If you are sitting in the old NASL heartland of Cascadia reading this, a huge part of the reason you are sitting in the stands watching a soccer game is because of Clive Toye. He was and is that influential.
Clive Toye is a true pioneer in American and world soccer.
It does take a certain pioneering spirit to leave the upper echelons of English football journalism in the 60s and decamp to the US to bring soccer to the masses.
Conor Brennan was last on Prost Amerika with his well received ‘Olympics on My Doorstep’ series. His next assignment is to persuade the usually media-reluctant Toye to open up.
In the lead up to a one on one interview with Toye, Conor Brennan told Prost Amerika why the man who brought Pele to America is still relevant.
Clive Toye – America’s Soccer Pioneer
by Conor Brennan
There’s an old adage in journalism that you never do the interview before the interview. In other words, when sitting down for the interview it’s best to get straight into it, rather than exchanging small talk.
Because the small talk will almost inevitably lead to the interview and then you don’t really know where one ends and the other begins.
As with most things, the theory is good. As with most things, I normally abide by this edict as it makes huge amounts of sense and for easier editing. But with someone like Clive Toye, rules go out the window.
Clive Toye arrived in the US in 1967 as the GM of the soccer club the Baltimore Bays. His odyssey preaching the religion of the one true sport continued a pace and in time he found himself as President and GM of a small club called the NY Cosmos. The Cosmos were small when Clive joined. But in time he grew them and the NASL into one of the most recognizable names worldwide. The Cosmos remain the only team to have signed Pele apart from Santos.
Clive moved on in time spending stints in Chicago and Toronto managing these clubs; he also had a term or two as Commissioner of the NASL. After the NASL folded in the early 80s, he moved on to consulting and working for CONCACAF.
When it was mooted that the World Cup be held in the US in 1994, Clive’s name was front and center. He had also worked to get the 1986 World Cup to the US after Colombia pulled out, but that was not to be. During the 1994 World Cup he was president of the New York host Committee while doing a mountain of work behind the scenes. Later on during the 90s he was a senior and special advisor to CONCACAF, while also pursuing other business ventures in the American soccer arena.
The word pioneer is up there with hero, iconoclast and rebel. Overused and usually on the wrong people.
Robert Pattinson is a hero and Kim Kardashian is a rebel? Yeah. Not so much. But Clive Toye, a pioneer?
Well, his energy, belief and zeal formed the NASL with others. He was the only person outside of Brazil to sign Pele to a football contract – the Brazilian government had declared Pele a national treasure, not to be exported – he signed Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto amongst others.
“Toye he has run afoul of the football powers that be”
He also signed Giorgio Chinagnalia, but he usually prefers not to talk about that. Clive pushed the NASL from the lows of crowds measured in the tens to filling the Meadowlands, all the while selling soccer to the Americans. And when the World Cup arrived on these shores in 1994, the result of the hard work of many, the pioneering spirit of Clive was behind that.
I first met Clive about 20 years ago in the run up to WC ’94 where I think he took exception to my glee at his soon to be realized nightmare of the Republic of Ireland’s qualification for the finals and England’s staycation. But we got on despite that.
And through the years, I would like to think we have remained friends, sometimes doing business together, sometimes having lunch. I moved to London sometime ago from the busy confines of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. As with all moves, I was concerned that I’d leave some friends behind. And I have. But not Clive.
Our contact is less frequent, but the easy laughs are still there. And if you have even the smallest sense of humor, it’s very difficult not to laugh with Clive. Equally, being possessed of that pioneering spirit, he has insights into the state of the game that are so brutal, so honest, you can understand where and why he has run afoul of the football powers that be.
There are not too many people who sue FIFA, win, and stay working in the game at the highest levels. That pioneering thing again.
So when I heard that Clive had written a book on football, a children’s book, color me surprised, but not really. Another something new for this man of many talents. So I fired up the Skype machine and had a chat.
But you know what they say about doing the interview before the interview. Yeah. It happened. I was almost ten minutes in before I realized I was doing it.
That’s the thing with Clive. You call for a phone number and a half an hour later you put the phone down laughing, forgetting to get the number in the first place.
So those first ten minutes or so ranged from the Olympics, to TV coverage, TV rights for the ’94 WC, the weather and sundry other reminiscences and laughs. Until I reminded him of the task at hand. And almost like breaking up a party, we both sighed and got down to business.
“Who’s it for?”, he asked.
“ProstAmerika, A Seattle based blog”, I replied
“Oh yeah? Tell me more?”
“I know the guy who runs the show there, good site, he’s from Scotland”
“Do I have to talk about them?”
“The bloody Scots?” he smirked
“Not at all, but it would help if we started with your memories of the Pacific NorthWest in the heyday of the NASL.”
“There were Scots there too in those days.”
“And Irish.” I said
Conor’s interview with Clive Toye will run on tomorrow and he pulls no punches when talking about the modern MLS.
Toye’s book, Toby and The Greatest Game, was published in March.