By J Hutcherson - Toronto traces its North American Soccer League history all the way back to 1967, with teams in the National Professional Soccer League and the rival United Soccer Association. In 1968, the two leagues merged to form the NASL, and Toronto’s franchise kept their NPSL nickname of Falcons.
Playing at Varsity Stadium on the campus of the University of Toronto, the club managed a winning season and an average attendance of 5,366 before joining the bulk of the NASL in folding after the ’68 season.
Three years later a new franchise began play in Toronto. This time they took the name Metros and continued to supply marginal seasons to the core group of supporters at Varsity Stadium. The new franchise was far from successful, and it too faced collapse after the 1974 season. Fortunately, a local amateur club side bailed out the troubled ownership, and the grateful team added the amateur club’s name to their own. For the next three years, the franchise would be known as Toronto Metros-Croatia, incorporating aspects of the Croatian flag and a pink Canadian maple leaf into their official logo.
The great Eusebio turned out for Metros-Croatia in 1976, but with the game south of the border heading for record attendance and a golden era, an excellent Toronto club did not benefit. Despite a 15-9 regular season and a playoff run ending with the club lifting the Soccer Bowl championship in Seattle, the city did not respond. A little over 5,000 people turned out for the club’s home games in ’76, and the championship only increased attendance by 2,000 for the ’77 regular season.
In 1979, the club changed its name again. This time they became the Blizzard, and began to play their home games at the much larger Exhibition Stadium. Realizing that Toronto could be one of the league’s elite franchises, former Cosmos and Chicago Sting executive Clive Toye journeyed north in September of ’79 to become the president of a refurbished Toronto franchise.
The man who had signed Pele for the Cosmos and was largely responsible for the success of the NASL after 1975, Toye soon found just how troubled the club was. In a period where Toronto was the home to underachieving franchises in baseball, Canadian football, and hockey, only the Blizzard suffered at the gate.
By 1981, Toye had had enough. “There is absolutely no human reason why the Blizzard should not be one of the dominant NASL franchises and a dominant factor in Toronto sports life. There’s no reason for that whatsoever. And yet despite Toye’s firm belief in the potential for the team and city, it just didn’t happen. The 1981 season saw a dip in the clubs form, and a corresponding decrease in attendance from a hardly impressive 15,000 to less than 7,000.
By any estimate, the 1981 season was an unmitigated disaster. The team ended the season with taking attendance after only managing seven wins in a 32 game season. From September of 1980 to May 1981, the club lost almost three million dollars, and with no sign of a turnaround the team’s owners, Global Communications, put them up for sale.
Toye guaranteed the team’s future by promising to step in with a group to stabilize the ownership, but the club’s finances and ownership would be anything but stable for the next three years.
To Toye’s credit, he did turn the team’s on-field performance around after the ’81 season. A winning record in ’82 laid the groundwork for challenging for the tile in ’83. Toronto fell at the last hurdle that year, losing the Soccer Bowl to Tulsa. But the same problems with attendance, finances, and ownership continued to plague the club.
By September of ’84, Clive Toye had taken over as the chairman of the club’s ownership, but by that time the league and the Blizzard were on life-support and Toye was a bit more realistic. “In the past three years we have removed the reasons always given to us by fans as an excuse for why they’re not supporting us. People said all winter that they will be behind us now that we have done all those things. They didn’t keep their promise and I feel somewhat let down.”
Toye watched his Blizzard finish another winning season in front of average attendances of a little over 11,000 and for the second straight year the Blizzard made it to the league championship, this time a three-game series against the Chicago Sting.
The final game in the history of the North American Soccer League was played in September in Toronto. A 2-0 loss saw the Chicago Sting sweep the Blizzard and win the final league championship.
In the following weeks, Clive Toye would become acting commissioner of a league that for all practical purposes no longer existed, valiantly trying to gather enough teams for a 1985 season. Toye’s plan failed, and by late March of 1985 only the Blizzard and the Minnesota Strikers remained members of the NASL. On March 29, Toye’s tenure as commissioner, and for all practical purposes the NASL, ended with the fateful words “We simply ran out of time.”
For Toronto, the name “Blizzard” would be resurrected for the city’s Canadian Soccer League side, lasting five years until the league folded in 1992. The Blizzard played the ’93 season in the American Professional Soccer League (now known as the A-League) before another name change. The Toronto Rockets finished dead last in 1994 and folded at the end of the season.