On this bright spring afternoon the Toronto Blizzard is playing its first home game of the NASL season. A fresh breeze off Lake Ontario snaps the flags to attention at Exhibition Stadium. Air quality is excellent, except inside the small box reserved for the Blizzard's executives, where it has turned a crackling, barracks-room blue. And not only from the Romeo y Julieta cigar burning unheeded in front of the big man with a silver-fringed haircut that would have looked just right on Caesar Augustus.
"Get up, Willie, you bloody Scottish lump!" he snarls. It is about the mildest comment he has made all afternoon. Mercifully way out of earshot, Willie McVie, in the No. 5 jersey for the Blizzard, staggers to his feet and gets on with the game against the Rochester Lancers. Like his teammates, McVie has made a nervous start. Even so, he is probably not quite as nervous as the man in the executive box, where the undeleted expletives are now ankle-deep.
This is Clive Toye, the man who relentlessly pursued Pelè for four years for the Cosmos, who brought Franz Beckenbauer to New York, who, with Phil Woosnam, the NASL's present commissioner, kept pro soccer in the U.S.A. precariously alive in the dark days of 1969 when the league was reduced to five teams, the same Clive Toye who, late last year, inexplicably linked his career with what seemed to be one of the least fashionable teams in the league.
Unfashionable you could never call the man himself. His style is a striking amalgam of the dashing and the dignified. The short, piratical beard is counterpoised by a light, almost dandified suit. Both are set off by the solid cigar. And Toye's first action as the Blizzard's new president early this year was stylish, too.
May 11, 1980
In 1979 the Toronto team's spring-training headquarters had been a $15-a-night motel on the cluttered, touristy highway close to Dunedin, Fla. This year the Blizzard sent their postcards home from the elegant Hotel Dom Jo‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬£o II, which has for its setting the pink beaches of the Algarve, the delicately beautiful southern coast of Portugal, where, moneyed Europeans will tell you, you simply have to go in February to see the almond trees in blossom.
There was a good, practical reason for the trip. "When you're down and out, order champagne," the old precept goes. Or, as translated by Toye, make the boys feel good and they'll play good. And in Toronto there seemed to be plenty of scope for improvement. Last year the Blizzard had a miserable start, losing seven of its first eight games. Toronto ended the season with a 14-16 record, just good enough for a brief encounter with the Cosmos in the first round of the playoffs.
All in all, it was difficult at first to credit the news that Toye had gone to the Blizzard, though there were cynics who suggested that the move might have been connected with the easy availability of fine Cuban cigars in Canada. However, the franchise had been financially transformed some months before Toye's arrival: there was new ownership, Global Communications Ltd., a Canadian TV company; and a new sponsor, Molson, the Canadian beer firm. The resources available to Toye might not be on the Warner Communications/Cosmos scale, but he wouldn't be scratching for money, either. Not that, in a career which spans the history of the NASL, Toye is unused to weathering tough patches.
Toye is 47 now. He saw his first game of soccer in the U.S. in 1961, when, as a Fleet Street sportswriter, he was covering a Harvard-Yale-Oxford track meet. As a diversion, he went to watch one of those artificial "tournaments" set up for major league European soccer teams in their off-season. "Sometimes a game would draw as many as 1,200 people," he recalls, "and it made a solid two paragraphs in the London Daily Express sports section."
Five years later, when the idea of a serious professional soccer league in North America began to be aired, Toye found himself helping out, making contacts for the new venture in Europe. The 1966 World Cup had been played in England, and when it was over, Toye felt the anticlimax sharply. He had been covering soccer for 17 years and was ripe for something new. When he was offered the general managership of the new Baltimore Bays, he said, "Why, yes. For two years, anyway."
Ironically, it was almost exactly two years later that Toye and Woosnam were sitting in what Toye calls a "bloody great pile of rubble," more precisely the almost-defunct league's last bunker, the visitors' locker room in Atlanta Stadium, from which the pair of them administered the five remaining teams. "Five was pitiful," says Toye, "and soon, it looked as if it would be an impossible four. But then Baltimore, which was about to defect, decided to give it another year. We survived. Just barely."
