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United by banter: FC Buffalo's Scottish trio thrives under same roof

Not all Scottish stereotypes are true, but if you ask the three natives on FC Buffalo, one trait is accurate: Scots swear a lot more than Americans.

"100 percent," agreed Wolves teammates Kieran Toland, Jack Donaldson and Johnny McBeth, almost in unison.

"We've been talking about this with the [American] boys," elaborated McBeth, known to his teammates as "Macca." "Some of the words we use are proper offensive over here -- we just use them normally in the way we chat."

Without requiring the trio to cite examples -- this is a family-friendly blog! -- it was fair to ask whether the abundance of profanity was mean spirited in nature or misunderstood cultural expression.

"If we're shouting on someone, we may use a bad word to shout on them, but we don't mean it," Donaldson explained. "We mean it like 'you're my friend,' or 'all right, mate,' but we shout it."

Toland, grinning sheepishly with his head down as the conversation continues, finally interjects. "I've been called out on it a couple times."

"He's the worst," banters back McBeth.

Toland, left in the air, Donaldson, middle in the air, rise for a header, while McBeth, second from right, provides cover. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

Toland, left in the air, Donaldson, middle in the air, rise for a header, while McBeth, second from right, provides cover. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

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Given how they act and play off one another, you'd assume that McBeth, Toland and Donaldson were friends long before they reached the States. They're at most a year apart in age, hail from roughly the same area in Scotland, all play Division I soccer in New York and, with the exception of McBeth's long hair, are not always easy to distinguish on the field.

Each has filled a key role for Brendan Murphy's team this year, working together almost seamlessly in the midfield as they approach FC Buffalo's final match of the season, a 7 p.m. July 8 tilt vs. Indy Eleven NPSL at Robert E. Rich All High Stadium.

Toland, who balances a cannon of a shot with delicate touch, mans the No. 10 role in the attacking midfield. Donaldson, a modern "destroyer" at holding center mid, fearlessly (and, in large part, cleanly) flies into tackles. McBeth, a jack-of-all-trades, can thrive anywhere on the wing and is a gifted two-way player. A no-nonsense attitude unites the three on the field.

Off the field, Donaldson is the elder statesman, the leader. McBeth is quieter and creative, even quirky. Toland, on the other hand, was voted by the other two to be the loudest and funniest of the roommates.

"We can't get him to shut up sometimes," McBeth said, rolling his eyes.

Kieran Toland, still talking, with FC Buffalo head coach Brendan Murphy. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

Kieran Toland, still talking, with FC Buffalo head coach Brendan Murphy. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

It's surprising, then, that these three weren't childhood friends who walked the path to American college soccer together; they grew up immersed in the same Scottish culture, obsessed with the same sport, but it took moving overseas -- and divergent paths to Olean, Iowa and North Carolina -- before the three finally met, for the first time, in Buffalo, NY, and became roommates in FC Buffalo's summer housing at D'Youville College.

The close calls of their childhood are amusing to look back at now. Donaldson remembers rehashing one of the wild anecdotes from his youth -- a school game that had to be abandoned early when fans exploded firecrackers on the pitch -- when McBeth piped up to say that he was actually Donaldson's foe in that match, much to the storyteller's surprise.

The bizarre-o nature of their summer has certainly dawned on the Scottish trio.

"Kieran lives five minutes away from me back home, but I'd never met him before, and then we come halfway across the world and we're living together," marveled Donaldson.

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KIERAN TOLAND'S PATH from Falkirk, Scotland

Toland, a soon-to-be junior at St. Bonaventure, joins the podcast to talk about the FC Buffalo season so far. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

Toland, a soon-to-be junior at St. Bonaventure, joins the podcast to talk about the FC Buffalo season so far. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

The two years in the United States haven't been a breeze for Kieran Toland on the soccer field, as his St. Bonaventure Bonnies have amassed a dismal record of 3-31-1, including just one Atlantic 10 victory.

Recruited under Mel Mahler, Toland stuck with the program after his freshman season when the head coach stepped down, a decision the Scot is content with now as St. Bonaventure tries to rebuild under Kwame Oduro and Ryan Arvin.

"My first year I played under Mel, and I actually got on with Mel, so that was good for me in a way, but then he left," Toland summed. "It was a tough time for us all -- we didn't know what was going to happen -- but then Kwame came in and put his own stamp on things and has done things his way, and I respect that, and it was the best way to go about it.

"He's brought in a lot of players that have actually benefited us and made us better, and if he keeps doing that each year, it's only a matter of time before St. Bonaventure gets back on track."

One of the greatest college soccer photos from the Big 4 in fall 2015. (SBU Athletics)

Toland, in one of the greatest college soccer photos from the Big 4 in fall 2015. (SBU Athletics)

[Listen: Toland's appearance on the "Football Club of Buffalo Show"]

The FC Buffalo season has not only bolstered Toland's confidence -- he scored twice in the same weekend, burying one in a win over AFC Cleveland and another in the road loss to Rochester -- but allowed him to refine aspects of his game that needed work, like his movement off the ball and the constant mental .

Perhaps most encouraging were rave reviews from his performance and work ethic in training, which will be crucial in a leadership role for the Bonnies next month.

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JOHNNY McBETH'S PATH from Glasgow, Scotland

FC Buffalo's Johnny McBeth pumps his fist after putting the Wolves on the board in the second minute against Erie. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

FC Buffalo's Johnny McBeth pumps his fist after putting the Wolves on the board in the second minute against Erie. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

The allure of the United States for McBeth was simple: the college soccer system allowed him to both continue his studies, which he'd started in Scotland, as well as play soccer simultaneously. In Glasgow, student-athletes had to choose one path or the other.

