A Nigerian, a Maltese man and a Canadian walk into a bar in Toronto...
And they join the ex-pat crowd from Birmingham, other parts of the UK, the Irish, and more Canadians. They say their hello’s, get their drinks, find their favorite seat or perch at the bar, and settle in for another 90 minutes of nerves, hope, and preferably, elation at the end of it.
This happens every weekend or weekday that the Villa are playing.
This is the Toronto Lions club, North America’s biggest official Aston Villa supporters club; a truly international group in a multicultural city.
This is the story of being a Villa fan overseas, from Toronto to Australia, from Tokyo to Brazil.
Over the next few weeks I will introducing readers to fans from all over the world and create a connection between fans who have never met, and probably never will, but are probably all doing the same thing, in their own way, at the time that Villa are playing.
I will paint a picture of the different ways Villa fans watch, whether it’s getting up at three in the morning or staying up all night; with morning coffee or a pint in an early afternoon work “meeting” in the local lions’ club bar.
We will meet fans who miss standing on the Holte End and others who are looking forward to their first visit to Villa Park. Hopefully, we will come across a few quirky habits, superstitions, and maybe even a local celebrity fan.
One obvious result of Covid-19 is that no matter if we are in Birmingham or Toronto, we are all television fans now.
Rory Smith recently wrote a great column in the New York Times (Speaking Up for the Armchair Fan) about the need for a change in the relationship between television and football fans, post-pandemic.
He touched on the hierarchy of football fans from those at the top of the pile who follow their team home and away, all the way down to the television watchers.
The latter are often derided as not being “real fans”. Smith makes a good point that “we are all, deep down, armchair fans”.
Television is how we consume a lot of football and despite bemoaning all the perceived evil of television companies and their impact on unfriendly match schedules, it is us who pay these companies and therefore players’ salaries and transfer fees, through our subscriptions.
The television debate is one that will go on beyond the end of this pandemic, lockdowns, and no fans at Villa Park.
But for us around the world, our closest television or online stream will always be our common companion, our means to come together, our way to support the Villa.
Join us in the Villa journey across the globe.
We are all fans, really.