The late 1970’s and football in North America is really taking off. Yet for many Americans, football was a sport that wasn’t really about athletic achievements and the ultimate sporting prowess. Soccer players were marginalised in terms of athletic status behind the stars of the NBA, NFL and NHL. One man did a bit to temporarily change that view, until his temerity was stopped in its tracks in the name of “entertainment” and maybe a little bit of the American Dream. He wasn’t an import or a star name from overseas either.
Great Canadian footballers have been few on the ground, and with one World Cup appearance at Mexico 86, it sometimes requires a different kind of achievement to raise both the sport and the player’s profile. The man to provide that was Brian Budd.
In his teens Budd was your typical North American jock; a natural athlete who could seemingly turn his hand to any sport when the opportunity presented itself. After giving up figure skating at 14, he then achieved national age group records for swimming and was offered a university scholarship for track and field, thanks to his running ability. A near fatal incident in his late teens which left him with a slashed neck, gave him a lust for life that saw him grab every opportunity that came his way with a manner that was infectious to those who were around him. A genuine all-rounder, with a reputation for partying hard and playing harder.
With his wider sporting prowess, his involvement in football came late. Whilst at University, Brian won the Canadian University title with the UBC Thunderbirds. Around that time a touring British Columbia All Star team was heading to Vancouver Island for a series of games, but by the time came to board the ferry they had only 12 players available. An S.O.S. was sent out to Brian. He claims that his proximity to the ferry dock had as much to do with his selection as his playing record, but upon joining up with the All-Star team he scored 5 times in 3 games.
He was part of the team as the Vancouver Whitecaps entered the NASL in 1974; a second Canadian entry alongside Toronto and a replacement for the defunct Montreal Olympique. Whilst the club achieved little success whilst he was there, a platform for subsequent success was being built; the Whitecaps winning their Conference in 1978 and the Soccer Bowl in 1979 as attendances averaged over 20,000. By then Brian had moved on, both in terms of the team he played for and in terms of wider recognition.
The Superstars TV show had originated in the USA in 1973, with the BBC soon following with a version in the UK. The competition pitted top class sportsmen against each other in multi-sport challenges, testing their fitness and all round sporting skill. In the UK, footballers generally struggled to make an impact; Malcolm MacDonald running 100 yards in 10.9 seconds a rare highlight. However, it was different in the US and Canadian versions though.
US international Kyle Rote Jr, striker with the Dallas Tornado and leading NASL scorer in 1973, took three Superstars titles in 1974, 1976 and 1977. Starting three years after the UK and US, soccer had no representation in the first series of Canadian Superstars in 1976, but over the following three years Budd took part and dominated fields including Track & Field, American Football and Ice Hockey stars of the time.
His supreme levels of fitness saw him set new standards in the gym tests and lead the way in the pool and running events. His success in 1977 saw him invited to the World Superstars event, pitching him up against the best of the competitors from the other events held in the US and Europe. Again, for the following three years he beat the best as his success in Canada was followed by success at the Worlds. His dominance demonstrated by the fact that his three World Superstars wins were all by at least 13 points.
In 1980, a visit to Europe saw him sit in the audience for the Gym tests at the BBC Superstars Final, as decathlete Daley Thompson and hurdler John Sherwood attempted to wrestle away the title from judoka Brian Jacks; a man so synonymous with Superstars in the UK he even had a computer game named after him. Between events host David Vine interviewed Budd about his hopes for World Superstars and his unusual methodology for the squat thrusts, the slide, which enabled him to gain a great advantage over his fellow competitors.
Then, after Jacks had destroyed Thompson’s total in the Dips, Daley Thompson ushered an invite that Budd couldn’t resist. “Bring on Brian Budd….I want to see Budd”, called out Thompson. Budd walked up on to the stage, kicked off his shoes and without any warm up or preparation and in polo shirt and flares, he set about the dips on the parallel bars. His total of 60 was some way off Jacks’ total of 80, but he comfortably beat the 46 set by the superstar decathlete.
