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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Are you Toronto in disguise?" - An away day to England's "Canadian Club"

The BMO Field of Suffolk
For someone who exploits many a word on this site to bemoan the extreme weather conditions and rickety tin-can architecture that constitutes a BMO Field fixture, the irony of my away day was not lost. As the Easter Weekend wind and sleet whipped off of the nearby North Sea coast, I stifled chattering teeth long enough to allow a wry smile in the realization of what I had stumbled upon. If Canadian club football, specifically Toronto FC, has a lost spiritual twin it may very well reside at Portman Road - home to Ipswich Town FC.
Most of you reading this will have never been to Ipswich. The County Town of the idyllic and largely rural county of Suffolk in Southeastern England has perhaps seen better days, the same which can be said of its beloved local club "The Tractor Boys". That being said, both are doing their best to emerge from lean years while attempting regeneration amidst a community spirit around Town and town that seems fierce and proud. As Mick McCarthy led his squad out to face the once mighty Leeds United, I couldn't help but feel a kindred spirit with the Suffolk support - and not simply due to weather.
While I grew up on the terraces of a certain Premiership club two hours away in London, much of my football life has been shaped here in Canada. Like many Canadians (native or transplanted) of the 1980's and 1990's footy supporting variety, it wasn't hard to have a soft spot for Ipswich Town. A succession of Canadian National players excelled at Portman Road with Town becoming a beacon in those days when Canadians playing abroad was more rare than today. Arriving at Portman Road I expected this to be my little Canadian "insider" experience, possibly only important on this side of the pond - I was heartwarmingly incorrect.
My first foray into the ground immediately proved my assumptions invalid. Entering the club shop (new scarf necessary to curry favour with the natives!) I was greeted by images of Ipswich yesteryear specifically the last 30 years or so. The expected faces of Town legends like John Wark and some guy named Paul Mariner were alongside prominent images of Frank Yallop, Jason de Vos and of course Craig Forrest. My immediate urge was to turn to fellow shoppers and declare "I talk to these guys on Twitter you know! Do you know who they are?" But it was unnecessary - they are as cherished wearing the badge adorned with that famous Suffolk Punch Horse as they are here for their time wearing the maple leaf. Throw in the likes of Bruce Twamley and Jaime Peters and outside of Canada - it was a Canadian National Team supporter’s club nirvana.

The Canuck love-in is far from limited to club shop memories. The match day program even listed an all-time starting eleven featuring both Yallop and Forrest. Talking to long-time supporters inside the ground and Yallop, de Vos and Forrest are very fondly remembered. (Twamley got distant stares and Peters a snort of bemusement.) While battling the truly incredible chorus of 2,000 Leeds away supporters ("We used to be famous" is a top class chant), Town supporters were thrilled to share their memories of the Canadians that had been such a big part of their club's successes.
It was with amusement when stories were swapped about the Ipswich Town/Toronto FC connections with many surprised to hear of Reggie Lambe's starting role with The Reds, Jaime Peters' fall from grace trials and (not amusing to them) Paul Mariner's less than glorious departure from TFC. Know one thing - Paul Mariner jokes fall on deaf ears in Ipswich. His floppy-haired goal scoring prowess is held in esteem that Toronto supporters only associate with the Italian word "Dichio". Informing the Tractor Boy faithful of his managerial shortcomings were met with disbelief and the opinion that the problem must have been TFC and not "their Paul". I told them that they were at least half right to avoid banishment to the Leeds away section.
The irony of the day was that this club which always held a soft spot for many Canadians wasn't too different than that first Canadian MLS club - Toronto FC. As in Suffolk, TFC are the only high level football show for many miles. Like Ipswich, The Reds play in a windswept ground near a blustery body of water that seems cobbled together like a Lego set missing a few pieces yet one that can be loud and proud when support is on full tilt. Ipswich has one true rival (The "Old Farm Derby" rival Norwich City) and a mysterious and seemingly unaccountable wealthy owner - sound familiar? Mostly though, they are a club punching well below their class but with supporters who deserve so much more. However, Town did beat Leeds 3-0 that day so maybe we do have our differences after all.
To Ipswich - that most unexpected "Toronto" of English away days.

Don't mention the shorts.


  1. Love this - thanks for sharing! And wise move to back off of "their Paul" so as to avoid getting lynched.

  2. Not forgetting the fact that Ipswich Town's most successful manager, Sir Bobby Robson, was in charge of Vancouver Royals before taking charge at Portman Road.

    1. Fantastic add! You know us Torontonians... it's all about us! ;D

      It's a special club in a great old school proper football ground.