Hello from Pinecrest, Fla., a hour away from Key Largo and light years away from Plymouth, England, where I was born. I’ve made my hotel reservation for the NASL 50th Anniversary event in Frisco, Tex., and “hope most to see the NASL people, not today’s newcomers … the old-timers who know what it was like actually building the game in this country, rather than padding their bank accounts.”
No one would ever call Clive Toye a shrinking violet or circumspect diplomat. He has many, many tales to tell, and most of them are recounted in his book, “A Kick in the Grass.”
In his travels through soccer in the United States, with stints with the Cosmos, Chicago Sting and Toronto Blizzard, and induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, Toye will now and forever be credited and associated with a long and eventually successful pursuit of one Edson Arantes do Nascimento … a k a Pelé.
“It came about in 1969 when I was running the league with Phil [Woosnam] from an office in the bowels of the stadium in Atlanta,” Toye said. “We were trying to keep the league alive. We knew that to bring any drama to the sport we needed to get Pelé and have Pelé in New York. First, we had to find owners for the team in New York. David Frost suggested we talk with Nesuhi Ertegun. Phil went to the World Cup in Mexico [in 1970] and met him and chatted and discovered he was a genuine soccer fan. That’s how we got the money [from Warner Communications] for the Cosmos.
“I went to Jamaica for my first meeting with Pelé, in February 1971, before we had the owners, before we had signed a single player for the Cosmos. That same year Pelé and Santos came to Yankee Stadium for a game and we retired his No. 10 and I told him that someday he would wear it in New York.”
Over the intervening years Toye met with Pelé several times in São Paulo (“so many times I thought about buying a season ticket” to Santos), at the 1974 World Cup in Germany, in Brussels for the Paul van Himst farewell game.
“Two weeks later we met at a restaurant in Rome,” Toye said. “Pelé found a guitar and started playing. Some diplomats came in from next door and we all looked like kids watching this guy strumming a guitar.”
At a meeting a few weeks later in New York, Toye said the deal was made: “$2.8 million for everything, playing for three years, worldwide marketing rights and some P.R. for Warner.”
“The whole idea was to get him to come to America,” Toye said. “At the time, Juventus and Inter were talking to him. I told him that ‘if you go there you can win the European Cup, but if you come to America you can win a country.’ ”
The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.