When the winning goal was booted home in the 1983 Under-16 Canadian Championship, coach Derek Gardiner raced to the field, jumped for joy and dove into the melee of players celebrating on the ground. It had been an amazing season for this team; a dream year. And for the parent club, cheering on in astonished anticipation, the win was the milestone they had dreamed about. With this victory the North York Cosmos Soccer Club had truly come of age.
Conceived during the lazy summer days of 1978 and officially born on January 1, 1979, the North York Cosmos was the issue of a merger between the Don Mills and York Mills soccer clubs. Neighbours and fierce rivals, the two clubs were long-standing and well respected organizations playing in the old North York Minor Soccer Association. They placed power-house teams, winning numerous league and tournament championships, but in the prestigious tournaments, the Robbie and Ontario Cup, they always fell a goal or two short.
The idea behind the merger was to create a stronger club that could compete with the larger teams. An increased talent pool in terms of players, coaches and administration was needed to take the clubs to the next level. Also a more sound organization was required for the game to grow. At this point in time, the York Mills player base was dwindling and in danger of not being able to provide a viable house league. Both clubs recognized their weaknesses but it was the vision and determination of three individuals in particular who made the merger happen: Dick Evans, Danny Horrocks and Owen O'Neil.
Dick Evans, York Mills' outgoing president the Cosmos' first, is fondly remembered as "the glue that held it all together". His tireless enthusiasm and countless hours of toil guaranteed that the fledgling club would fly. Along with Owen O'Neil, who ensured continuity and responsibility in the treasury department, and Danny Horrocks, a Don Mills executive member, coach and the club's heart and soul, they made a dynamic triumvirate that promised soccer in North York a vibrant future.
After their respective governing boards endorsed the merger, the new board had to find a name for the club, something to break with the past and reflect a new start. The first choice was "Oriole", but the kids hated it. On a whim, Danny Horrocks suggested "North York Cosmos". It received some laughs and the meeting continued on. But the name stuck. It seemed such a natural. The North American Soccer League was at its height and players like Pele, Beckenbauer and Chinaglia were with the "New York Cosmos". Needless to say, the kids loved it. With new uniform colours of white and blue and a stylish "shooting star" logo, the club was ready for action.
An inaugural player base of over 700 had the Cosmos hoping to make a huge impact in their rookie season. Instead they met with the usual success. They would win tournaments across North America in all the age groups yet fail to break through the glass ceiling by winning one of the prestige tournaments. This drought would last until 1983 when it all came together in the highly competitive Under-16 age group.
Coach Derrick Gardiner knew he had a good team, but just how good wasn't clear until the Robbie Tournament. They romped in the finals, beating cross-town rivals Mississauga Clarkson 5-0. Perhaps the most significant and exciting win was the semi-final against reigning champions East Kilbride from Scotland. In a game for the ages, the hard-fought contest was tied after overtime and it took an excruciating 13 penalty kicks to decide a winner. After such a test of skill and character, it was no wonder the final was theirs. From this victory the Under-16s went on to capture the 1983 Ontario and Canadian championships.
More success followed in 1984. Ray Moulsdale's Under-18 team, which lost the 1983 Robbie final as under-age when coached by Ray's brother Tommy, won the Ontario and Canadian championships. In an intense final that also went to penalty kicks, it was the goalie, Ian Allison, who scored the winning goal. Colin Grattan, another of the outstanding players on his team, was invited to play for Glentorran of the Irish First Division, thus becoming the first Cosmos player to turn professional.
1983 and 1984 were the peak years for the Cosmos. With a player base of over 1,000. They were as big and strong as they've ever been. After 1984, changing demographics again caught up to the Cosmos. Until 1991, their numbers declined to a low of 500 players. Consequently, the Cosmos have yet to win another national title but have always remained a threat. In 1990, the Under-18 team won the Ontario Cup on the field and subsequently lost it in the boardroom, a disappointing decision that was somewhat healed when Manny Hubert's Under-19 team won the Robbie Tournament in 1991.
Winning tournaments isn't the only measure of success for the North York Cosmos. At the grassroots level the club has one of the most organized and competitive house league programs in the province. The house league has also hosted many "all-star" and competitive tournaments, beginning from 1979 with the Bata Invitational Atom Tournament, so named because of Bata's generous sponsorship of the first year club. House league "all-star" tournaments continue to be part of the club's drive to provide the most competitive outlet for all its players, regardless of their sex.
The Cosmos have always been proud of its commitment to girls soccer. Girls have been playing on boys teams since before it became law and the club was already working hard to establish all-girls teams. They redoubled their efforts in 1985 and the result was an all girls house league, a first for North York. Women's soccer has since flourished right across Canada and the Cosmos continued to place some of the most competitive teams. 1995 was the year that the U-14 girls brought home the ever important Ontario Cup, edging every other team in their age group.
Around the same time, the push for girls soccer saw the introduction of mini soccer for boys and girls aged four to six. This is a great way to introduce kids to the game and you can't get anymore grassroots than this, nor can you have more fun. It's been instrumental in introducing a new generation of kids to the world's greatest game.
The North York Cosmos was founded with the goal of providing an "outlet" for boys and girls to play soccer, at the representative or house league level, according to their ability and in an atmosphere of good sportsmanship". As such, they have always fostered a healthy environment for the children to play and develop. Soccer, perhaps more than other sport, plays a major role in preparing one for the challenges of life: how to win or lose gracefully, commitment, teamwork and good health.
Cosmos soccer is a rewarding experience that stays with you for life. Nowhere is this more evident than in the continual commitment made by members of the club. Some players have made a career out of soccer, such as Colin Grattan or Steve Jansen, Ramy Rajballie, Dave Ashfield and Ross Quarterone, who all played professionally in Canada. Dave Ashfield and Dan Wood have since gone to coach at Centennial College and Seneca College respectively. Many other players received University scholarships or grants in Canada and the United States that have assisted with their education.
Perhaps the best testament is the large number of former players who are now involved with the club via coaching and administration, or as parents of current players. The executive has also received great commitment, with three names standing out for being with the club since its inception: Mary Garden, Tommy Moulsdale and Bruce Wood. They, along with so many others, have been instrumental in maintaining the strength and integrity of the North York Cosmos.
Through the years, the Cosmos have become an integral part of the community it serves. They enjoy great sponsorship support from local businesses and organizations. In return, the Cosmos have been ambassadors for North York as the teams travel to tournaments all over Canada, the United States and even England and Wales, where Tommy Moulsdale's U-16 team did an excellent job of representing Canada at the 1989 Ian Rush Tournament. They've even gone so far as to selling light bulbs door to door to help pay for light fixtures in the then new North York Stadium.
As the new season approaches the Cosmos are preparing for another run at the top. The organization has remained strong and a positive change in demographics has seen the number of players registered continue on an upward spiral. They remain obligated to serving the best interest of the children and youths who participate in sport in North York, and to being an integral part of soccer in Ontario. Now if only they could win another national title or put a star in the English Premier League, it would be glory days all over again.