Home NASL & USL More NASL & USL Local hero Decaire recalls his NASL days with the Montreal Manic

Local hero Decaire recalls his NASL days with the Montreal Manic

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With a stellar amateur career behind him, Brian Decaire signed with his hometown team in 1982, becoming the first local talent to enlist with the NASL’s Montreal Manic. He spent two seasons with the team and, now almost 30 years removed from the pitch, looks back on his time in the pro ranks with mixed emotions.

It was gratifying to play at the top level to which a Canadian kid could realistically aspire, meeting and competing with childhood idols and earning as much or more than the average NASL player does today, but for much of his time in the professional ranks Decaire felt as if he was the outsider, not the native son.

Growing up in a suburban bedroom community near Montreal, young Brian took part in each season’s offerings but soccer always held top spot in his affections.

“Soccer was THE sport even when I was young in terms of participation and Beaconsfield was a real hotbed,” he recalled. “We had tremendous coaching and had a great system. At the time George Mosley was a coach who had his finger in every age group. I benefitted from his tutelage for a number of years. That’s where it all starts — from great coaching. All his teams were very successful.”

Televised soccer was among the viewing options but in the pre-satellite days the choice was not as varied as it is today.

Brian Decaire

“When I was a kid I was really a big fan of the German Bundesliga because that’s all we got. That was on every weekend and I used to watch those games with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and all those guys that were at the top of their game,” he said before mentioning that he got to share the pitch with at least one of the men he watched on the small screen.

“I ended up playing against Franz Beckenbauer when he played with the Cosmos, which was amazing because he was the one that invented the position that I played, which was sweeper, so to play opposite him was an unreal experience to say the least.

He had won a World Cup with Germany and was described and honoured like Bobby Orr, as someone who had revolutionized his game and served as a model for so many players. I think he was 36 when I played against him but he looked like he was 25. He was just solid.”

Cosmos Drubbing

Every now and then a world-level 11 would come to town. One game in particular stands out.

“I was a kid. Santos of Brazil, Pele’s club team, was playing around the world against Bologna of Italy. I got to see them at the Autostade in Montreal. We had tickets way up in the heavens. It must have been in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s and everybody’s attention was on one player because the whole game went through him. There was one ball out there and 22 players but he controlled everything.”

Decaire played through high school and junior college, often spending several years with the same teammates, moving up from one age group to another with team rosters largely intact. Such transitions made for a strong cohesive team identity and grounded Decaire in a group-centred culture, where the team is paramount and individual glory downplayed in the quest for collective success.

His university years saw him spend three seasons with the McGill Redmen. During that time the team’s results improved every year. In 1979 they didn’t qualify for the National Championship but Decaire was named a collegiate All-Star. He was given the same distinction in 1980 as the Redmen finished third in the tourney.

Named McGill captain in 1981, he threepeated as an All-Star and led McGill to the national title, defeating the University of Alberta on its home ground in a game that extended over 120 minutes of scoreless play before being decided 4-2 in with penalty kicks.

“That was a very tough game. It was a tremendous team,” he recalled. “We had built up to become the team that we were. It was in a very hostile environment, playing with their fans ringing the field about ten people deep. There were no stands but it was a wonderful grass field.”

The victory earned McGill its first national sports title in over two decades. The team was enshrined in the university’s sports hall of fame in 2001, 20 years after its triumph.

Decaire did not put his newly minted history degree to work for him upon graduation. Instead he was courted by the Montreal Manic. His name put forward for consideration by Petru Mindu, who had named him team captain while he held the reins of the Quebec Selects. Mindru had taken a post as assistant to Manic head coach Eddie Firmani.

“There was a tremendous amount of talent that Quebec had produced and I was one of the ones asked to play indoor with them after they ended their season in 1980, I think it was. They had a facility set up in the Olympic Stadium and I went there it seems like three or four times a week for all the training they did,” Decaire said.

“From there they invited me to their training camp in Fort Lauderdale. I was there with lots and lots of people. There were a lot American players. We played a bunch of exhibition games and I was told by the GM that they wanted to discuss a contract with me.”

Making the Deal

Guaranteed contracts were unheard of in the NASL of the 1980s. Negotiating one was a new experience for the prospective pro sweeper.

“There was a standard contract. One of the things that stands out is that they can fire you if you stink, if they think you’re going to stink or even if they think they can detect an odour,” Decaire chuckled. “Basically they can fire you at any moment and it just ends right there.”

Decaire got a bit of advice before sitting down to talk terms with management. It came from a somewhat unlikely source, his immediate superior.

“Before we went in to meet Roger Samson, the GM, Eddie Firmani took me aside and said in his quiet South African accent, ‘Brian, don’t say anything about this conversation when we go into the room but tell them a few things about yourself. Tell them you’re a home-grown product and that may mean something at the gate. Tell them you’re confident you’re going to play a lot of games and tell them that you think you should earn above the minimum.’”

He told me what the minimum was ($21,000) and said I should ask for $36,000. I went in and Roger said, “Brian, we want to offer you a contract. We’re thinking of some numbers and he proposed something.”

