Soccer has been Bruce Wilson’s ticket to national and international glory. But it started as a family affair.
The Centennial secondary grad learned the game along with his older brother because it was their dad’s first sporting love. Those first steps as a tyke eventually parlayed into an outstanding career in the old North American Soccer League where he was named to the league’s first all-star team in 1977, alongside some of the sport’s legendary names like Gordon Banks, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best and Pelé.
Besides playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps, Chicago Sting, New York Cosmos, and the Toronto Blizzard, Wilson made 57 international appearances for Canada and he was on the national team that reached the quarter-finals in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1986, Wilson captained Canada’s national team to its only appearance in the World Cup.
Already a member of the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian and U.S. soccer halls of fame, Wilson will be inducted into the sports hall of fame in the city where he spent his formative years and took those early kicks in Burnaby.
From Centennial, where he graduated in 1969, Wilson attended the University of British Columba while playing for the renowned Columbus men’s team in a super strong local men’s league. He earned his degree in education then attended a trial for local players being conducted by the newly-minted Vancouver Whitecaps as well as Canada’s national team.
Wilson made both.
“It’s funny, it all happened at once,” said Wilson, who turned down a teaching gig to play pro soccer. Although the money wasn’t nearly as good.
“The money was not what you would call professional standard,” Wilson said.
A member of the Whitecaps’ coaching landed Wilson a side job cutting grass and picking up garbage for Burnaby’s parks and recreation department.
Wilson juggled jobs for more than three years, and when he tried to negotiate a new contract with the Whitecaps that would allow him to concentrate 100% on soccer, he was traded to Chicago.
Playing for his country was likely the biggest accomplishment of his career, Wilson said.
“It was a fantastic time for Canada from basically 1980 to 1986,” he said. “Playing for your country, in particular when you’re playing away from Canada, to hear your anthem played it really was an honour.”
When Wilson’s playing days ended, he finally got himself into a school. He just completed his 31st year as the coach of the University of Victoria men’s soccer team, where he’s amassed a 204-101-62 record while winning three Canadian titles and nine Canada West championships.
“If I look back over the year, right from six years old, there wasn’t a time that I didn’t have seven months of soccer that I wasn’t involved in,” he said.
• Wilson will be inducted into Burnaby’s sports hall of fame at a banquet to be held Feb. 28 at the Metrotown Firefighters Club. Along with Wilson, former Coquitlam Adanacs’ playmaker Alex Carey and Port Moody resident Eric Cowieson, who won three Minto Cups and still holds the record for games played in the Mann Cup, are also being honoured by the Burnaby sports hall of fame.