“Everywhere we go,
Everywhere we go,
We’re the Villa boys, making all the noise,
Everywhere we go.”
It was July 2019, at the end of Villa’s pre-season friendly against Minnesota United FC and the Villa fans sang their hearts out to the players who all lingered on the pitch under the ‘away end’. I can still hear the songs ringing in my head, feel the heat of that humid late afternoon that merged into an early evening as us and our hoarse voices were ushered out of Allianz Field by an amused security crew; unaccustomed to this kind of football fan.
The locals took pictures and recorded videos and the kids stood there in awe at these crazy fans. We celebrated Villa in the pubs for days before and after, and left a little bit of claret and blue in Minnesota.
The majority of the more than 500 Villa fans in attendance that day are members of the 36 official Lions Clubs in North America. Every year, a weekend meet-up brings many of these fans together in a different North American city.
Minneapolis was an unexpected bonus, in addition to the planned San Francisco gathering for 2019. A big component of the meet-ups is the auction held to benefit Villa’s charity, the Acorns Children’s Hospice, with $15,000 raised in San Francisco
This was not the first time Villa had played a friendly in North America, but this one felt extra special, after promotion back to the Premier League, the excitement of new owners, and new possibilities ahead. The future looked a lot brighter than the recent past and the North American fans were over the moon at being the first to see Aston Villa as a Premier League team in 2019.
There is real excitement to travel to these meet-ups. It is an opportunity to be with fellow fans, separated from Aston Villa by distance, but also bonded by that separation. We are truly a global family with Lions Clubs all over the world, from Australia to Brazil and from the Faroe Islands to Qatar.
One of those clubs is in Malta where my Villa story started, by chance, as a 7-year-old on a Saturday afternoon in May, 1981. That’s when I was chosen and my Villa overseas fan journey began.
For a few glorious seasons, I was able to stand on the Holte End and now I watch from Toronto where the memories of Dean Saunders’ lob against Ipswich and numerous Dwight Yorke and Dalian Atkinson winners still dance around in my head.
The Toronto Lions Club has many ex-pats, who share memories of Villa Park and epic away days, but they’re not all Brummies. There are others who have great stories from immigrant parents or grandparents, family members who wisely instilled a love of Villa in them, spouses who have been caught up in the passion, or curious football fans with no connection to Birmingham or the UK that watch English football on TV on a Saturday morning and fell in love with a particular Villa player or a team of a certain time period (Martin O’Neill era is a popular one).
And despite all of the different reasons as to why we are fans, we are all welcomed the same way; whether it is a first match or we have been lifelong Villans. The word ‘plastic’ is only used to wind up the local Manchester City fans when we remind them how much of it we can see at the Etihad.
It really is a coming together of people who might not have met if it wasn’t for the love of Villa.
Being a fan here or anywhere outside of the UK is not about whether we are going to Villa Park or to Old Trafford this weekend, or what pub we are going to meet at, or what train platform to be at and what time. It’s knowing that our regular pub is going to be expecting us, that we can walk in just before game time and watch with our friends.
We may be bleary eyed for yet another early morning kick-off, but a couple of coffees (until the beer can be served) and a few Jack Grealish moments of magic easily improves everyone's moods. While some of us do opt for the roll-out-of-bed-onto-couch option for the early starts, an afternoon match time on a Friday draws a big crowd for an early start to the weekend.
We look forward to things returning to normal so we can be back to our pub with our Villa family and to re-start the preparations for the 2020 Toronto meet-up that was postponed.
We proudly believe it will be the best yet as Toronto will be claret and blue for one weekend!