Tony Waiters, Blackpool and England goalkeeper who moved to the NASL and managed Canada – obituary

Telegraph Obituaries
·4 min read
Waiters in 1970 - PA Wire
Waiters in 1970 - PA Wire

Tony Waiters, who has died aged 83, was a footballer who played more than 250 games in goal for Blackpool and five times for England under Alf Ramsey; he later moved to the North American Soccer League, or NASL, managing Vancouver Whitecaps and going on to lead Canada to the 1986 World Cup, their only appearance in the finals tournament.

Anthony Keith Waiters was born in Southport, then in Lancashire, on February 1 1937. He played at centre-half as a schoolboy, and it was only while doing National Service that he moved between the posts.

In 1957 he signed for the famous amateur side Bishop Auckland of the Northern League, moving to Macclesfield Town, then of the Cheshire County League, after a season. He gained a teaching certificate in Physical Education from Loughborough College, during which time he turned out for the England amateur side.

Tony Waiters in action for the Seasiders, circa 1960 - Don Morley/Getty Images
Tony Waiters in action for the Seasiders, circa 1960 - Don Morley/Getty Images

After a season with Macclesfield, Waiters was spotted by Ron Suart, manager of First Division Blackpool, and signed on professional terms in 1959.

The Seasiders were not the force they had been, and for the next few years were either solidly mid-table or flirting with relegation, despite the high-energy presence of Alan Ball in midfield. Finally, in 1967, they were relegated in Waiters’s final season, for the first time since the 1930s.

Despite Blackpool’s travails Waiters was a reliable presence between the sticks, and in 1964, with the World Cup on the horizon, the England manager Alf Ramsey was seeking a reliable back-up for Gordon Banks. Waiters played five games for the national side and made the initial squad of 40 for the tournament, but lost out to Banks, Ron Springett and Peter Bonetti in the final 22.

After leaving Blackpool, Waiters worked for the Football Association as a regional coach, and for Liverpool’s youth development programme, before taking up a coaching job with Burnley. In 1970 he came out of retirement for 40 games, after an injury to the Clarets’ keeper Peter Mellor. He finally hung up his gloves in 1972.

That year he was named coach of the England youth side, whom he led to the 1973 European Championship in Italy, where they beat East Germany 3-2 after extra time in the final. He then became manager at Plymouth Argyle, taking them up into the Second Division in 1975.

Tony Waiters, manager of Plymouth Argyle, in August 1976 - Getty Images
Tony Waiters, manager of Plymouth Argyle, in August 1976 - Getty Images

Sacked by Plymouth two years later, he crossed the Atlantic and took over at Vancouver Whitecaps of the NASL, which had begun operating in 1968 and was reaching the zenith of its popularity (it lasted until 1984).

The Whitecaps were one of the less fancied sides, but in 1979, bolstered by big names from England like Alan Ball and Kevin Hector, they reached the play-offs, beating New York Cosmos – whose roster included Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Neeskens and Carlos Alberto – to reach the Soccer Bowl.

There, at the Giants stadium in New Jersey, thanks to a brace of goals from the former Ipswich and England striker Trevor Whymark, they overcame the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1.

In 1981 Waiters took charge of the Canadian national side, and three years later they made their first international waves, progressing to the quarter-finals of the Olympics in Los Angeles. They reached their first World Cup finals in 1986 in Mexico; in their opening game they were holding France to a goal-less draw until Jean-Pierre Papin scored in the 79th minute to give France the win.

Canada lost both their next two games 2-0, to Hungary and the Soviet Union, and went home winless and goalless, but they had by no means disgraced themselves against superior opposition.

Waiters resigned, but managed the team again briefly in 1990.

He formed the company World of Soccer, which produced coaching books and equipment. He also launched the website Byte Size Coaching for parents, coaches and volunteers, and worked as a coach for US Soccer.

Tony Waiters is survived by his wife Anne and their children Scott and Victoria.

Tony Waiters, born February 1 1937, died November 10 2020