When you have been surrounded by a baying mob in Central America, League One football is unlikely to hold any fears, writes James Shield.
“In Panama, there were five thousand fans outside our hotel when we played over there,” David Edgar, the Canada captain, said. “They were making noise all night, playing music, banging drums and revving car engines all night. The staff where we stayed had to give us ear plugs because the police, quite clearly, had no interest in moving them. Still, it’s all part of the game I suppose.”
It is precisely that sangfroid and ballsy attitude, which 11 days ago, earned Edgar a transfer to Bramall Lane. Nigel Adkins, having resolved to strengthen Sheffield United’s options at centre-half, assessed a number of candidates at both Championship and League One level before deciding the 28-year-old’s international experience made him the perfect fit.
“We’re perennial underdogs in Canada,” Edgar admitted. “When it comes to soccer anyway. The Gold Cup over the summer is a really good example of what I mean. There was one game, in June, when we came up against El Salvador. There were a few hundred of our fans in the stadium and about 15,000 of theirs. We’re always on the road with Canada and that’s really helped my football here.”
Edgar, signed on a season long loan from Birmingham City, has always been a ‘have boots will travel’ kind of guy. Born in Kitchener, 60 miles west of Toronto, there were few opportunities on home soil once he decided to pursue a career in the beautiful game.
“My parents are both Geordies and I suppose that’s where I get my love of soccer from,” he told The Star earlier this week. “My dad played and then they emigrated over there.
“I was brought up playing football and ice hockey because, as I think everybody knows, that’s what all Canadian kids do. It’s absolutely huge.
“But we used to come over to England for soccer camps and friendly tournaments. Once I got a sniff of the way this country is over football, well, that was it for me. I just wanted to move.”
Predictably, given the Edgar family heritage, St James’ Park was his first port of call. Three seasons, over 20 appearances and one tenuous connection with United later, he joined Burnley following their promotion to the Premier League before arriving at St Andrews via a brief loan spell on loan with Swansea City.
“When I was about 13 or 14, I played some games over here and got invited back by Newcastle and a few other clubs,” Edgar said. “I’m an adopted Geordie so it was always going to be them really, that was always where I was going to start out.
“I still go and see my nan who lives up that way. She lives pretty near Bash’s (Chris Basham’s) parents and when his dad realised I was getting a bus into training, he was kind enough to give me a lift. It’s strange how things work out isn’t it? He was one of the first people I bumped into when I came here.”
A proud Anglophile, Edgar has not left Ontario completely behind.
“I used to play hockey, of course, when I was younger. Everybody does back home.
“We used to try and make an ice rink in the back yard by leaving the hosepipe on and a few of my mates have gone on to become pro’s themselves. I know a few who have played for the (Sheffield) Steelers and I’ve already been to a few of their games. The same goes for when I was at Newcastle too but I’m a big Maple Leaves fan.
“I really enjoyed my hockey and I wasn’t too bad at it either. But, when you are younger, there comes a point when you’ve got to choose if you’re good at two different sports. And it was always football for me.”
Had Major League Soccer taken a hold of North America before Edgar reached his sporting crossroads then his career might well have taken an altogether different path.
“There’s always been lots of talent in Canada but, the trouble was back then, that the outlet wasn’t there,” he said. “There was no obvious route for it to come through so you were forced to go abroad. Now the teams are putting academies in place and, mark my words, Canadian soccer is really going to take off. I really do think it can become huge.”
“There’s a crazy atmosphere when you go to matches in Toronto now,” Edgar continued. “It’s pretty Americanised, as it were, and you can have beer and popcorn at your seat. But the Canadian teams are getting some of the best crowds in the competition so that tells me the interest is really there.”
Adkins, whose side enters tomorrow’s meeting with Blackpool searching for its fourth consecutive win, acknowledged Edgar’s leadership skills - “He has captained his country which tells you something about his character” - made him a particularly desirable proposition when it became clear City would do business. Edgar’s presence in United’s starting eleven has strengthened a defence which, after a wobble on the opening day of the campaign at Gillingham, has now been breached only once in three outings.
“I like to be an organiser,” Edgar, noting parallels between the culture Adkins has fostered at the Redtooth Academy and the one which underpins the Canadian national team, said. “I’ll try and pass on knowledge to the younger lads and use my experiences. That’s something I really enjoy.
“But I’m going to learn so much coming here myself too because, right from the first training session, I can see the amount of coaching we get here is brilliant. We all work together, pull in the same direction, for Canada and that’s one of the things I’ve really noticed here too.”