Sunday 13 May 2012

Impact's Olympic Stadium success brings back memories of Le Manic

It is quite extraordinary to see how well the Montreal Impact’s debut in Major League Soccer has began. At first, the fact that news  their new Stade Saputo would not be ready until June sounded problematic. The team announced that the season would start next door at Olympic Stadium.

Tony Towers
Well, they had a giant sized crowd of 55,000 for their opener in March and packed in 60,000 to see David Beckham and the LA Galaxy on May 12.  This reminds me of the glory days of the Montreal Manic. Although the team only survived here for three years in the 1980s, they enjoyed some pretty good periods here and had some pretty huge crowds of their own.  I attended most home games – indoors and outdoors – as a member of the media. What they did absolutely right was get players out into the community and before long names like Tony Towers, Carmine Marcantonio, Thomas Usiyan, Gordon Alec Hill and Bob Rigby were very familiar. There was amiable head coach Eddie Firmani and a rabid base of fans.

Le Manic were owned by Molson Brewery and their decision to try and transform the team into Team Canada for 1984 fell flat on its face. The franchise folded  and four years later the Montreal Supra, predecessors to the Impact, entered the scene. Playing out of Centre Claude Robillard they brought professional soccer back here via baby steps. They effectively became the Impact in 1992 and with the steady hand of Joey Saputo at the helm developed into what is today a top-notch organization.

Saputo worked very hard to bring the MLS here and he deserves high praise for doing so. His decision to hire Legendre as executive vice-president and people like ticket sales boss  Brian Weightman showed that he has a knack for  selecting front office talent. Legendre was a former  pro tennis player, oversaw the Jarry Tennis Stadium and annual world class tournaments and served as a provincial cabinet minister. He was a key hire in getting  Stade Sapuoto built and now expanded.

While Saputo was unavailable to meet  with me, I did spend some time with Legendre at field level and he shared with me some of the reasons why the Impact will probably continue to use the Big Owe each season. 

Here is my video interview:

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