Malcolm Dawson writes…..we were expecting a match report sometime on Thursday but time differences being what they are, not much before late evening UK time. Our Canadian contact Martin Bates, another of our new SAFC NASA buddies, had promised to deliver but in the end the first words came from our old marra Bill Taylor. If you haven’t yet seen Bill’s words and pictures then you can here (Part 1) and here (Part 2). Realising that the team had already reached the UK well ahead of his e-mail, Martin has focused on the experience from a fan’s perspective. As he quite rightly says we have all read the match reports elsewhere so here is his account of a few days where the club went out of their way to give supporters something to remember – at least off the pitch.
Three AMAZING days in Toronto
Sunderland AFC has now returned back home and I have finally had a chance to come down off the euphoria that I experienced during their visit to Toronto and reflect on what was three amazing days in Toronto.
Monday, 48 Hours till the Match vs TFC
Needless to say, I was very pleased and excited a number of weeks ago when it was announced that during Sunderland’s visit to Toronto there was the possibility of a “Fans’ Night with the Team”. Not exactly knowing what to expect I arrived at the meeting place, hoping for a chance to meet some of the players and perhaps get an autograph and picture or two. We North American based fans happily mingled and exchanged Sunderland stories with many other supporters who had made the trip over from England while we waited for the team to arrive. Sunderland AFC very generously provided plenty of food and drink for the fans which was not expected, but as you can imagine was certainly very, very much appreciated. Some of the SAFC press team was also there and I was lucky enough to get interviewed. (I didn’t realize how nervous and excited I was until I saw the video on the SAFC site a few days later.)
First to arrive was former player Kevin Ball. Kevin made himself instantly available to all the fans signing countless shirts and flags and posing for picture after picture. Next was Ellis Short. Like Kevin, Mr Short mingled with the fans and was photographed with just about everyone in attendance. Then the team arrived and by team I mean the ENTIRE team. The design of the venue forced them to walk in individually and I was very fortunate to be in a position to welcome them pretty well on a one to one basis. For the next hour or so all the players spoke with all the fans. I’m sure they signed hundreds of autographs and posed for countless pictures. To a man the players were fully accommodating to all of the fans’ requests. On a personal note I spoke to them about past goals they had scored and what the upcoming season may bring.
Once the players had left I had the opportunity to speak with other fans about what we just experienced. Everyone I spoke to was amazed by the night and it is something that I will never forget. Like I said earlier I was truly fortunate to attend this event.
Tuesday, 24 Hours till the Match
Tuesday evening we held a small gathering at a local watering hole with all the SAFC fans that were in town. Former player and recently retired TFC Captain Steven Caldwell was there and he was very generous with his time, again posing for many pictures with the fifty or so fans in attendance. He even signed my copy of the 2005 Sunderland DVD “Wear on our Way”.
Wednesday, Match Day is finally here
Sunderland AFC and SAFC NASA (North American Supporters Club) arranged for all fans to meet at pub very close to the stadium. As a TFC season ticket holder I can tell you that this particular pub is normally a TFC pre-match pub, but NOT on this day. Patrons wearing Red & White striped shirts arrived early on a beautifully sunny afternoon. SAFC supporters’ flags decorated the entrance and everyone was truly excited about the forthcoming match. After a few hours of meeting & greeting we headed en-mass and marched together the short walk to the stadium, singing songs on the way. The TFC fans that we saw all looked on in amazement as we walked and sang because as I can attest first hand, they had never seen support like this before on home turf.
We were all in the seated in the North Stand of the stadium in our Red & White but the team came out in Green. Not what I was hoping what they would wear but hey, I get to see the team play.
I won’t go into a detailed match report about what happened on the field as I am sure everyone has read the match report by now. Instead I’ll stay focused on our fans. We were full of voice at the beginning of the match but then we quieted down as there was not much good happening on the pitch as far as SAFC was concerned.
After going behind early in the second half I was dreading the possibility of losing this game to TFC as the ridicule I would have to take at the next TFC home game would be intolerable. Fortunately for me AND much to the dismay of the about 6000 TFC fans in attendance, two goals by Jermain Defoe spared our blushes.
Perhaps someone had a word with the team about what happened at the conclusion of the two California games because to a man, the team came over to our stand clapping and waving at us after the final whistle. This was very welcome and I did feel for Jesse about what he and his fellow supporters missed at their games.
Once the team left the field, about 80 of us piled into various cabs and headed back to the pub to keep the party going we continued to sing and have a pint or two until closing time.
In conclusion, these three days in Toronto with the team and the fans surpassed all my expectations by a mile. The new friends I have made and the pictures and videos I now have are all thanks to SAFC. To that end I thank them and “I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m Sunderland til I die.”
All those contributing to the Sunderland Out West series belong to the Sunderland SAFC North American Supporters’ Association. Check out the association’s Facebook pages at https://www.facebook.com/safcnasa
See all articles in the Sunderland Out West series at https://safc.blog/category/sunderland-out-west-2015/