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Colin Jose

Colin Jose

Colin Jose has been researching the history of soccer in both Canada and the United States for over 40 years, and is regarded as the leading figure in this field.

TANGENTS

The Rise And Fall Of The Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League

Written by on February 3, 2011 | No Comments »
Posted in History and Books

World War Two was a disaster for soccer in Ontario.  Basically the governing bodies of the game ceased to exist.  The CSA of the day folded its tent in 1940 and didn’t put it up again until 1946.

The Ontario Football Association effectively shut down for ten years, while the National Soccer League stopped playing from 1941 to 1947.  There was a disconnect between soccer before the war and soccer after.

One man bridged the gap and picked up the pieces, his name Arthur Arnold.  The Hamilton businessman had been involved with the National Soccer League before the war and he was appointed by the CSA to put the game back together.  Also the war came on the heels of the world’s financial disaster of the 1930s.

Before the war soccer in Ontario was dominated by the British, Canadian soccer players were as rare as a snowflake in July.  After the war immigrants from all over Europe flooded in, creating serious problems for those trying to administer the game.  Arnold as president of the OFA and the NSL had the almost impossible job of keeping all the warring actions apart.

However, by the late 1950s the ship seemed to be sailing along less in stormy seas, and the time seemed to be ripe, going into the 1960s, for a new venture.

In the days when a soccer game might have been televised once a year, the game seemed to be crying out for something new.  It came in the form of the Eastern Canadian Professional Soccer League (ECPSL).

Over the Christmas of 1960 two men, George Gross and Peter Bosa got together around the tree and an idea was born.  Gross takes up the story in the May 1971 edition of the Toronto Soccer paper.

“Bosa mentioned he had some friends in Hamilton, who would be interested in forming a professional team in that city, providing we could come up with two teams in Toronto and one in Montreal.”

“There was no problem with the first team in Toronto because Bosa had the backing of his executive to move the Italia team from the NSL to a would-be, new pro league.”

Now Bosa told Gross that the onus was on him to move the idea forward.  “I’ve done my share by committing the Italia team and arranging the Hamilton entry.  It will be up to you to come up with the second Toronto entry and a team in Montreal.”

Gross arranged for Dr. Ernest Stastny to take care of the Montreal entry and set about building a second team for Toronto.  “I turned to some friends to help, “ wrote Gross.  “After several meetings Laddy Myslivec, an industrialist, Ed Fitkin, then a broadcaster, and Steve Stavro, a well-to-do businessman and soccer fanatic, joined me in forming a club which became known as Toronto City Soccer Club.”

By now it was mid-March of 1961, and Toronto City had no players.  So Gross and Fitkin set off for England to try to sign some, and sign some they did.

Somehow they managed to sign Stanley Matthews, Danny Blanchflower, Jackie Mudie, Johnny Haynes and Tommy Younger, some of the biggest names in British soccer in the 1950s and 60s, “Watch It, Chaps, Here Comes Soccer” was the headline in the Globe and Mail.

A crowd of 16,509 took in the opening game at Varsity Stadium as City took on Toronto Italia, in the first of a 24 game schedule for each of the four teams in the league.

Thus it was that the ECPSL began operating in the Spring of 1961, with four teams.  The ECPSL brought in players from Britain, Italy and Argentina in particular and the average wage for imported players was said to be $125 a week, plus board and lodging and travel from and to their homeland.

The two Toronto teams played their home games at Varsity Stadium where the total attendance for 18 league games and six play off games was 145,479, in that first season, for an average of 6,061 per game.

The average ticket price at Varsity was $1.50.  Hamilton played at what is now Ivor Wynne Stadium, while Montreal made its home at Delormier Stadium.

The league opened on May 15 with Hamilton Steelers beating Montreal Cantalia in Montreal.  But the major attraction came five days later when Italia and City clashed at Varsity Stadium before 16,509 fans with Italia winning 3-2.

On that night it looked as if the league was well on its way, but attendances in Hamilton and Montreal didn’t come up to those in Toronto.  Even in Toronto only one other league game topped the 10,000 mark.

Attendances in 1962 and 1963 remained on a par with 1961, with Italia being the most popular team.  However, attendances fell away in 1964 when ticket prices rose and the league went downhill from that point on.

But the beginning of the end came on January 8, 1966 when Toronto City announced that it was dropping out of the league.

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