So What If We Suck?

It’s sad to say that the #SWIWS (So What If We Suck) hashtag has found itself attached to the #RCTID one on more than a few occasions this year as the Timbers have found the going tough in their second year of MLS.

The sentiment is well-meaning. It’s basically “we’ll support you ever more”. Yeah, we suck, so what? We still love the club.

I get all that, and I appreciate it, I really do, and yet I hate it.

So what if we suck? It’s fucking shit to suck, that’s so what!

I don’t expect the team to win every game and, to be honest, as much as I want us to, if we did it would probably bore me to tears. You need the agony to truly appreciate the ecstasy.

So it’s not all about the glory, but, still, fuck this #SWIWS sentiment. I give the team my absolute support when I’m in the ground. I sing, I cheer, I hug random strangers when we score. The Timbers Army sing their support of the club, no matter what. There was no better example of the Army’s dedication to the cause than the way they drove the side on despite finding themselves 4-1 before half time in the LA game.

So What… even if the sentiment is right, just doesn’t sit right with me. It carries a “oh well, doesn’t really matter” connotation, but football does matter to me. Okay, it’s not life or death, but it’s a passion of mine, and it’s something I put a lot of myself in to. I’m not obsessive, though my wife might disagree when she’s asking me why I’m watching a random German football game, but this stuff matters.

So I care that we suck, and I don’t like it. I want better. As I said, I appreciate the sentiment and don’t mean to offend those that use it, but my unwavering support for the club is summed up perfectly by RCTID – Rose City Till I Die – it doesn’t mean I have to acquiesce to having the team playing poorly.

Despite a Season of Suck the club announced that there were 7,000 fans currently on the season ticket waiting list – a staggering number, especially as the club struggle on through a torrid season. There’s certainly no question that these fans are seeking to attach themselves to a winning team!

No, it’s seems it’s rather more that they want to attach themselves to the Timbers Army.

There’s a phrase to describe this phenomena – Basking In Reflecting Glory, or BIRGing, for short.

I grew up in a town where I could see the relative supports for the big Glasgow clubs wax and wane depending on whichever was doing better at the time. I never did understand that mentality. Gloryhunting, us fans of local, not so successful, clubs would call it.

There’s certainly no way that thousands are lining up to support the Timbers on the basis of the reflected glory cast by the exploits of the team.

Yet, even as the team on the pitch has flirted with disaster, winked at calamity and rounded third-base with misery, the fans continue to garner positive headlines both for their unwavering support in the stands, and tireless community work.

Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that Army?

Who wouldn’t want to bask in that glory?

Some fans, in a conspiratorial mood, have drawn from the release of an increase in waiting list figures an inference that a season ticket price rise is on the way. I mean, after all, if you’re not willing to stump up for a pay hike on your ticket, then someone else surely will. It’s the first step on a path towards a “supply and demand” argument with regards to ticket prices.

This, taken with a loose (obviously since deleted, but undoubtedly screencapped somewhere) tweet from club owner Merritt Paulson about General Admission vs Assigned Seating in the North End, as well as complaints by some fans about chaotic lines to get into the ground on game day, has fostered a burgeoning Them vs Us attitude. Battle lines are being drawn, with the purity and tradition of the Timbers Army at stake.

The GA debate rages on and off on twitter and facebook, as well as the various Timbers forums. As every MLS match gets sold out, and the prestige of the Army shows no sign of abating, it’s little wonder than more new fans are being drawn to it like moths to a flame, and this creates problems that supporters groups are continually working hard to put right, without having to resort to assigned seating.

Assigned seating, critics argue, would rob the Army of something integral. It takes away that spirit of freedom and flexibility.

Besides which, the rest of the ground is Assigned Seating. The option is there for those that want it. My wife, after experiencing the lines for the Vancouver match was adamant that if we got tickets for the Seattle match, they had to be assigned. Fortunately we were able to scored tickets for the West with friends, and so avoided a long wait in line and no chance of a spot in the “prestige” lower sections – besides which, we sat up in the 200s for the Whitecaps, and enjoyed it just fine.

So the arguments for and against carry on, while the club itself continues to deny any move away from General Admission. For some the answer is to install Safe Standing in the North End, on the model used in Europe. It’s a hybrid system that allows the club to increase capacity, while maintaining seating should it be needed for whatever reason, such as a non-football event.

