There is nothing quite like the commitment of football fans. From the early morning train departures for an away day, the pure emotion behind derby day victories or the lows of conceding a last-minute goal to draw or, even worse, lose.
They have their regular rituals. Whether it be booking time off work in order to enjoy a long weekend at the most popular away trips, or heading to the same pub before every home fixture to sink a few pre-match pints.
It can be easy to say that possessing a season ticket demonstrates your commitment to a club. But those who live thousands of miles away from the clubs they support show another level of passion and desire.
Life as a Football Fan 3000 Miles From Home
Inside the Nottingham Forest Fan Group the Toronto Trickies
For many fans, the enjoyment of football comes from the social elements so closely attributed. But some supporters may go throughout their whole lives without ever setting foot in the country of their beloved club, let alone spectate from within the stadium.
And that is the case for some of Jordan Thelen’s fellow Forest fans. The life-long Reds fan, originally from West Bridgford, crossed the pond in February 2016 for an initial three-month transfer. What was first intended as a short-term movement as part and parcel of his job with Ernst & Young, his love of football was a huge miss and, as a result, he found the start of his life in Canada difficult.
Having used the wonders of Twitter to search for Forest fans in his nearby location, fast forward four years later and he continues to live in Toronto with his girlfriend and is now founder of the Toronto Trickies – a group of Reds fans who reside in the dense Canadian city.
“When I first moved to Canada, one of the big things I really missed was watching football with mates,” he said.
“It’s nice to have a bit of home away from home. We’ve only got one Canadian in the group, the rest are all ex-pats who have moved over from the years.
“It is quite random but, given the size of Toronto, to have a fair few Forest fans isn’t that bad of a ratio.”
Toronto Trickies Provides ‘That Sense of Community and Familiarity’ to Ease Moving Abroad
Moving to a city the size of Toronto, which in 2017 registered a population of almost three million, can be an incredibly daunting and difficult task. Not knowing anyone near where you are moving to means you are forced to “rebuild your life” and for many, a love of football – or soccer as it is referred to across the pond – can be crucial in building relationships.
The sport continues to grow in America and Canada – 15 more sides have joined the nine founding members of the MLS in 1996 – but its popularity is still dwarfed by the likes of American football, baseball and ice hockey.
Yet Forest ex-pats moving to North America have the opportunity to settle down much more quickly as a result of the various Reds supporters’ club branches. From Nashville to Hawaii, New York to Bermuda, the Toronto Trickies are just one of a number of groups within North America. With branch sizes varying from one or two individuals to around 15, the niche football supporters’ groups have proven to play a hugely important, and sometimes life-changing, role in helping people settle with the latest chapter of their life.
“The community feeling is massive here,” Jordan explained. “What really shifted the Toronto Trickies is having a regular bar to attend.
“Similar to in England when you have the usual pre-match pub or catch the train together for an away day, there is a similar vibe here now.
“We’re all chatting; people will bring their children, girlfriends, wives so it’s a real community feel.”
He added: “Watching the game as a group gives it a home away from home experience.
“There aren’t many people you will bump into in Toronto who are from Nottingham. Then there are these Saturdays when we’ll all come together and share our love of the game.
“For some of the guys it has been huge in helping them set up their life in Canada. There are a few members who came over by themselves and had to rebuild their lives in a different country.
“The supporters’ group has given them that sense of community and familiarity that has allowed them to feel a bit more at home.”
“Football is on once a week,” he said. “So it’s at the right frequency. There is something unique about the frequency and passion that allows for supporters’ groups to exist within the world.”
‘People Don’t Know How Good iFollow Is Now’
While football supporters at home have been forced to adapt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, using platforms such as iFollow in order to watch their team, Jordan explained how the system that exists now is by-far an improvement on what international supporters had to make do with in previous seasons.
With issues varying from a lack of a scoreboard to the incorrect synchronisation of audio commentary to the visuals, the iFollow platform has come as a “blessing” to supporters overseas.
“People don’t know how good it is now,” he joked. “They should have seen how bad it was when it first came out a few years ago.
“You had to check another source to know the score, there would just be crowd noise and sometimes you would get the wrong team completely.
“There have been a lot of growing pains to get it to the place where it is now. Even when they added audio commentary, you would get the wrong one to match the video.
“But it has been a blessing to us. The first year we started meeting properly was when iFollow first beginning to emerge. We would only watch games if it was on Sky or we could find a stream somewhere.
“You’d be breaking every rule in the book just to get a game on, but iFollow has been a true blessing. The games on Sky are often on DAZN so we can watch those too.
“Without fail we are able to watch most games, meaning the ability to meet up more often can happen as the group becomes more appetising knowing it’s on a legitimate stream that works.”
Dedication of the Early Rises for a 3 PM Kick-Of
In the pre-Coronavirus world, the 22-person large group would meet regularly at the Liberty Commons pub – where the general manager is a Forest fan – and they will meet for breakfast ahead of kick-off and watch the game together.
With a usual three o’clock kick-off beginning at ten in the morning for those in Toronto, the supporters have been forced to adapt in order to enjoy the sport. One thing to remain, however, is how the full-time result can have such an emotional impact on your weekend.
“It’s a bit of double-edged sword,” Jordan said. “If we win it’s great because by mid-day you’ll have had a couple of beers, your team has won and you can have the rest of the day to enjoy.
“But it can really ruin your weekend if you lose. It’s worse than just losing in England because its mid-day and your team has lost; you’ve got the whole day ahead of you and you’re in a foul mood.”
He added: “The mid-day kick-offs in England are 7.30 am here. So we may go back to bed if we lose so that we can try to treat it like a new day.”
“We’ll have a few beers, cups of coffee, breakfast – our bar is unreal. At half-time, we’ll play around the world in darts. We’ll then watch the second half and, depending on that, we go home in a poor mood or stay out drinking more.”