"In unis in Scotland and Great Britain there's not the same amount of attention and money that go into the sports," explained McBeth. "If you join a university team in Scotland, anyone can join it -- it's not like you get scholarships like over here. There's just not that money over there."

The winger was absolutely dominant at NCAA Division II Upper Iowa University, reeling in myriad awards, before transferring to Division I Hartwick College in February to play for Scotland native John Scott.

While McBeth admitted nerves, largely because he knew no one in the States, when he first came to Iowa from Scotland, his current transition has been a lot smoother.

"Next year [Hartwick] can field an All-Scottish team, so it's like playing back home a wee bit now," he remarked. Well, he'll fit in for the most part, with one slight exception.

"I've been a huge Celtic fan my whole life -- which is interesting at Hartwick, where there's only two Celtic fans, and the rest are Rangers fans," McBeth said about the spirited (understatement) footballing rivalry. "We played them this year for the first time in over a year -- they were in a division below us last season, but now they're back to the top level -- the Scottish Premier League -- and somehow they beat us. I don't know how."

After befriending Donaldson -- a serious Rangers fan -- during the spring season at Hartwick, McBeth was a package deal for FC Buffalo this summer.

Any time an FC Buffalo player scores against rival Erie, he's treated as a hero. For McBeth, scoring in the 2-1 home win over the Commodores just days after returning from Scotland, where he attended to family matters following his grandmother's death, was one of the most heartwarming moments of the season.

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JACK DONALDSON'S PATH from Paisley, Scotland

Jack Donaldson strikes a long ball against the Rochester River Dogz. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

Jack Donaldson strikes a long ball against the Rochester River Dogz. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

Of the three roommates, Donaldson was the first to come to the United States, making the trek three years ago to Mars Hill University in North Carolina. Like McBeth, Donaldson saw that college soccer and an education in America made more sense than chancing a professional futbol career after high school.

"With university back home, classes are mostly during the day, and if you want to play soccer professionally, normally training for the full-time teams is during the day as well," he said. "If you want to play a decent standard then they train in the mornings most of the time, so it's hard to balance both.."

Donaldson's transition was eased by Mars Hill defender and Scotland native Gregg Munn, whose younger brother was a teammate of Donaldson's growing up. Through Munn's assistance, the newcomer picked up the tricks of the American soccer trade quickly -- like a commitment to the weight room that was noticeably absent Scottish training -- but still had a considerable adjustment.

"It was still a shock, even for me," admitted Donaldson, known informally to his teammates as "Donny." "I didn't have a clue that the [college] season went from August to November. Back home, we play all the way through the year. That was a big shock playing so many games in such a short space of time; we were playing games on Fridays and Sundays, where back home we were playing one game a week. It's hard to recover sometimes."

Through his success at Mars Hill and connections at Hartwick, Donaldson made the leap to Division I before the 2015 fall campaign, where he thrived, starting 18 matches and registering two goals and two assists as the Hawks advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

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A BREAK FROM THE PESSIMISM

There's another longstanding stereotype of Scots: bouts of pessimism and a general lack of cheer. While McBeth and Donaldson can see where those characteristics might ring true in their homeland, the United States has given them an escape.

"Back home we grow up and it's raining all the time in a way that's shocking, and it's a huge part of that [mentality]," McBeth explained. "Coming over here we're doing what we love and playing every day and the weather's nice. I think that's helped us with the pessimism."

Englishmen Jim Orvis, left, and Sam Byles hung out with FC Buffalo's Scots for a relaxing day. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Englishmen Jim Orvis, left, and Sam Byles hung out with FC Buffalo's Scots for a relaxing day. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

"You see [people from home] writing on social media, 'Ugh, I wish I was on holiday, get me out of' wherever they're living, and it's because they see the same people, the weather's terrible, and it's like they're living a robotic life, whereas we're over here doing different things every day, meeting new people, seeing different cities, which is so beneficial for us," Donaldson added.

A recent weekend trip to the host family of Sam Byles and Jim Orvis, the two English imports who spent the summer just down the road from D'Youville, was a case in point.

"We went to the English boys' [place] for a barbecue at their place, just sitting outside and enjoying the weather, having a few drinks -- they had a pool as well," Donaldson remembered fondly. "It's getting to know other people that we wouldn't have met if this opportunity wouldn't have come around - I think that's one of the most beneficial things for me."

Sometimes the dour demeanor follows Donaldson, McBeth and Toland, but it's easily shaken off.

"I can see why people think that [about Scots]," remarked Donaldson. "We are a little bit down in the dumps sometimes, but it might only take something to spark us up. [Toland, for reasons unbeknownst to the interviewer, giggles.] The banter, the laughs in training, and we're right in the middle of it."

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THE SUMMER OF BANTER

If there's one thing many Scots will enjoy, it's the suffering of England. When asked their reaction to the Three Lions' shock exit from Euro 2016 at the hands of tiny Iceland, Toland was first to bat.

"Happy, excited, overjoyed..." he rattled off.

For McBeth, England's loss was somehow even sweeter. "I made a bet with Ferg [teammate Andrew Ferguson] that Iceland would win, so when I saw the result, that was tough," he said with a wry smile.

Beneath the jokes and the excess cursing is a serious pride in their Scottish heritage, a bond that tightened in a summer living together and playing for FC Buffalo.

When asked for their favorite part of the summer, it's not shocking that Toland, McBeth and Donaldson had the same response.

"The banter, we get the same laughs."

Email Ben Tsujimoto, who's trying to work "wee" into his regular vocabulary, at btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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