Soccer World Loses Tony Waiters, 83, Who Led the Canadian Men to 1986 World Cup
Tony Waiters, Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team Head Coach that won a Concacaf Championship and took Canada to the 1986 FIFA World Cup, has passed away at age 83.
Waiters will be forever linked to one of Canada’s biggest soccer memories — the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. The Canadian men failed to score a goal or register a point but held their own against mighty France, Hungary and the Soviet Union.
Canada has been trying to get back to the World Cup since.
“It’s with heavy hearts and much sadness that we must inform of the passing of our beloved Tony,” his family said in a statement Tuesday. “He achieved a great deal in his life, his legacy speaks volumes. Our family is beyond devastated with the loss of a wonderful husband and a hero of a father.”
Waiters ” was a tremendous ambassador for the game” according to Canada Soccer.
“His passion for football and the people he touched throughout his career is unparalleled in Canada,” added former Canadian international goalkeeper Craig Forrest.
“This one hits hard. He gave so much to Canadian soccer and so much to me personally,” said former Canadian ‘keeper Paul Dolan.
“Tony was a gentleman, leader, mentor and one of the most significant people in Canada football history,” said HFX Wanderers FC coach Stephen Hart, a former Canada coach himself.
The former English goalkeeper turned coach was both a Canada Soccer Hall of Fame honoured member and a Canada Soccer Life Member.
Hired as Head Coach and Manager on 4 December 1982, Waiters qualified Canada just 16 months later for the Los Angeles 1984 Men’s Olympic Football Tournament with a home draw in Victoria, British Columbia. Another four months later, Canada reached the Quarter-finals at the Olympic Games before they were eliminated on kicks from the penalty mark by Brazil.
On 14 September 1985, Waiters qualified Canada for their first FIFA World Cup in St. John’s, Newfoundland, also winning Canada their first Concacaf Championship with a famous 2:1 victory over Honduras at King George V Park. The following year, Canada was competitive at the FIFA World Cup in Mexico, but were ultimately eliminated after three successive losses to European sides, including a 1:0 loss to European champions France in the opening match.
Wrote Jim Fleming in 1985, Canada Soccer’s President at the time, Tony “was always well prepared for the task at hand and nothing appeared to worry him. His outward calm spread to his support staff and they were all organised in a very effective and efficient way.” As noted in the 1986 FIFA World Cup Official Report a year later, “there was no other team at this FIFA World Cup tournament with such a highly-developed feeling of solidarity.”
Waiters left his Canada position after the 1986 FIFA World Cup, but returned for a second stint starting 5 October 1989. He served on the Concacaf Technical & Development Commission, served on the Concacaf Panel for Coaching Matters, and served as a FIFA Instructor for Coaching Courses.
“He took players with varying styles and molded them into a unit that played the only type of game he knew would make Canada competitive on the world stage,” said Kevan Pipe in 1986, who at the time served as Canada Soccer’s General Secretary. “On 1 June, he and his team were 11 minutes, or one goal, away from the first upset of the 1986 FIFA World Cup.”
Whitecaps Became A Sensation
Before joining Canada, Waiters, a former England goalkeeper, Waiters was an England international, having made five appearances for his National Team in 1964.
At the club level, he most notably played for Blackpool FC, making more than 250 appearances after his debut on 26 December 1959. He also played for Bishop Auckland, Macclesfield Town and, after his time with Blackpool, Burnley FC. He also played for Loughborough College where he earned his Teacher’s Certificate in Physical Education. He earned his Football Association Coaching Preliminary Award in 1960 and his English FA Coaching Full Award in 1964.
Tony is also remembered as a coach who always had his teams organized and prepared.
Waiters came to Canada to coach the Whitecaps during the 1977 NASL season after being fired as manager of Plymouth Albion. At the time, he thought he might only stay for a few months.
But Canada became his home, with the Whitecaps becoming a sensation after defeating the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the 1979 Soccer Bowl.
In his first full season with the Whitecaps, Waiters led the team to a 24-6 record and the conference semifinals, good enough to earn the NASL’s Coach of the Year honours.
The ’79 championship team featured Whitecap icons Bob Lenarduzzi and Carl Valentine and big-name imports like Alan Ball, Roger Kenyon and Kevin Hector.
Waiters won North American Soccer League Coach of the Year honours in 1978 and then led Vancouver Whitecaps to the NASL Championship in 1979.
The Whitecaps dispatched the rock-star New York Cosmos in the ’79 playoff semifinals and then sealed the deal with a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay at Giants Stadium before 50,699, thanks to two goals by former England international Trevor Whymark.
A crowd of 100,000-plus welcomed the team home. Vancouver was in love with the Whitecaps. But it was to mark Waiters’ swansong with the team.
“Changes were made. I ended up being the president and general manager which didn’t suit me. And so I resigned and went working for the Canadian Soccer Association.”
From his time in Canada, Waiters was awarded the Aubrey Sanford Meritorious Service Award in 1996. He was honoured by the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame in 2001, the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2019, and the Soccer Hall of Fame in British Columbia as part of their inaugural class in 2019. He was also honoured as a Canada Soccer Life Member in May 2019.
Mr. Waiters leaves his wife Anne and children Scott and Victoria. Born 2 February 1937 in Southport, England, he passed away peacefully on 10 November 2020.