Waiters led the Whitecaps to the 1979 championship
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
“He was always a true gentlemen, a calming influence, a man of great integrity, knowledge, and above all else, so very humble as well.” – Guido Titotto
Tony Waiters, one of Canada’s greatest and most influential soccer coaches, passed away on November 10 at the age of 83. Waiters might perhaps best be known for coaching the Vancouver Whitecaps to their 1979 Soccer Bowl championship.
Waiters was born in Southport, England in February 1937. He played for Blackpool, making over 250 appearances. Waiters also played for the England national team, winning five caps for The Three Lions in 1964. After his soccer career ended, Waiters became the manager for English club, Plymouth Argyle, between 1972 and 1977. After being fired, Waiters came to Canada and coached the Vancouver Whitecaps of the North American Soccer League (NASL) during the 1977 season. He was only planning to stay in Canada for a short time, but Waiters would ultimately make Canada his home when the Vancouver Whitecaps became the soccer darlings of the city—defeating the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the 1979 Soccer Bowl.
Waiters later coached the Canadian men’s national team starting in December 1982. He led the team to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles when Canada lost to Brazil in the quarterfinals by a score of 2-1 in penalty kicks. One of Waiters’ greatest achievements was coaching the Canadian national team through qualifying to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico; it remains Canada’s one-and-only appearance at the World Cup.
Former Whitecaps player Bob Lenarduzzi remembers how he and Waiters different in their thought process; Waiters wanted his players to pass the ball to the front man first—just to be safe. “I just kept playing it through the middle of the park,” Lenarduzzi said during a live streamed interview for the ‘Caps Primetime program on November 10. “And then after about three or four games, he pulled me aside and he says, ‘Hey, if you wanna keep playing the ball through the middle of the park, then you can come and have a seat by me on the bench!’”
Retired Canadian goalkeeper Paul Dolan, who was in goal for Canada at the 1986 World Cup, was saddened by Waiters’ passing. “This one hits hard. He gave so much to Canadian soccer and so much to me personally,” he said to the CBC on November 10. The same day, another former Canadian goalkeeper, Craig Forrest, posted on Twitter: “Saddened to hear about the passing of my former coach Tony Waiters. Legendary GK, coach, mentor, and human being. His passion for football and the people he touched throughout his career is unparalleled in Canada.”
Retired Canadian striker Dale Mitchell was also a member of the 1986 Canadian World Cup team. He recalls Waiters being highly respected by his peers and the players he coached. “He was more than a coach to so many people, which is why we are hearing the tributes now,” Mitchell said in an email interview with the Other Press. “It was just the way he conducted himself, very professional and honest. I think he falls into the mentor, role model category for many, whether they played for him or not.”
Waiters was also a key figure behind-the-scenes in helping to bring the Vancouver 86ers soccer club to town—with their debut season coming in 1987. He also wrote books about coaching and soccer skills. Waiters was also the president of the National Soccer Coaches Association of Canada while serving as a special advisor to soccer organizations in Canada and the US. Adding to his already lengthy resume, Waiters, for the past 12 years, was a Technical Advisor with Cliff Avenue United FC in Burnaby. In 2017, the club honoured Waiters with a “CAUFC Lifetime in Soccer Achievement Award”—while also celebrating his 80th birthday.
Guido Titotto, president of CAUFC for the past 13 years, was deeply saddened by Waiters’ passing. Titotto, a former player for the Vancouver 86ers, was coached by Waiters in 1990 till 1991—when Titotto was a member of the Canadian men’s U23 Olympic team. “He was a man with a soccer history in Canada like no other, yet when you were in a meeting with him or simply out on the pitch with him, he was never above anyone else, he was always a true gentlemen, a calming influence, a man of great integrity, knowledge, and above all else, so very humble as well,” Titotto said in an email interview with the Other Press. “He will be dearly missed by all of us at our club, however, he will not be forgotten, as we are already planning a legacy award at our club in honour of Tony Waiters.”
Kevin Julian, Technical Director for CAUFC, says Waiters, amongst other efforts, made an essential contribution to the club. “Tony coached the U5 program for a number of years at CAUFC,” Julian said in an email interview with the Other Press. “This sort of program is now commonplace in most clubs but back when Tony started the ‘One with One’ program, it was really unheard of. Tony was always an innovator and was so incredibly passionate about youth player development.”
Waiters was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame as a builder in 2001. In 2019, Waiters was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame; that same year, in May, he was also inducted into the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Ring of Honour. In a Whitecaps FC interview on YouTube, Waiters was humbled by his induction: “Well, being inducted into the ring of honour, indeed is an honour. And it means a great deal. And so, I’d like to say this. To those people, who supported the team so well—thank you very much for the honour, which I am receiving. And for the support they gave. It was incredible and I just hope that we see something like that again, [another soccer championship in Vancouver].”