Creative Soccer Culture

From The Mag | The Toffee Club

Picture the pub. Memorabilia hangs with pride from corner to corner as a tv screen peeps through the pennants and pictures - all eyes point towards the glow as collectively we enjoy an ice cold pint. Taking in Portland’s ‘Toffee Club’ we get to know this beautifully British boozer that is washed in a contemporary and creative game.

So turning the clocks back, Pete, as one of the creators of The Toffee Club, can you tell us where the idea came from?

"We’ve always dreamed of creating something like this – in our 20s we talked about opening a bar on a beach for a year, or we thought we might open a B&B when we retire. This is somewhere in between. We’d all been living in Portland for 6 years or so, both working full time and enjoying the Portland lifestyle. After our daughter was born, Niki was freelancing and at the same time Jack (My brother) got his visa approved to move to Portland and marry his now-wife, Kayla. That was when we realised that we might be able to actually do this. Jack had managed bars back in England so it suddenly felt like a perfect opportunity."

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You’re massive football fans though your creative edge is evident by the style of the pub, what were the aspirations when mapping out what you wanted the place to feel like?

"We really wanted the pub to feel like home. Pubs and pub culture is something we all miss from England so we’re trying to recreate that with The Toffee Club. The challenge was how to make a warehouse in SE Portland feel like an English pub. We always knew the space and its character would develop over time – so many bars around the world feel so cookie-cutter and generic, we wanted to stay away from that. We also wanted to create a space that our guests can make their own."

Who are the guys behind it, can you tell us a bit about yourselves and the love you have for the game?

"The three owners are myself Pete, Jack and Niki. I’m a life-long Everton supporter and work full time at Nike but still fully involved in the big decisions at the pub. Jack, a Tottenham supporter after his grandparents gave him a kit as a kid, is our bar manager. We (brothers) grew up on the Wirral and Jack has been in Portland for just over two years now. Niki is our general manager and a neutral supporter, at least for now. Niki and I have been in Portland for nearly eight years and now have two American children."

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What can you tell us about the scene out in Portland, it seems as though they’ve taken to the pub and you’ve got a strong community there?

"The support and feedback we’ve received has been amazing and we feel so lucky to have already built up a great group of loyal regulars. We’re really seeing that people enjoy being part of something and feeling like the pub is their place. Our goal is to be an access point for all football. We’ve intentionally remained neutral to make sure there’s a low barrier to entry, no matter whether someone is a life-long, die-hard fan or just getting into the sport."

"The football scene in Portland is much more than just the Timbers. The Thorns have the largest fan network of any American women’s team and games of all levels take place all over the city every day of the week – from pickup games to indoor and outdoor leagues. We sponsor a number of teams, including a men’s futsal team, a coed outdoor team, a women’s indoor team and most recently a Sunday league team."

Naturally the support for the Portland Timbers is emphatic - what’s it like for the English game out there? You keep it proudly English but very universal, is the place thriving off football as a whole?

"The big 7am Premier League games are some of our busiest times of the week. It’s amazing to see the interest in English football over here and hear the stories of why people support their chosen team. We definitely see the EPL is far more popular than any other European league."

You’ve got a full calendar of fixtures permanently, it seems like there’s more football out there than the rest of the world - how would you describe the love for football out in the States?

"There’s a much wider spectrum over here, from people who have been into football their whole lives – who maybe played the sport as a kid and follow European football, to others who are just getting into it – who might have been inspired by recent success of the USA mens and womens team and the unique social aspect of the Timbers and Thorns There’s a much stronger female presence both on and off the pitch in the States and particularly in Portland. The Thorns have over 10,000 season ticket holders and home games can attract over 15,000 fans, the largest following of any US women’s team. You also see a lot more families attending games (both Timbers and Thorns) over here than you do at home."

From the shirts on the walls to the Thatcher’s cider, how much of a dream has it been to create the ultimate football pub?

"We’re an English pub with a football focus. We’d love to become the ultimate football pub but we know that it has to build over time. We’re making sure that everything in the pub has a story and has a reason for being there and building it with our customers over time. One of our main considerations is to keep things authentic to an English pub culture rather than try to be a sports bar."

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You’ve got heroic shirts on the walls and Neville Southall has even made it up there in what can only be described as a peach of a shirt any room for Steve Ogrizovic.

"Maybe we could get a picture of Ian Dowie and make an homage to ugly football players! In truth, Neville Southall was one of my (Pete’s) heroes growing up. The Flying Binman was one of the original ideas for the name of the pub."

Can you tell us about some of the days / nights you’ve seen there - do you get a strong, atmospheric turn out for the football you’re showing?

"A lot of it depends on the time of day / day of week / who’s playing who / etc… You’d be surprised how many pints we sell at 7am for the big games on a Saturday! The Euros & Copa tournaments were bonkers, especially considering we had only been open for two months by the time they kicked off. We’re seeing a steadily growing turnout for Timbers games, both home and away, and hoping to include more Thorns fans this season as well."

What’s been the best moment you’ve had since opening?

"That would probably have to be our street party one Saturday last June. It was a chance for us to celebrate opening the pub, timed to coincide with England playing in the Euros and USA playing in Copa on the same day. We closed the street outside the pub, set up an outside bar, BBQ, street football, the works. It was an amazing way to connect to the local neighbourhood and give us the opportunity to start to get our name out."

Word of the pub has definitely travelled, have you had people drop in from unknown places that you didn’t expect?

"We’re definitely seeing more visitors to Portland coming in to check us out. We’re always interested to hear how people have heard of us."

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If you could have any player visit the pub, who would it be?

"It would be great if Tim Howard would come in when Colorado play the Timbers!"

Finally, the power of football in bringing people together is something often described as beautiful but you must have seen that from a whole new perspective - has that been refreshing to see?

"Absolutely. The metaphor we always talked about when building the concept for the pub was a Clubhouse – a place where players, fans, families can meet and make friends. We’re seeing new friendships and connections made every week, oftentimes people will come in on their own and be very comfortable just chatting with us and other regulars."

One more for safe measure. You’re working on a league of your own with a collection of teams playing the game - how exciting is it to take the game from the pub to the pitch and back again?

"Can you tell us about that… As we mentioned earlier, we already have four sponsored teams but we see this as a bigger opportunity for us to include more people and let a broader group feel part of what we’re doing. We also see that there’s no real centralized social aspect to any of these leagues – most don’t have a clubhouse, and there’s very rarely any kind of end-of-season celebration so the seasons all blur into one without really acknowledging the teams and their performance. We see that as a pretty big missed opportunity. The Avery Dennison Toffee League is all about making it fun and inclusive. We’ll be offering prizes for things like best kit and best goal."

You can pick up SoccerBible Magazine Issue 8: Horizons here.

Photography by Brenton Salo for SoccerBible.


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