Woosnam and Toye, who, appropriately, comes from Plymouth, can claim fair title as founding fathers of the NASL. Toye himself could have headed back to Fleet Street at this juncture. Nobody had forgotten his nationally known byline. But they sat it out in Atlanta, which was not, incidentally, the first bunker in which Toye had found himself. As an 18-year-old he had put in frontline time with the First Commonwealth Division in Korea.
Now, in the executive box at Exhibition Stadium, he seemed to be in yet another bunker. The Blizzard had lost its first two road games—narrowly against Fort Lauderdale and somewhat less so against Atlanta. Thirty minutes into its home debut, the team was playing an erratic game, featuring ill-directed passes that had Toye burying his head in his hands when he wasn't turning the air sulfurous.
It had been a matter for regret that the unglamorous Lancers were the opposition on opening day. Now, horrifyingly, it looked as if they might even win. With comic mistiming, an aide poked his head in to say that the Rochester owners were unhappy with the seats they had been allocated. What saved him from transfixion by Toye's golden pencil was a neat header by Drew Busby that put the Blizzard a goal up. And when, after settling down to a better pattern, Toronto went ahead 2-0 about four minutes later, Toye became relaxed enough to eat a halftime sandwich, an event that reminded him of a very different sandwich-munching occasion.
For months in 1969 Toye and Woosnam had held out in that Atlanta locker room. Then, somehow, they scraped enough money together to rent a small office on Peachtree Street. It was a moment, they felt, worth marking. So they scheduled a press conference. They dug into their own pockets for modest refreshments—pastries, sandwiches, soft drinks—for maybe 25 people. They laid the food out with loving care. By noon, everything was set.
"At 12:30 p.m.," said Toye, "nobody had come. At 1 p.m., still nobody." He started to panic then. What if somebody were to come late, somebody important, a sports editor even? All that untouched food wouldn't look good. "So we slopped the coffee in the saucers," he said. "We bit into the sandwiches; we crumbled the pastries up. We made it look like the leavings of a mob scene. And then, at last, somebody came.
"It was plain that the man had lunched very lavishly already," Toye recalls. "I don't think he knew where he was. He picked up a release, yawed around a little, discovered there was no booze and departed, sneering. I never found out who he was. All in all, it was a fairly black moment."
Even when the NASL was as deep in the dumps as that, though, Toye and Woosnam indulged in what must at the time have seemed idiotic dreams, one of which was to bring Pelè to the U.S.—in particular, to New York. There wasn't even a New York franchise in those days—the Generals had gone under in the slaughter of 1968. Not until 1971, three years later, with a staff of five and a top wage for players of $75 a game, would the Cosmos start to play at Randall's Island.
It would have been pointless to sign Pelè at this stage. "The professionalism was at a low level," Toye points out. "The 10 media people who knew us and the 5,000 people who watched us—occasionally—knew we were serious, but nobody else did." Nevertheless, Toye made a pitch for Pelè as early as February 1971, in Jamaica.
Between that date and his formal signing on June 9, 1975 at the Princess Hotel in Hamilton, Bermuda—the date America started to take soccer seriously—there were uncounted phone calls, yards of Telex messages and dozens of meetings between Toye and Pelè in hotels from the Via Veneto to S‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬£o Paulo. It was a global manhunt that Toye himself now can scarcely put in chronological sequence.
But two meetings among the many still stand out in his mind. The first was in the Intercontinental Hotel in Frankfurt in 1974, when West Germany was hosting the World Cup. Toye got hold of Pelè just after the Brazilian had dramatically rejected his president's call to return to the national soccer team; Pelè also had declared that he would soon retire from his club, Santos.
"I'll never play again," Pelè told Toye abruptly. Toye was aware that the pitch had to be very low-key. "How about some clinics?" Toye inquired humbly.