Speaking as someone who grew up with terracing, before all-seated stadia became a legal requirement in Scotland, I found standing with the TA a reminder of just how much fun going to the game could be. Standing at the game is almost a primordial thing. I’d lost touch with that sense of tribal belonging in the years I’d been sitting in the cramped stands at Rugby Park.

It may well be that all this talk of Assigned Seating and Price Rises is nothing more than hot air. Or it way turn out that the waters are being tested after all. Given that there’s little good news to grab on to on the field, the stuff off it tends to get magnified and over-analysed in a way it wouldn’t if the team were doing the business.

A season and a half on from their MLS debut, the Timbers continue to be overshadowed by the Army. The attention and recognition were nice for a while, but even the most ardent fan was going to tire eventually of every Timbers story having to shoehorn some kind of tenuous Army angle into it.

And there are only so many patronising head pats anyone can take.

It’s a symbiotic relationship – there would be no club without the fans, and there would be no fans without the club. It’s about time the club started pulling it’s weight.

I’m probably not the guy to pontificate too long on the subject of the Timbers Army. My first live match was only last year, the 3-3 draw with New York. Though, in my defence, I would point out that the commute from Scotland to Portland is a bit of a tricky one.

There are folks who have been TA from back before I could even point to Oregon on a map, never mind tell you the name of Portland’s top club. So, it’s to those guys and girls that I defer.

My tuppence worth though would be that the Army, and the Timbers faithful in general, have something special going on, and when you have something precious like that, it’s should be nurtured. It’s not just about bending to the Army’s every whim – at the end of the day the club has to function as a business – but finding that balance where the Front Office are able to service the growing number of wannabe supporters, while maintaining the unique atmosphere that the North End bring each and every match has to be paramount.

I hope that General Admission stays, and that the price are kept relatively low. I makes is affordable to all who want to sample it, and gives the North End a special kind of buzz that would be lost if the stadium went entirely Assigned Seating. I say that as someone who hasn’t got a season ticket yet, and have long wait ahead of me to get one, but so be it.

There are lots of supporters groups in MLS, but there is only one Army.

The support still grows and BIRGers, and late adopters, want to be a part of something wonderful.

And who knows, maybe one day they’ll want to be bask in the reflected glory of what happens where it truly matters – on the pitch.

No sooner did I post this than there was a post on the Timbers Army sight about the importance of General Admission. They obviously have a lot more authority on the subject that I do, so go check it out if you haven’t already.

16 thoughts on “So What If We Suck?

  1. I remember some pundits complaining about Irish fans during the 2012 Euros, (I believe it was on the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast among other places). They were combating all the praise that was heaped upon the “best supporters there” by saying the team didn’t deserve the support. The complaints were that the Irish supporters were “just there for the sing-song” and the football didn’t matter to them. And if the football didn’t matter, were they really the best fans? It won’t be long until the same comparisons are thrown at the TA. I’m not sure exactly what the counter to it should be? #RCTID #LovetheShirt

    1. I’m a Scot, so I can definitely relate to that. Any time Scotland make a major championship (which is rare, admittedly!), the coverage is about 75/25 towards stories about the “fantastic” Tartan Army. The fans are obviously important, but it’s ultimately all about the football. It’s like going to a concert and spending the entire time your favourite band are playing raving about the concession stand.

  2. Interesting.

    Whole bunch of interrelated things I see going on here.

    First – on the reserved seating front – there’s the question of Club vs. Army.

    As you discussed, right now the problem is that the situation with the club is a) dire, and b) not improving. So there’s only so many times that the sporting press can gin up interest by reporting about another Timbers loss – especially when most of the losses have been dour, lackluster affairs like the last match rather than wild rumpi (rumpuses? Whatever the plural of “rumpus” is, anyway) like LA at home. So the focus tends to turn to the supporters, who ARE interesting and lively.

    And – and this is just my personal suspicion – I think that Merritt and the Front Office, for all their public protestations are very ambivalent about the Army. They love the spotlight it brings, but I think they’re a little tired of it poking it’s collective nose into what they see as “their” business.

    They had a bad day when their original “updated” badge was publicly booed. And, more recently, I think they were a little frightened at the abuse the players took after the Cal FC loss. I think that the FO would like to feel like they have a little more “control” over the Army. That may be part of the mooting of the reserved seating idea.

    Second – regarding the SWIWS tag – the flip side of the SWIWS attitude is the sort of fierce anger on display after the Cal match. I think that both come from the same place; not so much a “I don’t care if we suck” but a deep love for the club.

