Ken Pears, an honoured member of the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame and four-time Canada Soccer Football Championship winner, has passed away at age 88. Considered the country’s best goalkeeper for much of the 1950s and 1960s, Pears was in goal when Canada entered FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for the first time in 1957 and featured in all four international matches against USA and Mexico.
Across 19 seasons, Pears (pronounced PEERS) won seven Pacific Coast League titles, one Vancouver Mainland League title, and one Western Canada League title. He also won three Pacific Coast League Top Star playoff trophies in the first six years after the competition was introduced. Along with his four national titles, he won the 1953 North American Championship for the Jack Diamond Trophy in 1953 and two Pacific Coast International Championships for the J.F. Kennedy Trophy in the 1960s.
In goal, he was a 12-time all-star selection in a 14-year span from 1952 to 1965, including All Canada selections in 1956 (in Toronto against a touring Soviet club), 1957 (FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Canada, USA and Mexico), and 1960 (on tour in the United Kingdom and Soviet Union). Against touring teams in Canada, he notably helped British Columbia post a 2:0 win over Tottenham Hotspur FC in 1957 and then a 3:2 win over Leningrad’s Zenit FC in 1960. On tour in the United Kingdom, he starred when Canada posted a 1:0 win over West Bromwich Albion in 1960.
Pears was the best goalkeeper of his generation because of “his anticipation and his never give-up attitude,” said Hall of Fame honoured member Neil Ellett who grew up watching Pears and then faced him in the Pacific Coast League. “He was just a first-class athlete who understood the game well. He was number one by far, head and shoulders over everyone.”
A junior star with the Vancouver Westerns, Pears was just 17 years old when he made debut in the big leagues with the New Westminster Royals in the Pacific Coast League. After trials with North Shore (exhibition), Westminster (league) and Vancouver City FC (league), he officially signed with the Royals in late November 1951. While the Royals finished fifth in the league standings, Pears won his first senior trophy with the club in February when the Royals won the 1952 Anderson Cup.
Pears spent the 1950s with Royals FC, Vancouver Firefighters FC, and Hale-Co FC (Vancouver City), winning the Canada Soccer Football Championship in 1953 with the Royals FC and 1956 with Hale-Co FC. He then became synonymous with the Firefighters’ organisation throughout the 1960s, most notably winning back-to-back national titles in 1964 and 1965. Near the end of his career, he spent the summer of 1969 as a backup goalkeeper with the Western Canada League’s champion Vancouver Spartans, then served as manager and backup goalkeeper with the 1969-70 Firefighters FC, his last active season as a player in the Pacific Coast League.
“Ken Pears was amazing, he was like a Craig Forrest,” said Hall of Fame honoured member Bruce Twamley, who as a teenager briefly played alongside Pears with the 1969 Spartans. “He was a fireman and quite an amazing goalkeeper, the best that I’ve ever seen. He was exceptional.”
Across his career, Pears led or co-led the league in clean sheets nine times and retired as the league’s all-time leader in clean sheets. He won a Pacific Coast League title as a teenager with Westminster (1952-53), his third league title with Hale-Co FC (1958), and five league titles with Firefighters FC (1954-55, 1961-62, 1963-64, 1964-65 and 1965-66). He won the league’s Austin Delany Memorial Trophy as most valuable player in 1961-62.
“Ken Pears made saves that nobody else could make,” said former teammate Bob Allen. “He was fantastic, he was something else and something you had to see to believe it.”
Pears was an honoured member of the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame, the BC Sports Hall of Fame, and the Soccer Hall of Fame of British Columbia. Throughout and beyond his soccer career, he worked for the Vancouver Fire Department for 37 years from 1955 to 1982. Born in Vancouver on 12 April 1934, Pears passed away in that same city on 18 December 2022.
A Celebration of Life will be held on Sunday 5 February 2022 at 12 noon at the Burnaby Mountain Clubhouse in Burnaby, BC.
Check out Canada Soccer’s Schedule & Results page where you can find upcoming match schedules and past results leading to highlights, photos, match data, and more.