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As long as I can remember Portland, Oregon - nestled in the north-western corner of the United States - has referred to itself as Soccer City, USA. A town that prides itself on a love of the beautiful game.
Our local professional team, the Portland Timbers, was founded in 1975 and became an official member of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2011. I have fond memories of attending matches at our stadium from an early age. Bernie Fagan, a Brit who began his professional career at Northampton Town, was one of our local heroes at the time and doubled as player/manager. Today he lives around the corner from my parents and still runs his own summer football camps.
Growing up in Portland in the 1980s and 1990s as a football fan meant you were a Timbers supporter. There was no other option. It also meant you were likely exposed to the University of Portland’s Men’s and Women’s teams. In fact, the Women’s team was on the nation’s radar as one of the best in the country, winning the title in 2002 and again in 2005.
In my youth both the Men’s and Women’s teams were managed by Clive Charles, another British man who’d begun his playing career at West Ham United. His assistant and goalkeeping coach, Bill Irwin, had been a teammate of his at Cardiff City in the mid 1970s. Together, they produced some of the United States' best footballing talent. Megan Rapinoe, Tiffeny Milbrett, and Shannon MacMillen have all gone on to represent the United States Women’s National Team, while Kasey Keller, Steve Cherundolo, Heath Pearce, and Luis Robles are University of Portland graduates who have represented the United States Men’s National Team.
The weather here is wet. The grass is always green. We have great music and better beer. Sound familiar?
Portland is the perfect place to grow up supporting the Blues. Not to mention a great place to open an Everton pub but we’ll get to that in a minute...
My own indoctrination into Everton fandom came in 1995 when a friend and I were in high school. We played for our school and I remember having a conversation with him about watching a weekly Premier League highlights television show that was on at around 2.30am.
We stayed up to watch, seeking inspiration from those we thought were the world’s best players. And so we thought we’d choose teams to support in correlation with the players whose highlights we liked best.
He liked Dennis Bergkamp and has been an Arsenal fan ever since.
I watched a man score his first two goals for Everton, at Anfield, to lead his club to a 2-1 victory over Liverpool and just like that Andrei Kanchelskis made me a Blue.
Fast forward nearly 20 years, the 2014 World Cup has just finished and I’ve just left my job at Twitter in San Francisco, California. My father is turning 70. To celebrate I’m taking him to the UK to do some rock climbing with friends of ours who live in Yorkshire, to see Snowdonia and London.
And, as it happens, his birthday is in the middle of August. A fortuitous time for me to catch my first Premier League match, Everton at Leicester City to start the campaign. A 2-2 draw, if you remember, with Steven Naismith and Aiden McGeady on the scoresheet for the Toffees.
A year later, I got married and made my move back home to Portland to settle down, buy a home, start a family.
In San Francisco, I had a nice squad of Blues to watch our matches with - which start as early as 4.30am - at a pub called McTeagues. In Portland, I was concerned I’d never find that community again.
Then, one day at the office, a British woman I worked with told me some friends of hers were opening a football pub in town soon, to be called The Toffee Club.
The clouds parted to reveal that the colour in the sky was indeed Blue and the sun never felt so good.
The Toffee Club opened its doors in March of 2016.
I think I was waiting outside starting around January.
And as eager and personable as I tend to be, I quickly made friends with their owners. Pete and Jack Hoppins, brothers, grew up in Wirral. Niki Diamond (born in Kent) and Pete moved to Portland 10 years ago. Jack followed suit in 2015. Together the three own, operate and manage The Toffee Club. And, after a little more than three years in business, they opened an adjacent brewery called Away Days Brewing.
The title of this piece, 'A Football Pub With a Blue Heart in Portland, USA”, is meant to speak to the culture that is being built here by Niki, Pete and Jack.
In the same way that Everton is The People’s Club, The Toffee Club is for the people of Portland.
It was built as a home for football supporters of all walks of life. It’s an entire community and one that Portland should be proud of. Everyone is welcome here and despite differing allegiances, relationships are both cordial and warm.
And in the spirit of our club that does so much for its own people, The Toffee Club does the same for Portland.
The FIFA Women’s World Cup saw The Toffee Club spilling Portlanders into the neighbouring streets it was so full. New outdoor seating options were born from necessity. The Women’s game is exploding in Portland, thanks in part to meeting spaces like The Toffee Club and Away Days Brewing.
And let us not forget the food. On top of a menu full of exquisitely done British fare it offers a range of cask ale, local and imported beers, and is now serving their own Away Days Brewing offerings. The “Full English” breakfast is my mainstay for early morning matches. The “Pie of God” was, well, godly. And the “Proper Fish and Chips” are now actually world famous because you’re reading about them (they’re great, by the way).
The pub is covered in Everton memorabilia. It also pays homage to the Portland Timbers, the Portland Thorns (our professional Women’s team), and has rotating displays of art and fandom from just about every corner of the globe. Again, community.
That little corner of south-east Portland is more than a destination for thirsty football fans.
It’s bigger than that.
By Aaron Durand (@everydaydude), Evertonian