arcadia neighbourhood in Kanata, again following Charmaine, whose name has long been on the Hotspurs’ home pitches on Colonnade Road.

“I’m used to it. She’s been in a few places before me,” smiles Hooper. “I’ve got friends who prefer to call me Charmaine’s brother, and I’m cool with that.

“That happens when you score goals – you get the glory. I wasn’t really a goal-scorer, even though they showed one in the (induction) film. I was happy to see that.”

The 2024 Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame celebrations will be rebroadcast on Rogers TV at 9 p.m. on June 4.

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