    This season seems to be dividing the supporters. Some are insisting that a “real” supporter ALWAYS supports the team, good or bad. I think that’s the “SWIWS” crowd. Not sure whether they’re just latecomers and gloryhunters – I think that a lot are trying to keep a positive outlook in the North End.

    Others insist that they – the supporters – ARE the team; that their devotion and commitment to the club make it crucial that they take a chainsaw to the dead wood, so to speak – and that if the players and the FO don’t like that, then they can make changes. Call this the #IRSIWS (It REALLY Sucks If We Suck) tag.

    Right now this seems to show up mostly on the Facebook page and not in the North End. But I think that if the club doesn’t take some active steps to show that 1) they understand that this team is in serious trouble and 2) they have an idea of how to improve things this could – along with the issues surrounding the whole vets vs. noobs in the Army that this could get reeeeeally ugly.

    1. As I said, I get the sentiment behind folks using #SWIWS. It’s about always supporting the team, but to me that sentiment is better and more positively encapsulated in Rose City Till I Die. Come rain or shine, good times or bad, from now until my last breath I am PTFC.

      I’ll hold my hands up that the negative connotation I attach to #SWIWS is probably entirely of my own creation. I just don’t like the sense of ambivalence it has, at least for me.

      Today’s been an interesting day to be a Timbers fan. I tend to agree with you that for all the public support the FO shows for the Army, I always get the sense they tolerate rather than embrace the culture of the North End. I don’t doubt Merritt’s passion for the club – anyone who follows him on twitter couldn’t – but this is his business too, and he has to run it that way which will always strike a discordant note with the ethos of the TA.

      Balancing the two will always be a delicate job, and even the slightest perceived misstep on either side – such as the survey on Allocated Seating, or the fans’ visceral reaction after Cal FC – could set light to the blue touch paper.

      1. Agreed. Interestingly, I got a call today from the service rep asking “how are you doing?” “You tell me!” I replied, and she had the grace to play a sad trombone.

        We talked about these very issues, and I asked her – if she passed Merritt in the hall – to mention that she had heard from a longtime supporter, USL-and-first-MLS-season-ticket holder that he needed to get on his manager-bike and find a genuine first-division quality gaffer, or the SWIWS contingent is going to get smaller and smaller, and to add to that the soccer-moms-and-dads from Beaverton looking for a fun night out with the kiddies are going to start avoiding JW and the angry Army shouting expletives at the disaster on the pitch.

        I wasn’t kidding. Well, mostly.

        Oddly, as much as I’m in the IRSIWS group, I admit to being kind of fascinated by watching this train wreck. The friends I grew up playing with were largely ex-pats, and I heard all their stories of horror-seasons, relegations, supporters going from hurling insults to hurling objects at their hate-players, the manager, or the committee… And now we have our own horror season going on right now.

        Thank the soccer gods there’s no relegation in MLS!

      2. And for the record? I don’t think you’re inventing anything about the #SWIWS ethic. To my mind, too, it represents a sort of hopelessness. IMO loving and believing in something or someone means wanting it, or them, to be the best it or they can be. It’s NOT just giving up and embracing the suck.

        I think the problem is that a lot of supporters just don’t know what or how to feel both supportive of the club AND being critical and demanding improvement. I think that this is where Merritt and the FO could help by talking more about how they’re working their asses off to come up with a solution; it would give those fans a sense that their support is valued by the club but that their concerns are still being heard.

        Mind you – that assumes they ARE working their asses off.

  3. Another great post, I admire your affection for your adopted club! As a season ticket holder for almost a decade, this season is ripping me apart.
    1st) I don’t care if you’re a new or old fan, come enjoy the experience. That said, I love WATCHING the game, I show my disappointment with the product on the pitch, as a fan, I should be able to do so. Very tired of people looking at me like I kissed their sister… in point, that stupid ass tetris bullshit…I am RCTID, have been for awhile, I just don’t need to dance around like an idiot (missing the action on the pitch) to prove it.
    2nd) this us vs. them thing is ruining the game day experience. GA/reserved doesn’t matter to me, the least of my worries! I want a quality product on the pitch! There could be 20,000 fans or 500 (as it was when I got season tickets) no difference. As you said this is taking away from the real issue… we’re turning into Wednesday or worse yet Grimsby town fc

