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SOCCER NEWS from Big Apple Soccer


July 13, 2007

Toye, the man who signed Pele, on Beckham


By Michael Lewis Editor

David Beckham is going to save soccer in America?

That's what many news outlets are saying and reporting.

That's hogwash, according to Clive Toye, the man who brought Pele over to these shores 32 years ago.

"That's crap," he said in an interview Friday morning.

"He hasn't come to save the game. It is the biggest bunch of horse manure I've heard in some time."

Toye has earned a right to voice his opinion and then some. He is the man who coaxed Pele to play for the Cosmos in 1975. It took Toye some four years to complete the process.

If anyone came to save the game, or at least give it a boost, it was Pele.

He joined the Cosmos when the then struggling North American Soccer League wasn't a blip on the national sports map and soccer was considered an ethnic sport.

Pele's presence started a soccer boom that is still felt today.

"The game could have failed and gone away," Toye said. "Beckham is coming to a different land. Even a presidential order or a dictator can't stop him.

"If Pele hadn't come, Beckham wouldn't be here. The core of the game is so entrenched in America."

Beckham is here and will play for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

His mission is to take the game into another orbit.

Toye said Beckhamís presence was ďan impact into the upper stratosphere of show business and media and into areas where soccer hasn't been. The next time there's the Oscars, I'm sure he'll be walking down the red carpet with the Mrs.

"It is a staggering difference that Beckham is getting hyped in fashion (publications). I Hope they're not going to be disappointed (with him as a player). The game is here, Beckham or not."

There has been so much hype about Beckham. He's all over the place -- on TV shows and magazine covers.

"Two months ago the biggest story was Anna Nicole Smith. Then it was Don Imus and Paris Hilton. Now the most important person on this planet is David Beckham. If I would have come from Mars, that's what I would say.

"The mass media hysteria has nothing to do about soccer."

But it certainly will help soccer.

Beckham was to be officially introduced to the American media during a press conference Friday morning at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

Pele was introduced to the media at the 21 Club in Manhattan.

"It was absolute chaos," Toye said. "While the Beckham thing has been widely known for many months, we had kept ours secret to stop Juventus and Real Madrid from intercepting Pele. There were four years of negotiations with absolute secrecy.

"It was maybe 10 days before the first press conference that he signed the contract."

The chaos came from the photographers stepping over each other trying to get the perfect picture. Toye had a table placed between them and Pele to protect the Black Pearl from being trampled.

"They were so badly behaved," Toye said. "They were abominable.

"We had more photographers there than we had in a game."

Toye said he decided on the posh 21 Club because "I wanted to show that soccer arrived in Manhattan and not tucked in the the ethnic boroughs."

There were reports emanating out of Brazil that the Cosmos were interested in Pele, but Toye wouldn't confirm them.

Toye remembered that Bruno Sniders, then sports columnist of the Rochester Times-Union, wrote that "Pele had as much chance of signing with the Cosmos as Moshe Dayan had flying a MIG fighter for the Egyptian Air Force."

Dayan was the Israeli minister of defense at the time.

"It was silence and abuse," Toye said.

The 21 Club press conference was on a Tuesday. The Cosmos were going to play the Dallas Tornado and Kyle Rote, Jr., then the best known American soccer player, in an exhibition game at ramshackle Downing Stadium on Randall's Island, home of the Cosmos, that Sunday.

Toye didn't have much to work with, his "huge staff" of maybe four people, as he put it.

And there was so much to do -- finalizing a deal with CBS to televise the match, get the Tornado to play in it and clean up the stadium.

"We had to frequently go out and there and clean up the mess," Toye said. "New York City workers didn't think sweeping the place was part of their mandate."

The club added more ticket booths outside the stadium and a TV booth inside of it and expanded the press box for the overflow of media.

Toye admitted he doesn't remember much about the game.

"I was absolutely so tired, I have recollection of the game," he said. "I remember the stadium being crammed. I remember the Triborough Bridge being jammed with cars. I remember Pele coming onto the field.

"I donít know how long I slept that night.

"We were only a handful of people on one Sunday training under the Triborough Bridge and the next Sunday we were the greatest thing since sliced bread."

That was only the beginning. The rest, as they say, is history.

Pele's presence brought in huge crowds to the stadiums and sparked a soccer boom that still has been felt today. In 1984, the U.S. Youth Soccer Association made a big deal of its one-millionth participant in the game. Today, more than three million children play the game.

Those children in quantity and quality became the base for the U.S. National Team, which has qualified for five consecutive World Cups, and MLS, which is in its 12th season.

Back in the seventies, there was an Americanization rule in the NASL in which teams had to play at least one American. Honest.

Today, a maximum of four foreign players can be on an MLS team's roster.

"There are more American players of quality playing in Europe right now than in the entire years of the North American Soccer League," Toye said. "They're all over the place. ď

Pele performed three seasons for the Cosmos, retiring in 1977 and helping the team to the NASL championship.

"The biggest effect was to take the game to the masses," Toye said. "It was well worth it."

Michael Lewis would like to hear from you. If you have a comment, drop him a line at email.

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