"All right, I'll run some clinics for you," Pelè said. Inwardly Toye was triumphant. He had his foot in the door. He timed his next shot for two weeks after that last game for Santos, when Toye believed Pelè might be regretting his decision, when he would be vulnerable. Toye went down to S‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬£o Paulo, but found he was only partly right. Pelè was psychologically ripe, he was reacting against the finality of a last game, but now he was talking about going to a prestigious European club—Real Madrid, maybe, or Juventus of Turin.
Toye still refused to quit. He kept calling Pelè, kept Telexing him. He met Pelè again in Santos, then in New York. He kept urging him: "Play for New York and you'll change the lives of American kids. Play for Real and you'll just win them another championship."
Toye was close to exhaustion, he now admits, when the second of the two crucial meetings occurred. He had pursued Pelè to Brussels, where the Brazilian had played in a charity exhibition for the retiring captain of the Belgian national team, and the morning after the game he had Pelè corralled in his motel room at the airport. "I knew that I was making my last effort," Toye acknowledges. "I didn't have the strength to keep going. It was my last pitch.
" 'For God's sake, Pelè,' I kept saying, 'come and play for us in New York for three years.' And all the time I was talking, these famous players kept coming into the room to hug him and kiss him goodby—Rivelino of Brazil, Eusebio of Portugal, Paul Van Himst, the Belgian captain. The scene was chaotic. Every time somebody left I would start my speech all over again.
"Pelè had started to pack now. He was leaving for Morocco. And what should he do but split his pants. So he rings for the chambermaid and asks her for a fast sewing job. I'm still talking when she comes back. She has his pants in one hand, a camera in the other, and the tears are rolling down her cheeks.
" 'Please, sir,' she says to me, 'take a picture of me with Pelè.' She sobbed that her husband had had a ticket for last night's game but that two weeks ago he had died of a heart attack. So her son went with the precious ticket instead. She wanted a snapshot for her fatherless son as a remembrance.
"I was distraught," Toye says. "I was taking this picture, and, you know, I could appreciate this poor soul's anguish, but all the time I was thinking, 'In two hours Pelè will be on the plane to Morocco, and, oh, God, I can't go through all this again.' "
And then—and Toye will never know what effect the bereaved chambermaid had on Pelè, who is a sentimental man—quite suddenly Pelè got up and locked the door. He said, "O.K., Toye, I will play for the Cosmos. I will play for two years for $3 million."
Toye grabbed a piece of motel stationery out of a drawer; Pelè wrote down what he had said and then signed it. "It was for too much money, and for too short a time, but he'd said he'd play!" Toye still exults as he retells the story. "I went off and I had several drinks. 'By God!' I kept saying over to myself. 'This is it! This is it!' "
That piece of paper headed "G.B. Motor Inn, Brussels" now hangs framed in Toye's office. He also treasures the first press lead of the Pelè story. It came from the Rochester Times-Union, and the drift of the story was "Pelè Signing a Publicity Hoax." The chance of Pelè playing for the Cosmos, said the paper, was roughly equivalent to that of Moshe Dayan flying a MIG for the Egyptian Air Force. The image was valid enough in those days.
There were still months of negotiations to come before the final deal was made—$2.8 million for three years and, for the Cosmos, perpetual and worldwide rights to the use of the Pelè name. But the real breakthrough came on the morning of the split pants.
Now, in Toronto, Toye has nothing like that kind of money to play with, but the zest of the chase is still there. At a party for the Blizzard last February, he admitted to being a little tired, even as he mingled, encouraged, exhorted. Five days earlier he had flown to Italy hoping to sign Albertino Bigon, captain of A.C. Milan. But the trip had gone badly from the start. Both Milan airports had been socked in, and his flight was diverted to Turin. He made it partway to Milan on a bus, then flagged down a cab. When he got into the city he bought an evening paper. The main sports story was headlined BIGON IN HOSPITAL. But the injury turned out to be minor, and by Saturday he had arranged a deal. That was fine, because not only did Toronto need a solid midfielder like Bigon, but it also, and badly, needed an Italian. Toronto has a huge Italian population. "Then," says Toye wearily, "on Sunday the Milan club reneged. Still." he says, brightening, "I got some of those excellent, gorgeous Tuscan sausages. And I still have Francesco Morini of Juventus on my list. And Andrea Orlandini of Florence...."