Budd went on to beat Sherwood and Jacks in the 1980 World Superstars in the Bahamas. His all-round sporting proficiency demonstrated in the fact that of the seven events he competed in he won three and finished second in four. Each competitor was allowed to ‘drop’ three events which had to include their own event (or near equivalent) if it was included. Well known Canadian columnist Jim Taylor once sarcastically joked that Budd’s success in Superstars was achieved thanks to the fact he didn’t have to take part in the soccer element. The reality was that by focusing on the events that required strength and stamina, rather than those where technical skill and luck were required, Budd maximised the points return his athleticism could achieve. This focused approach and clear dominance was seemingly caused US television some concern.
Following his 1980 success Budd announced that he wasn’t going to be asked back again because ABC said that he couldn’t compete after three wins. A March 1980 interview with CBC’s “As It Happens” referred to this as “the Budd rule.” Budd believed that the ABC network was creating the rule because they wanted better known U.S. sportsmen to win, like American football players “O.J. Simpson or Joe Theisman or Russ Francis.” The reality was that the US TV channel had applied the same rule to their domestic competition, ruling out the involvement of Kyle Rote Jr after 1977 and speed skater Anne Henning from the women’s event for similar reasons. Whilst Budd’s success might have grated, they had a precedent that they could refer to.
In 1978, with the success of Superstars increasing his public profile, Budd left the Whitecaps and joined the newly formed Caribous of Colorado. However, limited playing time led to him requesting a transfer and he got his wish, returning to Canada and the city of his birth with Toronto Metros-Croatia. A transfer which received much more publicity than it might otherwise receive thanks to his Superstars success, something his new club were seemingly keen to milk. A reporter for the Globe & Mail claimed that “the Metros are treating the acquisition of Budd as if it was the second coming of Pele!”
Alongside his NASL career Budd was proving to be an important player for the Cleveland Force in the indoor MISL League. His and the club’s debut season saw him score twenty five times, provide four assists and being named the team’s Most Valuable Player. Sadly that wasn’t enough to lift the club from the bottom of the standings or prevent them from having the worst attacking record of any club.
Budd missed the second Force season as it would overlap with training at Toronto however, with appearances for the newly re-named Blizzard limited, the NASL club offered to release him so he could focus on an indoor career. He turned down the opportunity and stayed, eventually moving to the Houston Hurricanes where he saw out his NASL career, at the same time playing two further years at the Baltimore Blast in the MISL.
His success away from football should not detract from his contribution on the pitch. Team-mates and supporters remember a strong and willing target man, who never gave the defenders marking him a moment to relax. Not the most technically gifted footballer, his athletic prowess more than compensated. He earned his first international cap in the 1-0 defeat of Mexico in 1976 and went on to claim seven caps, scoring two goals, including one in a World Cup qualifying victory over the USA.
A treasured memento of his career was Pele’s shirt from a friendly between Canada and the NY Cosmos. Budd telling an interviewer that the great Brazilian had told him “You’re not the best player I have ever met…but you’re the funniest.” Proof that the man christened MotorMouth by Whitecaps teammates could verbally win over the World’s best, even if he could get nowhere near him on the football pitch.
Some might have argued that he found himself being a footballer, rather than choosing to be a footballer, the matter of fact way in which he described how his football career started did little to suggest a natural enthusiasm. His post-playing career comments about missing the camaraderie on the buses, planes and in the dressing room, rather than the game, might have lent further weight to that train of thought. This would soon be dismissed as he first took on the role of Director of Public Affairs at Toronto and subsequently as a pundit on Toronto football network The Score from 2002 onwards. His enthusiastic and demonstrative manner was completely at odds with the staid and pragmatic approach to coverage at that time.
“You could see his passion when he was speaking about the English Premier League or about Toronto FC and the Canadian national team,” said Mo Johnston, then director of soccer for Toronto FC.
Budd was found dead at his Toronto home in 2008. The cause of death has never been revealed. He was 56, but in those years had achieved much, both inside and outside of the game. Capped by his country, valued by his clubs and team-mates, with his Superstars success having helped raise the profile of football and footballers in North America and engendered a level of acknowledgement for their athletic prowess that never been recognised before. In reality there was no “Budd Rule”, but for a brief spell Brian Budd Ruled.
By Ian Rands
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona