Randy Samuel says he doesn’t remember much about the moment he helped send Team Canada to soccer’s World Cup for the first time, only that he felt “in the zone” at King George V Park.
In 1985, on a mild September day in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada needed at least a tie against Honduras to advance to the big 1986 tournament, and the Central Americans needed a win.
An aggressive, hard-tackling defender, Samuel saw the play develop in his mind before it actually happened.
“The ball got played through and I sprinted back, cleared the ball off the line, it went off the crossbar and out,” recalled Samuel. “It would have made it one-nothing for them and changed the momentum of the game, had it gone in.”
Some in the soccer world credit Samuel’s play as a key moment in the game, but the humble Surrey resident isn’t entirely convinced.
“We scored two goals after that, to win, but yes, I did make a good play,” Samuel allowed.
This is @CanadaSoccerEN legend Randy Samuel coaching kids in #SurreyBC.
In a rare interview, Samuel talks about his '86 #WorldCup glory days, Canada’s current team ("so many similarities") and Lobbans #soccer team he coaches in Newton. @riobobbo
STORY: https://t.co/X2uv8wlr1Y pic.twitter.com/lhitUmneLj
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) October 27, 2022
With Canada set to return to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years in November, Samuel agreed to a rare interview about his days with the national team, his pro career that followed and current job as coach of the Newton-based Lobbans FC men’s team.
“I live just up the hill, in Surrey for 30 years now,” Samuel said before a training session he runs for kids at local fields. “I like it here, it’s a nice area.”
As a kid, the Trinidad-born Samuel moved with his family to Saskatoon and then Richmond, where his soccer career began to blossom. He was selected by Vancouver Whitecaps in the 1981 NASL draft and ultimately played pro from 1983 until 2001, for teams in North America, Netherlands, England and Norway.
Internationally, Samuel was a fixture for Team Canada, in four World Cup qualification runs and at the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, among other career highlights found in a bio on canadasoccer.com. He’s in the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame, and Samuel’s 82 international caps were a Canadian national team record up until 2010, when surpassed by Paul Stalteri.
“That’s too long, over 20 years of having that (record),” Samuel observed. “Those kind of records should be broken every four or five years, if a country is doing well internationally, and Canada didn’t do well for a long time. Fortunately things are changing.”
Back in 1986, the nation was excited about Canadian men playing in the World Cup, and that enthusiasm returned this year when the current team earned a berth in Qatar for opening-round games starting Nov. 23 against Belgium.
“For us, qualifying was like winning the World Cup, just getting there,” Samuel recalled. “So going there to Mexico there was no pressure because we’d gotten there, that was our objective.
“Now it’s a good memory, but at the time there’s just so much going on and you don’t understand what it means. I was just 20 at the time, so I was just focused on playing and doing my job. But when I look back, some of the best players in the world, because of the countries they were nationalized to, never got to play in the World Cup. So now I realize what we did, and I did. Going to the World Cup is the biggest thing you can do as an athlete, not just a soccer player. It’s the biggest world championship.”
Watching the current Canadian men’s team, Samuel likes what he sees.
“I can see our team (from 1986) reflected in them, but they have better athletes in the whole group now,” he assessed. “My question was if the chemistry of the team would work, and they’ve done a good job. It was very similar to us with (coach) Tony Waiters, who had an idea of what he wanted to do, and the players didn’t always agree because there was a lot of fitness involved. We were the fittest team, and could run for 90 minutes. The Honduran coach in that last game we played to get to the World Cup, he said later, in an interview, that he’s never seen a team that could run for 90 minutes, so Tony Waiters’ plan worked. He knew we needed to do things differently, and I think (current coach John) Herdman’s found that magic, too.
It was a “perfect storm” for the 1986 team, Samuel added, “and it is for this current team, the right mix at that time, and the same thing is happening with these guys now, with a mix of experienced players and young guys coming through, really good goalkeeping. There are so many similarities, it’s scary when I look at it.”
Speaking of fitness, Samuel is very much focused on that aspect of the game with his Lobbans FC squad, which plays home games at Newton Athletic Park. For team sponsorship he found like-minded partners in Alex and Carolyn Ovies, who operate Natural Focus, a health food and wellness store at Boundary Park Plaza.
“We didn’t know Randy, other than he was a customer and obviously an athlete of some kind,” Alex recalled. “He’s so humble, but then we found out about his soccer past, that was a fun day.
“We wanted to give back to the community in some way, and this was a way to plug in with someone like Randy,” Alex added. “What he’s doing has some energy and momentum, and anything we can do to help power that is what we want to do.”
Playing in Division 2 of the Vancouver Metro Soccer League (VMSL), Lobbans (lobbansfc.com) now sports the Natural Focus logo on the front of its kit, with additional sponsorship from On Guard Security and others to come.
Established way back in 1953, the team is coached by Samuel along with Pedro de Nobriga, Ivo Gottardo, Brian Hall and manager Dennis Cronin.
“The Lobbans team has some Scottish history locally, and it’s the oldest team in the league,” Samuel explained. “We have players who are 17 right up to age 30. We had a phenomenal season last year, and some energy now with sponsorships and are trying to build.”
When talking about the players, Samuel lights up with excitement.
“I would say 60 per cent of the team has been with us for eight years, and the reason they stay that long is because it’s a family,” he emphasized. “There are a lot of stories about life, not good stories, but they know that this team is a good place they can go to, someone to talk to when bad things happen. We have a strong core and the players know that, that I’m there for the players, and so are all the others involved, the coaches, everyone.
“That’s the biggest thing for me,” he continued, “that it’s not all about winning or scoring the goal in the game, it’s about that testimony from the players. Yes, it’s nice to win, of course, and the winning comes when you create that. But you have to get the right people on board, and that’s what we have with this team, and the energy is awesome.”