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Pioneering soccer star helped build foundation for future generations

Community ProfilePioneering soccer star helped build foundation for future generations

Lydia Vamos excelled at every level she played at and established herself as one of the early Canadian soccer stars to lay the foundations for the growth and development of women’s soccer in Canada.  

Vamos, who has been enshrined in multiple halls of fame including the Brantford & Area Sports Hall of Fame and McMaster University Athletics Hall of Fame, explained her earlier beginnings in soccer.

“I grew up on a farm, so I had a little bit of a break from it when I got to play soccer in the summer. During my first game, I realized that I’m pretty good at it…I scored six goals that match and after that fell in love with the game,” recalled Vamos.

Vamos quickly developed into a dominating player while playing in her hometown of Burford. She then moved on to play in Brantford, being introduced to more competitive players and teams.  

“My first coach was Ken Peach [and] he did a wonderful job. [Burford] was a small town [and we] always had the same group of girls and the same coach for years. And then I moved to Brantford and played for John Wright, where the fields are named after him. I was very fortunate to have two great coaches in the area,” said Vamos.

Vamos experienced overwhelming success when she played with the McMaster’s Women’s Soccer Program. Her team captured the CIAU (now the CIS) goal medal in 1991 and silver in 1987 to go along with multiple All-Star appearances and Female Athlete of the Year honours. Photo courtesy Lydia Vamos Archives.

After excelling on the pitch during her teens, Vamos went on to McMaster University, where she won Female Athlete of the Year honors in both 1990 and 1992 and helped the program win a national championship in 1991.  

“I was not expecting [these honours]. Some girls played for the volleyball national team and other top athletes at McMaster [which were up for Female Athlete of the Year.] I was honored just to be nominated for it. And then in my last year, when I won it a second time, it [was a] combination of hard work and dedication from everyone in the soccer program. And this was at the end of my career at McMaster, so it was a nice way to go,” Vamos recalled.

During her time there Vamos would earn a Master’s in human biodynamics and would get a chance to play for her country.

“An opportunity arose where there was an open tryout in Hamilton; [after that I] didn’t hear anything from the coach. Then a couple of months later, I got a phone call saying that I made the national team and we were off to Denmark to play.” Vamos continued, “I just had the opportunity and ran with it, and it was one of those things that you just love to do [and] none of us got paid for it back then. We just wanted to play,” Vamos explained.

Vamos and her Canadian Team members have had a chance to play across many countries and connect with giants of the game including one of her idols, the late soccer great Pele. Photo courtesy Lydia Vamos Archives.

Vamos, who was characterized as an intense and versatile player, played with the Canadian soccer program from 1989 to 1995 and related some of her experiences playing on the international stage, which included playing in numerous CONCACAF Women’s Championship/ FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. 

“The first World Cup Qualifying was in Haiti. And it was an eye-opener, playing in front of 20,000 people. The Haitian President was there and greeted us, and we realized how big [Women’s Soccer] could truly be in the world…but, it was during a time, when there wasn’t women’s soccer in the Olympics [or a] Women’s World Cup. It was just starting,” Vamos continued. “And then there was another time we played a tournament in Bulgaria, a country which was still communist…we started to see the development of the sport across all these different countries. And obviously, the United States was an important team…I played against Mia Hamm when the team was starting, and she was a superstar back then. And you could see the growth of the United States women’s team; they were phenomenal.”

However, Vamos was playing for the national team, which was still in its infancy and many aspects including fitness and nutrition were still very new.   

“Back then, it was a lot of trial and error. There wasn’t the technology, all the knowledge, and the help for all the players back for personal fitness. We had to figure it out on our own. It took me about three years to figure out the best way to train, and to be fit at a high level so that I was prepared and ready to play,” continued Vamos. “That was something that I don’t think a lot of people understand now because [we] have experts today that help with nutrition, training [and] strength and conditioning.”

Lydia Vamos has been honoured by no less than four halls of fame including the Brantford and Area Sports Hall of Recognition and the County of Brant Sports Hall of Fame for her success in soccer on the university, national and international levels of play. Photo courtesy County of Brant Sports Hall of Fame.

Despite the efforts of Vamos and her National Team members to develop the program, there was often no financial success.

“Back then we weren’t making any money playing. We had other careers on the side; some of my teammates were teachers, doctors, or police officers,” Vamos admitted. “The opportunities weren’t the same as they are now; I would have just jumped at the chance if I could play professionally, but couldn’t.”

In 1995 Vamos blew out her knee for the second time and knew it was time to retire and move on to the next challenge. Vamos is currently a teacher with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

“It’s kind of like coaching, I got into a bit of coaching as well, when I retired. I always enjoyed doing the teaching or the coaching aspect. And even when I was at McMaster doing my masters, I did some teaching in some courses. And it was something I knew I was good at [as my best] qualities came out when I was teaching a class. It was a natural transition…and have enjoyed doing it,” she said.

Vamos has also been affiliated with aspects of soccer throughout the years on the provincial and national levels as the Head Coach of the Under 21 Women’s Canada Summer Games in 2001, which would capture gold and being the head coach of two provincial soccer teams. She was also part of local programs including coaching the girls’ soccer program at North Park Collegiate which would win an Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSSA) Championship.

“I don’t do any coaching anymore, but I did do camps and clinics in Brantford helping different teams for years…After a while, a lot of these programs I helped build…and they grew and more and more women got involved,” said Vamos. “I was on the [Canadian] women’s soccer committee for four years. And there were four of us that had previously played from all across the country. It was frustrating at times, but we knew that if we started this, it would hopefully keep growing and getting better in the future. I did have an opportunity to go to the first FIFA all-women’s soccer conference, and that was exciting to see where the game was going.”

However, with Vamos as one of the pioneers of Women’s Canada National Soccer along with her teammates, she played with in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she believes there is still much to learn. 

“I think…we’re not where we should be yet. [Women’s soccer] is still developing in Canada. I believe the more we keep moving forward at all levels, [we] are going to get better because girls are going to see what they can be down the line. Look at the women’s pro hockey league, which is many years overdue. So, if soccer follows suit, it’s also going to help the development of the women’s game for both players and coaches,” said Vamos.

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