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Clive Gammon
May 12, 1980
Who bagged the Black Pearl? Frisked Germany of Franz? Why, Clive Toye, a man riding out a Blizzard
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May 12, 1980

The Day Pele Split His Pants—and Other Coups

Who bagged the Black Pearl? Frisked Germany of Franz? Why, Clive Toye, a man riding out a Blizzard

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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 Pel� 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.

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�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."

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