Since then Morini has signed with the Blizzard, but Italian players do not necessarily bring Toye much luck. In the late spring of 1977 he had followed up his Pelè triumph by signing Beckenbauer, the captain of West Germany's World Cup-winning team of 1974, for the Cosmos. To the sophisticates of world soccer it was an even more impressive coup than the Pelè deal. Pelè, after all, was retired. The row in Germany over what was considered the poaching of their captain still rages. For Toye, the signing of Beckenbauer was a magnificent, imaginative achievement.
However, four months later Toye was no longer president of the Cosmos. He had been shunted to a vague consultant's post, and the word quickly spread that he was the victim of a palace revolution in which another of his signees, Giorgio Chinaglia, was said to be chief knife-wielder. Chinaglia, it was noted, seemed to have unusual influence on the Cosmos. He even had his own office at Warner Communications. Not even Pelè had been accorded that privilege.
Now, somewhat more than two years later, Toye says coldly and a little arrogantly, "I never had a falling-out with Giorgio. I don't put myself in a position where I fall out with players."
Nevertheless, shortly after his demotion, at the 1977 Soccer Bowl, Toye—just as coldly—confessed to a small ambition. He wanted to spend the winter scouring the lower divisions of the European leagues for the least subtle, most intimidatingly physical central defender he could find, just to play him in one game—for the Chicago Sting, which Toye had recently joined, against the Cosmos. It might involve a little man-on-man coverage of Chinaglia.
"I signed Giorgio," Toye says. "He was desperate to come to the Cosmos, and I went through incredible contortions to get him away from Lazio of Rome. Of course, he had never been the class of Pelè or Beckenbauer, but his success in New York led a lot of not very knowledgeable people to assume that, and maybe he believed it. What I did not care for were Giorgio's derogatory comments about Pelè, but he's not the only player whom I'd liked to have kicked in the arse."
In August of 1978 Toye headed for Chicago, where attendance was running about 3,500 a game, but in the end it turned out to be a side trip for Toye, a wasted two years, simply because certain promises that had been made to him failed to materialize.
"They told me when I went to Chicago that there would be a new domed stadium in the city within three years," he says. "Mayor Bilandic, before he got unelected, told me that. Meantime, we were playing our home games in two different stadiums—Soldier Field and Wrigley Field. Some weekends, even I couldn't remember which bloody stadium we were supposed to be at.
"Then, last July, I was told that we wouldn't even be able to use those two in 1980. I found myself in touch with Jacksonville, Nashville, St. Louis, Indianapolis, New Orleans, looking for anyplace to play in 1980.
"The last straw was over the super indoor tournament we were planning for a brand-new arena being built at Rosemont. Then I come into the city one morning and find the roof has fallen in. No outdoor stadium, no indoor arena. It was time to quit. It was a side trip."
However, considering the abysmal state of Chicago soccer when he found it, one should not judge Toye too harshly. He left the franchise in much better shape. Attendance had gone to about 8,400 a game, with twice that many when the Cosmos came to town. He also left a core of solid playing strength.
Toronto is the latest challenge for Toye, the man of dark international soccer dealings, the man who will never lose his taste for the brilliant coup, the secret flight. A small example: at halftime in the Rochester game, a small airplane flew over Exhibition Stadium towing a banner that read WELCOME BACK, BLIZZARD! "I wonder who arranged that?" Toye said innocently.
A little nervousness is still there, too. The Blizzard goes ahead of the Lancers 3-0 in the second half, the game seems to be sewn up, and one of the Global Television executives ventures to remark that things are going well. Toye turns on him. "Seymour," he says, "don't ever say things like that. Not until the game is over."
When it is announced over the P.A. that the crowd is 22,051, Toye finally permits himself a smile. And then he is away to the locker room. "I want to rub it in to the boys that they're not second best, not second class," he says.
Second class? Never. That isn't the way Clive Toye travels.