A $100 Birmingham City shirt and a big fat booze cruise as Aston Villa fans take over Toronto

From Kidderminster to Connecticut, California and the Cayman Islands, around 180 diehard Aston Villa supporters descended on Toronto in Canada last weekend for one big claret and blue party. Hosted by Toronto Lions chairman and expat Brett Bates, Villans far and wide congregated at the Wheatsheaf Tavern from Villa’s 1-1 draw with Burnley last Thursday right through to Sunday’s season finale against Man City.

It was the eighth annual North American Villa meet-up of supporters, with previous years held in Chicago, San Francisco, Austin and New York. The aim is to get Villans across the Atlantic all in one place and to raise as much as possible for a charity close to Villa’s heart, Acorns.

“Honestly, what a weekend,” said Brett, who is originally from Warley. “We had the Kidderminster Lions over, the girls from the Yorkshire Lions, Villa fans from six Canadian provinces, 26 US states, the Caribbean… it was incredible. To top it off, we raised about £19,000 for Acorns as well. Unbelievable.”

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The weekender began with around 50 Villans meeting up for last week’s game at Burnley in the Wheatsheaf Tavern. After that, it was a trip to watch Major League Baseball side Toronto Blue Jays at the 50,000-capacity Rogers Centre, with fans bemusing baseball-goers with chants of ‘Allez, Allez, Allez’ and ‘Holte Enders in the Sky’ throughout. A barmy booze cruise across Lake Ontario – and even more Villa singing – followed on the Saturday before it was back for one final beer-fuelled party as the North American Villans watched on as Steven Gerrard’s men performed valiantly at the Etihad.

“We had the best time,” explained dad-of-one Brett, a lighting technician for a film crew. “I moved across from the Midlands to Toronto six years ago and, in 2019, took over as chairman of the Toronto Lions. The Wheatsheaf was our hub all weekend and we raised so much money from the auction. The biggest seller was the European Cup-winning signed shirt which went for three grand. An Emi Martinez signed glove went for $1,500 while, for a laugh, we auctioned off a Blues shirt for someone to wear for an hour. That went for $100! It was cracking, honestly. In typical Villa fashion, a few went home on the Monday having had a curry.

“What with Covid and everything, it was nice to finally meet up. We’re a close knit community, the Villa fans over here, lots of us are expats as well, and it’s our Villa family, if you like.”

Aston Villa European Cup 1982 print cover
Aston Villa European Cup 1982 print cover

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