In recent years, Toronto’s soccer reputation has been abysmal, to put it politely. All that is changing with the arrival of English super striker Jermain Defoe. In his debut TFC match, he scored two goals and secured a win for his new home team. The bloodiest big deal in local footie talks to us about Toronto fans, English beans, and his upcoming dinner date with Drake.
First things first: How’s the hamstring? [He's been out several games due to an injury.]
It’s fine now. I’ve done the rehab, so it’s good. My season started back in August [Defoe was still playing with Tottenham Hotspur in England], which is probably why my muscles got tired. It’s normal. You pick up little injuries, nothing serious. It feels 100 per cent now.
Speaking of 100 per cent, your first game with TFC really could not have gone better.
It was good. It really helps your confidence and helps your mindset going into the next game. Being a new player at a club, it’s important to get off to a good start.
You’re not just any new player. According to TFC ads, you’re a “bloody big deal.” What do you make of the campaign and all the hype?
[The ads] were funny. My friends teased me about it; they still do even now. Obviously coming from England, there’s going to be pressure, but I enjoy it. Once you’re out there, it’s just another day on the field. My first game at BMO was amazing—just an unbelievable atmosphere.
TFC fans have a reputation for being rowdy, but how do they compare to English hooligans?
The Toronto fans are a bit more chill—still amazing, though. The first game at BMO, they sang for the entire time.
Do they have a song for you yet?
In England, my song was “Jermain Defoe/He’s a Yido.” They sing that, but they’ve changed the lyrics to “Jermain Defoe/He’s in Toronto” or something like that—the song is the same, just different wording.
What’s a Yido?
In England, the Hotspur were called The Yid Army [because the North London area that the club is based in has a large Jewish population]. Anyway, I think you’re not allowed to chant it anymore. The authorities were cracking down on that quite a bit before I left.
Footballers are gods over in England. Can you see that happening here?
I’d love to be part of making football huge in North America. I suppose that’s what David Beckham tried to do. I’ve come to a good club and I’m really enjoying it. I think we can achieve something special this year.
Maybe a spot in the playoffs? I don’t think we’ve ever had that before.
No, never. Hopefully, this is the year.
Any interesting fan encounters so far in Toronto?
All the time. If I go out anywhere—the supermarket—fans will come up to me. Everyone has been so nice, so I’m enjoying it. Before I came over, I thought I’d be able to go wherever and people wouldn’t recognize me, but I guess with the good start to the season people are taking more interest.
You’re a pretty recognizable guy because of your teeth.
Ha. Yeah, it’s a giveaway. I fell off my bike and they both chipped and I just left it that way.
The city’s pro-sports reputation has been pretty crappy in the past few years. Did that concern you?
When I met [MLSE CEO and president] Tim Leiweke in London, he told me about his goals and what he wanted to do with the team. His enthusiasm and ambition were amazing and I thought it would be cool to be a part of.
Okay, I know you’re probably sick of answering questions about this, but I have to ask you about…
Everyone asks me that. Why does everyone ask?
Drake is a big deal in Toronto—he’s a bloody big deal.
I met him in London one night. We were both out with friends. Then last year I got a phone call and it was him. He told me that Toronto is a nice city, and how fans would go mad if I came here.
Has he taken you out in Toronto yet?
He said he’s going to take me to this restaurant called Sotto Sotto. We haven’t done that yet, though.
Have you been to any cool restaurants so far?
I’ve been to a few Italian restaurants and a bunch of Joey Restaurants. I think I’ve been to every single Joey’s in Toronto.
What do you miss most about living in London?
Of course I miss my old teammates and my friends, but I’m not really one to look back too much. I just like to arrive somewhere new and settle in and get on with it. There was one thing: Before I moved into my house, I was staying at the Trump Hotel. I ordered up breakfast and I asked them for baked beans and they brought some up that were different. We were searching and then we were at Loblaws and we found real English baked beans. Fantastic!
I imagine you don’t miss the English tabloids.
I definitely don’t miss that at all.
One article I read referred to you as a notorious ladies’ man.
Oh, yeah, there were loads like that. What’s a ladies’ man? If you’re single and you get attention from girls, what are you going to do? I never ever let that stuff get to me. My mom would get pissed off, but she knew that a lot of that stuff is made up anyway.
Okay, last question: Now that you’re an honourary Torontonian, is it football or soccer?
Is that going to change?
Not a chance.
Coffee or tea?
Bangers and mash or fish and chip?
Fish and chips.
Desert island album?
Bob Marley’s greatest-hits album Legend.