When Tony Waiters was hired to coach the Vancouver Whitecaps midway through the 1977 North American Soccer League season, he arrived with a four-month contract and few expectations.
After five mostly successful seasons managing English club Plymouth Argyle in the 2nd and 3rd Divisions, Tony and his family viewed the Vancouver posting almost as a “working holiday”—at least until a new job presented itself back home in England. That ‘working holiday’ stretches over four decades now, Tony stands as the most successful coach in Canadian soccer history, and the sport in Canada has never been same.
Growing up in the northwestern English seaside town of Southport, Tony and brother Mick played soccer on the nearby sandy beaches and grass fields any chance they could.
“We had our own game,” recalled Tony. “Mick would shoot from outside the penalty area and if he scored he got a goal of course, and if I made a very good save, it merited a goal for me. He was Liverpool and I was Newcastle United. And that’s the reason I became a goalkeeper.”
Not just any goalkeeper either, a truly standout one, playing professionally for Blackpool and Burnley, and earning five international caps with England, as well as a place on England’s initial 40-man roster for the 1966 World Cup.
In his first full season with the Whitecaps, Tony led the team to a 24-6 win-loss record and the conference semi-finals, good enough to earn the NASL’s Coach of the Year award.
1979 proved even better. Tony’s Whitecaps caught fire in the playoffs rolling over Dallas, LA, and an epic series with the New York Cosmos many call the best in NASLhistory. The Caps then dispatched the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 to win the Soccer Bowl, arguably the most significant North American professional team championship won by a BC team to date. Over 100,000 joyful Vancouverites celebrated the team’s return in one of the largest mass parades in BC history.
From 1981-86, Tony took on coaching Canada’s men’s national team. In a Canadian soccer first, Tony guided the men’s Olympic team to qualification for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where the team finished second in round robin play and advanced to the quarterfinals before narrowly bowing out to Brazil on penalty kicks. In 1985, he coached Canada’s men to another historic first not yet matched to this day: qualification in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Recognized internationally, in a variety of roles Tony has provided his knowledge of the beautiful game to such organizations as FIFA, CONCACAF, Canadian Soccer Association, United States Soccer Federation, and BC Soccer.
Perhaps his most underrated contribution has been nearly 40 years of grass roots teaching and player development in BC and beyond through his World of Soccer education program. Over half a million copies of his coaching books, cards, and videos have been published worldwide.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.