They settled on $32,000, an amount that meant very little to the newly minted pro with only summer jobs on his resume until that point.

“If they’d have told me it really wasn’t in their budget to pay me but I could still play, I’d have said ‘OK’ and worked at Canadian Tire or something like that like lacrosse players do.”

His initial game in professional ranks came against New York Cosmos. Decaire had missed playing against the legendary Pele by a season but the Brazilian superstar was on hand for the opening ceremonies. Meeting the greatest player in the game was a high point in Decaire’s career. Unfortunately it came immediately following a 6-0 spanking that he remembers as the soundest drubbing he’d ever experienced.

“The way the NASL worked was that you could get as many as nine points for a victory depending on how many goals you scored. At the end of the first half it was 1-0 for the Cosmos but they scored five in the second half because, slowly, our team got on their toes and started pushing forward to try to salvage at least three points out of the game and they counterattacked,” he said.

“I remember having three guys come down on me at a time. It was humiliating. After the game I sheepishly went up to Pele because he was sitting on the Cosmos bench the whole game. I thought, ‘I don’t really have the right to even look at this man or wear a soccer uniform or cleats and be in the same profession as he was in but I have to do this’ so I shook his hand.

“He said to me, ‘It’s very nice to meet you. I’m sorry it’s on a day like this.’”

Camaraderie? Not in the NASL!

The transition to the professional game was a tough one on the incoming sweeper. Maintaining the intensity needed to compete at that level, both in practice and in games, took a toll on Decaire. About a half-dozen games into the 1982 schedule season the No. 26 sweater was not hanging in his locker when he arrived for a game against Vancouver.

Coach Firmani announced, “Brian, I’m going to give you a bit of a rest today,” and the exhausted rookie happily took his place in the press box. Glad of the day off, he suggested light-heartedly to keeper Victor Nogueira, also out of the line-up, that they acquire some hot dogs and drinks and enjoy their day of rest.

“He looked at me and said, ‘You’re an idiot,’” Decaire remembered.

Nogueira, like the majority of NASL players in the 80s, did not have a college degree to help put groceries on the table. All his eggs were in one basket. He elaborated for the new kid.

“You’re a freaking idiot. If those guys play well, what do you think happens to us?”

“From being really relaxed and grateful for the break, I was all of a sudden in a panic,” he continued before explaining the geographic personnel requirements for league teams at the time.

“There was a rule saying that you had to have a minimum of four North American players on the field at all times. We had an American goalie named Rigby and if he played, that meant Robert Vosmaer from Holland could play sweeper. If I played it meant Victor could play so in essence he and I were competing against Vosmaer and Bob Rigby.”

As it turned out, Vosmaer was stripped of the ball deep in Manic territory late in the game, an error that resulted in a Vancouver goal and led to a roasting of the Dutch player in the media.

Decaire was back on the pitch for the next game and every subsequent one on the 1982 calendar.

“That wasn’t my first lesson about the difference between the professional and amateur but the attitude on the professional level is that you’re taking food out of somebody’s child’s mouth. It’s not a collegial slap-you-on-the-back type of affair, it’s a business,” he declared.

“I was the only new guy on the block. Victor had played pro previously so he was accepted but the others didn’t talk to me.” Decaire elaborated. “What I learned from the Fort Lauderdale experience was that I had beaten a friend of theirs out for the job. Some of these guys had played 10 years in the league and they weren’t interested in helping out the new guard.”

The only rookie on the squad, Decaire followed instructions, operating strictly as a defensive player, no longer joining the attack or taking the set plays as he had in his amateur days.

“I just more or less stopped the ball and handed it off and I never ventured forward. It wasn’t asked or expected of me and I wasn’t given licence to do that, which was the way I had always played,” he said. “Eddy would remind me that all he wanted me to do, because I was pretty big and pretty strong, was stay between the goal posts.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the courage to try to be creative and express myself as an athlete. I just did what I was told and it wasn’t really much fun playing that way but I had tremendous respect for him and I was playing with athletes from South Africa, Yugoslavia, Nigeria, Italy, from all over the place.”

While playing it safe may not have been personally satisfying all the time, the results over the course of the season were pleasing to the young pro. The Manic won 19 of 32 games that season and sent a particularly stingy defence onto the pitch.

“In one way I was happy to keep playing because we had the fewest goals against the first year I played. I was very proud of that,” said Decaire.

Firmani, described by Decaire as “a gentle soul” was no longer running the team. In his stead, elevated from the team’s playing ranks, was the much fiercer and considerably more volatile Irishman, Andy Lynch, not one of the soft-spoken Decaire’s favourite people.

“He would tell me before a game, ‘I want you to go up on the first corner kick and drive your head into the goalie’s face.’ I had never in my life, playing hockey, basketball or wrestling, intentionally hurt somebody. I played sports aggressively but I had never tried to hurt someone and that was pretty off-putting. It’s just not in my nature and of course I never did it.”

Things didn’t improve in terms of team harmony either, Decaire remembered.

“The competition was just as unfriendly the second year because I played sweeper and the fellow who played centre back wanted to play sweeper. I lost all my mojo the second year. I thought a few times about leaving and not coming back because I sort of thought ‘This has run its course.’”

