Tony Waiters, who coached the Canada men’s national team to its only World Cup appearance, has died.
He was 83. Waiters passed away peacefully in his sleep.
“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.”
A well-established goalkeeper in his native England, Waiters ventured to Canada in 1977 to guide the Vancouver Whitecaps in the old North American Soccer League. He and the team acquitted themselves well, capturing the league crown in a victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies in Soccer Bowl ’79. He also was named the 1978 NASL coach of the year.
In 1981, Waiters took over the reins of the Canadian national team. He directed the Maple Leafs to a berth in the 1984 Summer Olympics as his squad reached the quarterfinals before it was eliminated in a shootout loss to Brazil.
Waiters, however, is remembered for a far greater achievement as he coached the Canadians to their first and only men’s World Cup berth in 1986. Canada booked a spot in Mexico, defeating Honduras, 2-1, at King George V Park in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Canada lost all its three group-stage matches, but no other team has come close to reaching the World Cup since.
The Canadians dropped a 1-0 decision to European champions France in their opening match June 1, 1986.
“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 then 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.”
In 1985, Jim Fleming, Canada Soccer’s president, wrote that Waiters “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 organized in a very effective and efficient way.”
According to 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 had a second stint as Canada coach from 1989-91.
He made his name in his native England. Born in Southport Feb. 2, 1937, played goal for four English clubs – Bishop Auckland, Macclesfield Town, Blackpool and Burnley before retiring in 1972. He spent most of his career at Blackpool, making 257 appearances from 1957-67.
Waiters also earned five caps with the English national team in 1964.
A tribute on the England Twitter page read: “We’re sad to learn that Tony Waiters, who won five caps for the #ThreeLions in 1964, has died at the age of 83.
“Our thoughts and sympathies are with Tony’s family, friends and former clubs.”
From his time in Canada, Waiters was awarded the Aubrey Sanford Meritorious Service Award in 1996. He was honored 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 honored as a Canada Soccer Life Member in May 2019.
He is survived by his wife Anne and children Scott and Victoria.