Roker Report: First of all [best Cilla Black voice] what is your name, how old are you, and where do you come from?
Derek Gagnon: My name is Derek Gagnon. I’m 33 years old, born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and now living in Victoria, British Columbia on the west coast of Canada.
RR: So what’s your story, then - how come you’re a Lads fan?
DG: Multiple reasons, really. I really only started paying attention to English football in 2007, as prior to that I was basically all hockey all the time. But 2007 was the year that Major League Soccer came to Canada via Toronto FC, and I finally had an easier way to watch the game I played so much as a kid.
I started playing fantasy with players from the EPL, and one such player was Michael Chopra. That was really my first exposure to Sunderland. This was my first exposure to Sunderland (and it only took 19 years).
I eventually learned about the Tyne-Wear derby, and that always appealed to me more than anything in London and, as coming from a city with a colder climate, I related more to the people of northern England.
In 2015, when Toronto FC and Sunderland swapped Jermain Defoe for Jozy Alitdore, I started following along more closely, as I wanted to see how Defoe was doing.
Sunderland Til I Die coming out in 2018 was not the beginning, but certainly it helped cement the passion, getting that look at the people of Sunderland.
RR: How popular is football in your country?
DG: It’s certainly not the most popular sport, as ice hockey gets the majority of sports media coverage here, but it is growing. The combination of two bronze medals and recent Olympic games from the women’s side, coupled with the re-emergence of the men’s national team thanks to players like Alphonso Davies, and being one of three nations awarded the 2026 men’s World Cup is helping.
Canada also started a professional men’s league in 2019, 27 years after the last one shuttered in 1992. The Canadian Premier League has eight teams, with talks of expanding to a ninth. With clubs on both the west and the east coast, the maximum travel distance between clubs is over 5,800 kilometres (Pacific FC to Halifax Wanderers).
RR: Do you have a ‘local’ side?
DG: The one and only local professional club is Pacific FC. I only moved to this area in September, so I have not seen them play here, but I do intend to throw my support behind them. I moved from Edmonton, whose FC Edmonton switched from the now defunct North American Soccer League (NASL) to the Canadian Premier League a couple of years ago.
RR: What do you love the most about following Sunderland?
DG: I love the passion of the supporters, and I love how there is no sense from anybody that being in League one is acceptable. It’s not an underdog story, it’s a redemption story.
I love the idea of being able to follow along as the club rises back to its rightful place.
RR: Have you ever visited the Stadium of Light?
DG: I have never even been to England let alone Sunderland, but I would love to attend. The best attended football matches I’ve ever attended was a friendly between Real Madrid and Toronto FC in front of 20,000 in 2009, and 28,000 at a friendly between the women’s teams of Canada and the United States in 2014. Even if it wasn’t filled to the rafters, the Stadium of Light would be the biggest venue I’ve ever been to. It would be wild!
RR: How do you find supporting the Lads from so far away?
DG: It can be a challenge at times. There’s an eight hour difference between here and Sunderland, and my ability to watch them live isn’t always easy, though that would improve a bit if they can get back to the Premiership. But via the Roker Report blog and podcast, combined with coverage on Twitter, I can get my fix.
RR: Are there many of ‘us lot’ out there?
DG: I would say Sunderland Til I Die won a few casual supporters, but I don’t think the popularity is as strong as for other clubs. Canada has some large Italian and Portuguese communities, and they tend to be the most vocal of their support of the Juventuses and Portos of the world.
RR: What are your hopes for the next five years for the club?
DG: Mid-table of the Premier League in five years.
Simple as that. I am fully hoping/expecting that the club returns to the Championship next year, and then, with proper investment and leadership, makes the jump back to the top tier in the next few years.