Last week, Conor Brennan introduced younger readers to Clive Toye, a man who he called an American Soccer Pioneer.
The introduction was a 101 in American soccer history to explain the pivotal role Toye played in the development of our sport here.
With Toye’s bio penned, Brennan sat down to record the views of a man who has lived through the formative years of soccer in North America, only from inside the bubble.
A Chat With……….Clive Toye.
Conor Brennan: There’s a complete resurgence of football in the Cascadia region, with Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.
I’m wondering does it give you a little wry smile to think that ‘yes, that where we also had our clubs doing very well in the old NASL days’?
Clive Toye: Well, what gives me a wry smile is that I remember reading that the MLS didn’t like the idea of the names, Sounders or the Timbers or the Whitecaps. I mean, who cared about those days? And then suddenly of course you get the Sounders, the Timbers and the Whitecaps coming back and their fans are absolutely delighted that it’s the same club, the same name, who cares what league you’re in? It’s your club you care about.
Conor Brennan: Was that about fans respecting the past more?
Clive Toye: MLS, I sometimes get the feeling that they believe that they invented the game of soccer just when they came into business and that nothing in this country, or any country for that matter, had ever happened before. When I see NASL clubs that to me are NASL clubs, the Sounders, the Timbers, the Whitecaps and further south the Earthquakes, it makes me feel very good about all the things that those clubs did under different ownership, different management in earlier days and have now created such an enthusiasm in their markets today.
Conor Brennan: Do you think, Clive, that goes to the fact that in those communities there are the deep roots of the old NASL and they’ve been renovated into the modern incarnation? That it’s the NASL that laid the groundwork and has allowed these clubs to succeed – indeed even look at the Cosmos now.
Clive Toye: Oh, absolutely! The groundwork was laid during the years of building in the NASL. I was invited to make a speech to the NASL owners..…the day the Cosmos’ visit to the League, I’d no idea that was happening until I got there…you know I told the owners the death of the NASL was certainly not the death of soccer in this country, by any means, but the death of the NASL was because of idiot owners.
We let in too many owners too soon who were ridiculous people because they had money and they saw we were drawing huge crowds. They had no contemplation at all as to how we had drawn those huge crowds, that it wasn’t just, ‘Oh! Let’s sign Pele and everyone will come’.
We did clinic after clinic, coaching sessions after coaching session, speech after speech, shaking hand after shaking hand. It was an endless work that we did for many years and built a league which then died because of idiot owners. So I told the [new] NASL people that if you’ve got a bunch of idiot owners, then you’re not going to last either!
But if you help people who’re really serious about producing soccer in the future, like the people in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver and further south in San Jose, and have that feeling for the past you’ll succeed – in fact I think it’s the opening paragraph in my book about the NASL, “A Kick In The Grass”, I say Americans and history are not easy partners. In this case they have to be, they have to be reminded, as the people up in the North West have already reminded everybody, that there was a wonderful time as soccer was being built and now the benefit of it is accruing to other people.
Conor Brennan: There’s a remarkable lack of bitterness there. Are you wistfully looking at the MLS now and saying ‘as they are now, thus we should have been?’
Clive Toye: No. I don’t look upon the MLS as a league which attracts me at all. I’m really happy it’s happening up in the North West and I’m really glad that something is happening, but the MLS does not fill me with pride. Nor interest in being involved with them. I think the MLS has no idea whatsoever as to what to do with American players, and we were very strong on our development of American players in a time when there weren’t too many. Now there’s thousands and they’ve got a better chance of ending up in Norway than they have playing in MLS. I think MLS has really, really done a bad job.
Conor Brennan: Can you cite an example?
Clive Toye: Look at this bunch of idiots here in New Jersey, whatever they’re called, the Pink Lambs or Red Bull or something. They’ve got this good young kid, Agudelo, who scored a winning goal for the United States, I think it was in South Africa, he can’t get on the field here and they’ve dumped him off to Chivas.
There is a whole load of Irish in the area [metro NY], and so Robbie Keane, a hero for Ireland is bought by Los Angeles whatever they are called. Galaxy. Thierry Henry, the man who committed the foul and stopped Ireland playing in the World Cup and therefore is not well thought of in the Irish community, they bring him into New York. Now who wants to see Thierry Henry? I mean, maybe a nice fella who scores goals, et cetera, but I wouldn’t walk from my house across the street to see Thierry Henry. And certainly not if I was an Irishman!
The New York whatever-they’re-called have players from Estonia – he’s not a bad player, Lindpere – but nonetheless, he’s not exactly going to drag out a huge Estonian population. And so there’s no Americans, there’s an Estonian, Swedes, Norwegians, a couple of French now, [and] a very bad tempered Mexican defender. If you’re going to sign a Mexican, to attract the Mexican people, at least sign a Mexican that’s worth looking at, not some villainous defender. Way back we had a much better idea of what we needed on the field as well as off the field.
Somebody asked me at this NASL meeting, ‘what’s your biggest complaint, biggest problem with MLS?’ and I said, ‘total lack of humanity’. There’s no connection. For me, there’s no connection to the people, no connection to the game, other than having stadiums and putting on a game every Sunday or whatever it is.
Conor Brennan: You would judge the [old] NASL to be a better league than the MLS?
Clive Toye: (Laughs) I would judge the NASL that we had to be a far better league than the MLS. Business-wise? No! But soccer-wise? Ab-so-lute-ly! A better standard, more attention to the growth of the game, more attention to American players, absolutely!
Conor Brennan: The way the MLS has set it up with designated players and the salary cap and such, do you think that’s the right way to go about matters?
Clive Toye: First of all, I have never, thank heaven, had the need to read the 4,000,000 pages or whatever that the MLS runs by. It is, to me, a huge bureaucracy. I mean why they just don’t move the headquarters to Washington and go in with the government, the growing vast government? It’s paperwork, designated players, I mean, you know, what does it all mean, what does it mean to people? The only stories you see in the paper are ‘Charlie Farnspar is a designated player’. ‘Oh yeah, well that’s exciting. Can he play? Do I want to go and see him play? Do I have a chance to meet him? Are my kids going to have a chance to find out and be taught by him?’
So bureaucracy is one thing, reaching out and pressing the flesh and meeting people is another thing.