'The club gets into your soul' - meet the Toronto Leeds United supporters club

We explore Leeds United's devoted following in Toronto in our latest We All Love Leeds feature.

Saturday, 14th November 2020, 11:45 am
The Leeds United Toronto supporters club at a meet up.

Leeds United boast one of the most passionate and loyal fan bases in world football.

No matter how far you go or where you travel, you're never a great distance from a club crest, scarf, car sticker or even welcoming a friendly salute, such is the outpouring.

It is a football club that has tested the very core of its support during ups and downs on and off the pitch in recent history.

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The Toronto supporters club flag.

Those far and wide, though - just like the city of Leeds - have remained steadfast and unwavering in their loyalty to the team that plies its trade in Beeston.

In the Yorkshire Evening Post’s We All Love Leeds series, we look at those supporters groups from far and wide around the world.

We examine their passion for Leeds United and get to the root of what makes the club so special to follow from all corners of the globe.

This week, we speak to Michael Maynard, a member of the Toronto Maple Leeds Supporters Club.

Firstly, can you introduce yourself - tell us a little bit about who you are and where you are from...

My name is Michael Maynard. I was born and raised in Oshawa, Ontario, which is a city about 40 kilometres east of Toronto. I am a 39-year-old married father of three (ages 11, 6, and 3), and our kids are all Leeds United fans. I have been a Leeds United supporter since the late 90s.

Why are you a fan of Leeds United? What drew you to the football club?

Professional football was never a hugely popular spectator sport here when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. I think there was a shift around World Cup ’94 in the USA, after which the sport gained more mainstream popularity. I started seeing Premier League matches on television in the mid-late 90s.

Football kits became more popular to wear, with many of the global brands being more visible – national team kits, as well as Barcelona, Juventus, and so on.

One friend of mine supported Newcastle because of his family heritage. I was becoming interested, and decided to look for a club of my own. Because my mum immigrated from Leeds with her family, I started researching Leeds United and quickly fell in love with the David O’Leary team. I’ve been Leeds mad ever since.

What is so special about being a Leeds United supporter?

What really stands out to me is the strength of the connection between supporters and the club.

Every club has its supporters, and I am mates with many people who support different clubs, but Leeds United supporters strike me (and did so even as far back as the late 90s) as being a different class. The club gets into your soul.

There is special pride I have always felt while watching matches here on television, some 5000 kilometres away, and hearing the Leeds United away support coming through louder and clearer than any home crowd.

Tell me about the supporters club? How did it come to be? How many members do you have?

Our club, the Toronto Maple Leeds (a riff on the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club), exploded into life in February and March of 2020.

There were a few smaller groups of Leeds supporters here who found one another on social media and attended a few matches together at local pubs. After the February loss to Nottingham Forest, one supporter named Ross decided to start a WhatsApp chat, which very quickly grew in numbers.

Around the same time, I had been conducting research for an article I was writing for the “Right in the Gary Kellys” fan site about being a Canadian Leeds supporter, and I had reached out to a few Canada-based Leeds fans on Twitter for their perspective.

They also got connected to the WhatsApp group, and invited me to join.

When it really exploded was when our man with the captain’s armband, Steven, started organising us into a proper supporters’ club. He arranged for a pub for us to watch matches together and connected with Leeds United to get us listed as a supporters club on their website.

Our first full get-together was for the match against Huddersfield on March 7 (our first goal celebrated was Bill’s volley!), when more than twenty of us showed up!

The unfortunate part is that the coronavirus pandemic shut us down just as we were getting started. Thankfully, we have been able to meet up again after the restart, and a number of the group were able to celebrate promotion together on the pub patios in Toronto.

We now have 32 members in our WhatsApp group chat, and around 50 people showed up at the pub for our first Premier League match against Liverpool. We went from nothing to being a huge and active group over a six month period, and during a pandemic no less!

What makes it a great supporters club to be a part of?

Being in Canada, we have supporters from the UK and Ireland, and a few Canadians (like me). I imagine it won’t be long before we have fans from other parts of the world joining in too.

The growth of the Maple Leeds has been incredible, and there is a lot of enthusiasm for the direction of the team, as well as for the chance to celebrate (or commiserate) together, even so far away from Leeds.

What does it show about Leeds United's global reach that you can have a supporters club in Toronto?

Leeds are massive club, there is no doubt about that. For us to be in our infancy as a supporters’ club and to get over 20 people out for our first match, and then more than double that number for the match against Liverpool, really speaks to the popularity and reach of the club.

I believe we can keep growing too. Leeds are back on the big stage and people are taking notice. Long-time fans are discovering the group and joining in, and new fans are coming out too.

Why do you think Leeds fans - no matter where they are from - are so passionate and loyal to the club?

I think a lot of it has to do with our story. The places this club has been, the highs and the lows, the journey we have experienced together - it all makes for a very compelling narrative.

It often feels like we are a misplaced underdog; a massive club that could easily be on top of the world, but which everyone else, and even fate itself, conspires to keep down.

People love a rags to riches story, and we’ve done it both ways on – rags to riches to rags and back again.

We have seen glory and produced some of the best, most attractive football ever seen on a pitch. We have been swindled, cheated, and beaten down, yet we always get back up. Life as a Leeds supporter is a thrill ride. What’s not to love?

Have you ever visited Elland Road? If so, what was the experience like?

I had the pleasure to bring my son (10 years old at the time) to Elland Road in April 2019 for the match against Aston Villa – yes, that match. I had waited more than 20 years for the experience and it didn’t disappoint. The crowd was electric that day (even by the usual Leeds standards some regular attendees have told me).

While the decision Marcelo Bielsa made that day (to give Villa a goal) split opinion at the time, as a father it was an incredible display of sportsmanship and an important lesson in fair play that I was proud to share with my son.

Before and after the match, we met a lot of the players, got some autographs for the lad, and even got a photo with Bielsa. We visited our stone at Bremner Square, bought some gear at the club shop, and just took the time to drink it all in.

It was an amazing experience, and we honestly cannot wait to visit again.

How has it been to follow the club in recent history? There have been plenty of ups and downs...

It was difficult to follow the club after relegation. Televised matches were very limited here.

It is only in recent years that we began to have greater televised access to games, and none below the level of the Premier League until very recently. I went a decade without seeing a televised match!

However, I followed just as closely as ever, through traditional media online, and eventually through social media and podcasts. Now, there are always options to stream matches through subscription services and none of us Leeds supporters in Canada will never take that for granted!

What are your thoughts on Leeds finally being back in the Premier League? How do you think it will boost the supporters club?

It’s brilliant to be back on the big stage, especially for access reasons. Championship matches are more difficult to watch here in Canada, with only a handful being shown on streaming platforms every week. Now we get every single Premier League match, which is more than any of us could have dreamed about just a few years ago.

As far as the supporters club goes, there is a definite sense of optimism and enthusiasm. Now that we have regular matchdays together, more and more supporters will find us (as they have been) and we can show the Toronto football culture here what Leeds United is all about.

Finally, is there anything else you'd like to mention about the supporters club?

None of this would be possible without Steven, who has put significant effort into getting us organised as a proper supporters’ club, with places to meet and cheer on the team together. We are all glad to have him as our Toronto Maple Leeds team captain.

Members: 32 (officially)

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Matchdays at The Pint Public House, 277 Front Street, Toronto.

Website (or Facebook group): Toronto Maple Leeds (Facebook) and @MapleLeeds on Twitter.

Established: February 2020

Chairman/woman: Steven Morgan