A public dressing-down from a teammate did not do anything to improve Decaire’s impression of life among the pros.

“There was a goal scored against us during a well-attended game at the Olympic Stadium and inside the 18-yard box in front of about 20,000 people Tony Towers, our team captain, points at me and starts yelling.

“That’s just what they did. I understand it more now,” he reflected over a quarter century later. “Some of them were starting to get long in the tooth and didn’t know how much longer they had but it was not what I was emotionally and psychologically prepared for.

“If I could have had a personality transplant I would have loved to be one of these people that didn’t affect at all and could just put my nose up in the air but I wasn’t groomed for that. I always tried to lead by example, encourage the others and wouldn’t say a negative thing about a player even if you put a gun to my head. I just knew everybody was doing their best and I would try to give them help as I had been helped.”

Married for almost 25 years and father of three soccer players, Decaire, who moved to the Toronto area after hanging up his cleats after the 1983 season, spent a dozen years coaching youth soccer.

“I stopped three years ago. My daughter had had enough of me coaching,” he joked. “I benefitted so much from the game. It’s a no-brainer; I have to give back to the game.”

Last year Decaire was contacted by McGill University and informed that he was among the people to be enshrined in that institution’s Sports Hall of Fame.

“I really regretted losing touch with McGill. I moved a long time ago to Toronto. I would get the correspondence from McGill and contribute a little bit to the alumni fund but there’s really not a lot of sporting news in those publications,” he said. ‘Somebody phoned me up and asked if I was the Brian Decaire who went to McGill and played for the Manic? I said, ‘Yes’ and they said they’d like me to be part of the ceremony.

“I see the game as a team sport and the first thing I said was, ‘It’s a great tribute but the team should be honoured long before an individual.’”

“They said, ‘The team’s already in.’“

“Oops.”

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7 Comments

  1. ben

    March 25, 2016 at 5:41 am

    Hi Brian
    I’m just a bit younger than you but i remember well playing against Beaconsfield.I played number 9 for Longueuil and a team called Vasco.Beaconsfield was so strong.I remember Pincourt being good as well.I think we played a game Montreal against Beaconsfield at centre Robillard. 1-1. I was brought to this page because i’m looking for pictures of that game Pelé played at Autostade.I was there!..I still play…very slowly.But i still take it way too seriously…

    Reply

  2. Celeste Decaire

    September 28, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    My dad was very impressed with your skillfull writing and would like to thank you very, very much for writing this article. I would also like to thank you for writing about my dad’s accomplishments in his soccer career. He is way too modest to speak about how amazing of a soccer player he was. I’m very proud to call him my father and I always brag about his talent because believe it or not, at 53 years old, he still has it!

    Reply

    • Bruce Laker

      September 1, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      Dear Celeste,

      I grew up in Beaconsfield and am a few years younger than your father, he probably has no idea who I am but if you ask him if he remembers Bob Laker, he probably will. I am Bob’s youngest son, Bruce Laker.

      I remember watching your father train and play on City 1 back in the Mid 70’s. It was one of the most amazing things for a 10 year old kid to see a Superstar like your father on the same field that I played on. And you are right, he was an amazing soccer player.

      When he was playing for the Manic, I think in his second year, he stepped up and told Fran O’Brien to go away and Brian took a direct free kick from about 60 yards out and rung the ball off the Cross Bar. The New York Cosmos keeper, I think it was Hubert Birkenmeier, almost pooped himself because he was nowhere near making a save. I will always remember that, it was for me, the moment when a Local boy showed the stuck up pros what we all knew he could do.

      I am very happy I went looking for your father today, it’s great to read that he is doing well.

      Reply

    • Vic Riley

      March 3, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      Hi Celeste, what a great article about your dad. I had the extreme pleasure of coaching Brian with the Beaconsfield U16 team back in the early ’70s, and even then I knew that he would end up on the pro circuit.
      Vic Riley

      Reply

      • Stephen Lambert

        March 24, 2016 at 7:00 pm

        Hi Brian,

        I played with you when we were kids . It was allot of fun playing in that time. You were always a strength in the backfield. Jim Takacs is one of many that stood out on our team as well as Mark Patriquin. We had a good team and were well coached. Those memories
        for me will never be forgotten. I wish I had stuck with it, but we all make choices. After all these years, those times for me are still cherished.

        All the best to you and your family

        Stephen Lambert

        Reply

        • Brian

          June 2, 2016 at 5:28 pm

          Hi Stephen,
          I just saw this note that you left and thank you. What a strange coincidence because I was just telling one of my kids last week that you were the one that taught me how to play soccer. I remember being in absolute awe of your skills. You were a soccer prodigy, the best I ever saw. I remember playing in your backyard and trying to copy your skills. I would try to do what you did so effortlessly with that wonderful natural ability. My attempts at imitating you encouraged my love of the beautiful game. Thank you for your friendship back then and for what you taught me. All my best to you and your family.

          Brian

          Reply

  3. Jeremy

    September 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Great great article. Thanks.

    Reply

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