Where are they now: Neil Ellett
WHERE HE STARTED: Neil Ellett was born in Richmond, BC. He later went to school in Burnaby, graduating from Burnaby North Secondary School. As a youth player, Ellett twice competed in the prestigious Sun Soccer Tournament.
At the age of 17, Ellett played for Vancouver North Shore soccer club before moving to Pacific Coast Soccer League (PSCL) club Croatia SC, as well as Vancouver Eintracht – a club that has also produced players such as Buzz Parsons.
In 1967, the local product would make it to the international stage, representing Canada at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg. He then wore the Red and White again in the Pan Am Games four years later in Colombia, playing in all eight matches – including a win over the host nation.
Neil Ellett induction video into Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame
In 1972, the local product was called up to the senior Canadian men’s national team for FIFA World Cup qualifying.
As one of the top prospects in the area in 1974, Neil was scouted for the new North American Soccer League (NASL) professional team in town, Vancouver Whitecaps.
“I was invited to try out for the team,” remembers Ellett. “We played three exhibition games. I jumped at the chance to sign for the club when the offer came at the end of the tryout phase.”
WHERE HE WENT: On May 5, 1974, Ellett took to the field at Empire Stadium for the first ever Whitecaps match.
But playing in that first match against San Jose Earthquakes isn’t the only reason that day was special for Ellett, he also scored the first goal in club history.
“I remember Glen Johnson taking the corner kick,” tells Ellett. “The ball fell to me and I just concentrated on keeping my head down and hitting the target. The ball went through a crowd of players and found the back of the net to tie the game up.”
Mr. Ellett would go on to play two seasons with the ‘Caps, making 24 appearances before retiring.
“The second year I got a good run of games and played really well,” remembers Ellett. “So in the end, it was a good time to retire.”
After retiring, Ellett went into refereeing in the local leagues. He was eventually spotted by John Davies, one of the top referees in the NASL. Davies asked him to go to Seattle and take a course he was running for NASL officials – they liked the idea of former professional players getting involved in officiating. Ellett would spend three years as an NASL assistant referee, as well as one match as head referee.
“It was nice being involved in games with the likes of Pele and Johan Cruff,” says Ellett. “But it could be scary on the sideline so close to the crowd.”
In a semifinal match in Portland as the Timbers took on New York Cosmos, Ellett recalls the head referee giving the first 10 or so calls to the visiting Cosmos.
“I remember wishing that the next couple of calls would go to the home teams,” says Ellett. “The officiating crew had to be escorted out from that game in vans. The Timbers fans were not happy.”
WHERE HE IS NOW: From 1980 to 1988, Ellett served on the board of directors for the British Columbia Soccer Association and is a lifetime member.
In 2007, Ellett was inducted into the Burnaby Sports Hall of Fame, and in 2009 he was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame.
Today, Neil is a referee assessor and the provincial and national level. He can be spotted at almost every ‘Caps match at BC Place.
“I enjoy the games and I can say that Vancouver Whitecaps FC are a first class organization,” says Ellett proudly. “I still do some refereeing in the local older women’s league and that keeps me active.”
If you see Ellett at BC Place, make sure to say hello to the first ever goalscorer in Vancouver Whitecaps history.