The great soccer players of Liverpool and Manchester United once considered the indoor game sacrilegious. But not when they slowed in their 30s and 40s and certainly not when they got off the plane to minus-20 C temperatures in Toronto for this afternoon's Legends of Soccer tournament at the Air Canada Centre. Liverpool goalkeeper Gary Gillespie conducted interviews yesterday wearing a wool scarf -- at room temperature in the middle of the converted ACC pitch.
"There's wind and rain at home, but nothing like this," Gillespie said. "I was over here playing in Hamilton with Celtic in 1994, but that was in the summer."
Gillespie and the oldtimers from prominent teams began playing indoors about six years ago, in part, ironically, because arenas in British cities with hockey teams needed other revenue. This is their first trip abroad, for a round-robin tournament involving the two big name clubs against local Italian, Portuguese and other international stars, with another four-team tourney next week in Calgary.
"For the old boys like ourselves, playing indoor is good, because we can come on and off fairly quickly," Gillespie said. "It's fast and exciting."
Liverpool's lineup includes Phil Neal, Mark Walters, Jan Molby, Ron Whelan, John Durnin and Frank McAvennie. Man U features Paul Parker, Arthur Albiston, Lee Sharpe and guest players John Beresford (Newcastle), Paul Davis (Arsenal) and Perry Suckling (Manchester City).
The Italian /Portuguese and International Masters will have Paul James, Hector Marinaro, Tom Kouzmanis, Tony Taveres and Eddy Berdusco.
"I come over here to coach every summer and I know that this should be just like playing at home for us," Albiston said. "There is a lot of interest in Canada for Liverpool, Manchester as well as Celtic and Rangers.
"You also have big ethnic communities here. I was here in July when Greece (won Euro 2004). There were a lot of fans in the streets and hopefully, some of them come and see us."
Doors open at noon, with the seven 20-minute round-robin games starting at 1 p.m. and ending at 3:25 p.m.