SEARCH 2000 Games

Sunday, August 27, 2000

Dream team provided kicks

  At all-star time, sports fans get to see dream teams in hockey, baseball and basketball.

 More recently, the Olympics have spawned dream teams in hockey and basketball.

 However, once upon a time in Toronto, a regular dream team did exist, consisting of captains of national squads, hall of famers and staunch enemies.

 Modern chroniclers and fans may not remember as far back as the summer of 1961, but Toronto unveiled the best soccer team ever assembled in Canada. The Toronto City Soccer Club was born under the auspices of a huge sports fan and budding grocery magnate -- Steve Stavro.

 It was in 1961 that soccer enthusiasts in three cities -- Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal -- formed the four-team Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League, thanks to the efforts of Stavro and the late senator Peter Bosa. The teams were Toronto City, Toronto Italia, Hamilton Steelers and Montreal Cantalia.

 Toronto City's role was to concentrate on a collection of top British players to develop a rivalry with Toronto Italia. The opening match in May 1961 attracted a sellout crowd of 19,000 to Varsity Stadium. The big crowd caught the Varsity staff by surprise and the start of the match had to be delayed 15 minutes to allow all the fans to get past the turnstiles.

 There was a reason for this fan interest, of course. Italia had several first-division players from the top professional league in Italy, but Toronto City had the dream team.

 Leading off the roster of superstars was right winger Sir Stanley Matthews, a legend of the game and the first soccer player knighted by Queen Elizabeth. He played for Stoke City and Blackpool. At inside left was Johnny Haynes, the captain of both his country, England, and his pro club, Fulham.

 The midfield was patrolled by Northern Ireland's captain, Danny Blanchflower, who also was the captain of Tottenham Hotspur.

 The list didn't stop there. Jackie Mudie, a seasoned World Cup ace for Scotland and Stoke City, played on the same forward line with Matthews and Haynes. And speaking of Scotland, Toronto City's goalkeeper was Scottish captain Tommy Younger. It was a first in soccer history, because never before, or since, have the captains of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland played on the same team in league competition.

 England's elite club, Blackpool, had three players on Toronto City's roster -- centre back Roy Gratrix, fullback Tommy McGlennon and midfielder Cyril Robinson. Ambrose Morgan, a Welsh junior international, was the striker.

 Allan Harvey of Lincoln City sped up and down on left wing, while Scottish club Morton sent fullback David Caldwell.

 It goes without saying that the Dream Team had no difficulty winning the ECPSL championship. The brilliant actions of Matthews, who was called the Wizard of Dribble; the field generalship of Blanchflower and the skills of Haynes and Mudie were something to behold. And if there was a breakdown anywhere in the team, there was Younger, one of the world's top goalkeepers.

 In international contests, City beat Reims of France, the French champions with nine World Cuppers in the lineup, 2-1, then trounced AIK Athens, the perennial champions of Greece, 4-1. City also beat the B.C. All-Stars, 7-1, in Vancouver.

 It was a dream year for Toronto soccer fans, but it lasted for only that one season. You see, Stavro opened his purse strings and the star players were paid more in two months than they were making all year in Britain. The English League, and particularly secretary Allan Hardacker, got worried about an exodus of players from Britain and came out with a ruling whereby no player of the English League's First Division was allowed to play anywhere in the off-season.

 Toronto City kept going in spite of the ban, albeit with British players from lower divisions, and kept winning the ECPSL championship until 1965, when the team was disbanded.

 Now Stavro is trying to assemble a different sort of dream team for Toronto -- a hockey team that will bring back the Stanley Cup after more than a 30-year absence.