Soccer world loses Tony Waiters, 83, who led Canadian men to 1986 World Cup

Tony Waiters, who coached Canada to its only appearance at the World Cup and the Vancouver Whitecaps to the North American Soccer League Championship, has died. He was 83.

Club also reached quarter-finals at 1984 L.A. Olympics under ex-Whitecaps coach

Tony Waiters, who died at 83, will be forever linked to one of Canada's biggest soccer memories - qualification for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. (Submitted by Canada Soccer)

Tony Waiters, who coached Canada in its only appearance at the World Cup and led the Vancouver Whitecaps to the North American Soccer League championship, has died. He was 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."

Canada Soccer called Waiters "a tremendous ambassador for the game."

"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.

Whitecaps became sensation

Waiters, a former England goalkeeper, 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.

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 100,00-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."

Family affair at World of Soccer

Waiters lived most recently on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast where he built a home three years ago.

He remained closely involved with the game. He was president of the National Soccer Coaches Association of Canada at the time of his death and served as an adviser to soccer organizations on both sides of the border. He worked with Cliff Avenue United FC, a team in Burnaby, B.C., looking for ways to bring inner-city kids to the game he loved.

He also operated World of Soccer, a long-standing company that offered a wide array of coaching manuals. It was a family affair, with wife Anne overseeing the operation and daughter Victoria handling the graphics.

"It keeps me out of mischief," said Waiters, who also has a son, Scott

Waiters was born Feb. 2, 1937, in Southport, just north of Liverpool, on the English coast. He served in the Royal Air Force and earned his teacher's certificate in physical education from Loughborough College.

He started his playing career as an amateur with Bishop Auckland in 1957 before moving to Macclesfield Town. But he spent the bulk of his career with Blackpool, making more than 250 appearances from 1959 to 1967.

He won five caps for England in 1964 under Sir Alf Ramsey at a time when Gordon Banks was early in his career as England No 1.

Waiters retired at 30, eventually working for England's Football Association.

Canada reached 1984 Olympic quarter-finals

He was hired as Canada's head coach and manager on Dec. 4, 1982, helping Canada qualify for the 1984 Olympics just 16 months later.

The Canadian men had a good run at the Los Angeles Games, eventually losing to Brazil in a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals after the game finished tied at 1-1. Waiters never forgot an offside call that cost the Canadians the go-ahead goal.

Colombia was originally slated to host the 1986 World Cup but gave way to Mexico. The U.S. failed to reach the final three-team round of CONCACAF qualifying, finishing runner-up to Costa Rica in its group.

So Canada was the only CONCACAF team to qualify, booking its ticket with a famous 2-1 win over Honduras in St. John's, N.L., on Sept. 14, 1985.

Waiters stepped down as Canada coach after the World Cup but returned for a second stint from October 1989 through the 1991 Gold Cup. He was influential away for the pitch, using his coaching expertise with both CONCACAF and FIFA.

Waiters was awarded the Aubrey Sanford Meritorious Service Award in 1996 for outstanding service to Canadian soccer. He was inducted into the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame in 2001, the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2019, and the Soccer Hall of Fame in British Columbia as part of its inaugural class in 2019.

He was also honoured as a Canada Soccer Life Member in May 2019.

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