Canadian soccer voice Budd dead at 56


TORONTO — Brian Budd turned his athleticism into a soccer career, leaving a string of other high-profile athletes in his wake along the way before continuing his love for the sport by serving as a TV analyst.

The colourful former Canadian international who won fame with a string of victories in the "Superstars" made-for-TV competition in the late 1970s, died Wednesday. He was 56.

Budd was hard to miss. Friends and colleagues remembered him Thursday as funny, generous, larger than life and irrepressible.

"You knew he was in a room. It could be a very crowded room but you knew Brian was there," said Bob Lenarduzzi, who played alongside Budd with Canada and the Vancouver Whitecaps in the 1970s. "He seemed to enjoy life to the fullest."

Cause of death was not immediately known. Budd was found collapsed at his Toronto home on Wednesday. His family confirmed the death to The Score, the network for whom Budd worked as a soccer analyst.

"The thought of Budgie not being around, it’s just stunning … this guy was life personified," said James Sharman, who worked with Budd at The Score. "He wouldn’t walk into a room, he’d whirl into it."

Budd didn’t need names. Most everyone he met was addressed simply as "pal."

Born in Toronto and raised in Vancouver, Budd won seven caps for Canada in a soccer career in the 1970s that included stints with Vancouver, Colorado, Toronto and Houston in the North American Soccer League and Ayr United reserves in Scotland. He played indoors for the Cleveland Force and Baltimore Blast.

"He was a pretty honest guy, I think he’d be the first to have said he wasn’t the most skilful of players. But from an athleticism and fitness perspective, there wasn’t anybody that could match him," said Lenarduzzi.

Budd turned heads by using that athleticism to beat a host of big-name athletes in "Superstars," a popular TV show that pitted athletes from different sports in everything from rowing and swimming to tennis and weightlifting,

Leaving rivals with better bodies and resumes in his wake, the unimposing Budd took over "Canadian Superstars" and then won "World Superstars" from 1978 to 1980, prompting organizers to institute a rule that anyone who won the event three times could no longer take part.

.Former CFL star Tony Gabriel, who competed against Budd on the "Canadian Superstars" show, said it was clear Budd was not just a soccer player.

"He stood out above other athletes," he said. "That just gave him an aura …. Someone who kind of raised the bar and the standard for those competitions. I thought he did that outstandingly for Canada."

Budd came to soccer late. He was 19 when he saw a travelling all-star team was in town. The squad was down a man and found Budd was one of the closest local players nearby. He was enlisted and went on to score a bunch of goals.

"Since that day on, I’ve kind of been playing," he told Peter Gzowski in a 1978 interview on CBC.

He went on to play for Canada, scoring in a key 3-0 win over the U.S. in a World Cup playoff in Haiti in 1976 that got Canada to the final round of qualifying in CONCACAF.

"He caused them all sorts of problems," Lenarduzzi recalled..

.Budd’s affection for soccer crossed party lines. He loved Liverpool first and foremost but had a soft spot for the likes of Glasgow Rangers, England, Italy and Croatia.

Former Canadian international Paul James worked with Budd at The Score.

"I just remember it as a very happy period of my life," James said. "Because Brian was so upbeat, so positive. … a very, very kind human being. He was so generous with his time, so generous with his thoughts. There wasn’t a thing he wouldn’t do for anybody.

"There’ll only ever be one Brian Budd, that’s for sure "

Most recently he worked for a brewery and talked soccer on The Score. Budd was a vocal presence on TV, often making points with arms waving, voice raised and heart on his sleeve.

"You could see his passion when he was speaking about the EPL or about Toronto FC and the Canadian national team," said Mo Johnston, director of soccer for Toronto FC.

Said Sharman: "He could be talking about (son) Riley playing on Saturday in an under-six league or talking about the Champions League final. The same love for that game came through."

In the NASL, Budd played against the likes of Pele, Rodney Marsh, George Best and Ace Ntsoelengoe. He knew many other name players, including former England star Paul Gascoigne.

"Wherever he is now, it’s going to be a fun place, because he was the life of the party," said Sharman.

Budd’s zest for life was perhaps due in part to an incident in his late teens, when he was slashed in the throat at a party.

"I recall him saying he was so close (to death) at that point, that he just wanted to make sure that he enjoyed himself," Lenarduzzi said.

.He is survived by his wife Brenda, son and daughter.

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