  4. I’m a TA member, I love the army, I love the energy, I love the passion, and I love the sheer ecstasy released in north end upon a goal being scored. But I am a more recent member of the army, and as such I care more about what happens on the pitch than anything else. My least favorite chants of the game are “sunshine” and “falling in love with you” because I can’t see shit with everyone’s scarfs up. I love the attention the army gets and am proud that I contribute to something so special. But in the end, I’m not one of those fans who can walk out of the stadium happy after a loss. Some will say im not a “purist” or a “real member” or I’m a “bandwagon fan”. Fuck that, I love this team as much as the next guy, but results matter to me. Im a timbers fan, not a timbers army fan. What bothers me more than anything about many members of the TA is how ambivalent they can be after a loss (or multiple losses). It drives me crazy. We are currently the worst team in the league, and it seems like many people dont give a shit. I passionately support the teams I love and a live and die with their successes and failures. As Kevin said, you need the agony to appreciate the ecstasy. I will continue to support this team through their current struggles, but I don’t have to like it.

    1. “What bothers me more than anything about many members of the TA is how ambivalent they can be after a loss (or multiple losses). It drives me crazy. We are currently the worst team in the league, and it seems like many people dont give a shit. I passionately support the teams I love and a live and die with their successes and failures.”

      I am one of those people who bother you.

      I love the Timbers. I want them to have all of the successes in the world. But I have no control over how the club plays. All I can control is how I support the club – loudly and passionately. I believe that even if that support makes even the smallest iota of difference, it’s worth it.

      But if we’re losing 2-1 to a team called Crystal Palace Baltimore, if we’re losing 3-2 to a team called Hollywood United, if we’re losing 1-0 to a team called Cal FC, there’s not a damn thing I can do about it as long as my voice is hoarse on the way out. Walking out of the stadium after a loss doesn’t make me happy, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

      I can’t go on the pitch and give Boyd decent service. I can’t go man-mark Beckham to stop him from scoring, I can’t get inside Gavin’s head to tell him to quit, I can’t conduct a training session. I probably could pay to help Lovel Palmer get his real estate license, but that’s beside the point.

      So what if we do suck, then? What if we suck for years? 2009/2010 being anomalous, we have sucked for years!

      Does it mean the team isn’t worth supporting anymore?

      Not for a minute. They are Portland’s soccer team, which makes them my soccer team.

      And headlines have nothing to do with it.

      1. At no point did I say fans can affect the outcomes, but I still don’t like the So What mentality. I support the club as you do, I never said it doesn’t make the team worth supporting, I just don’t think “So What?” and I intensely dislike that kind of “meh, what can I do?” mentality.

      2. Was more responding to Daniel, there… but let’s have at it.

        I think the core of your argument is that SWIWS and RCTID mean exactly the same thing. I disagree.

        I’d define RCTID as I will support the Rose City and anything in it until I am dead, even if I have amnesia or Alzheimer’s or move to the state up north or something debilitating which would cause that support to be called into question.

        I define SWIWS as the Timbers have lost, probably repeatedly, probably repeatedly badly, but by no stretch of the imagination does their losing streak call into question anything regarding your own personal support.

        RCTID is hyped as a mentality and isn’t necessarily related to the Timbers. SWIWS is an anti-CORF measure, CORF being the anti-BIRG as defined in the article: Cutting Off Reflected Failure. RCTID is continual, SWIWS is reactionary.

        And to be fair you may not need SWIWS. I may not need it either. You may have a good point. But after another cold, rainy evening in which the Timbers have failed yet again to live up to whatever low-ass expectations you have set of them, SWIWS resonates much more deeply with me than the now-overused RCTID tag. It doesn’t mean results don’t matter, not least the results going forward. It means results have sucked, it means results may continue to suck, and it means you’re prepared to accept those results come what may.

        CORF is the alternative. If you need to win you’ll CORF after a few seasons of general Timbers play. Perhaps there are other alternatives.

      3. We’ll agree to disagree on definitions then and leave it at that.

        I suspect we both feel pretty much the same way about the club, we just express it differently.

  5. I have never had reason to doubt Merritt’s drive or desire to win. I feel like Merritt is thankful for the endearing support of the TA, but is secretfly resentful of the SWIWS crowd. John Canzano mentioned this very thing on his radio show. He said that he told Merritt they don’t ever have to win, they could lose every game and people would still show up going crazy. Merritt scowled and John, didn’t respond to him verbally, and the next day fired John Spencer. Winning matters to the owner, and as long as it matters to him, I have faith this team will turn things around

  6. I do feel like Merrit wants to win but I also get the sense that there needs to be a shift in the organization from the USL days. I like Spencer and Wilkinson but I don’t believe either one is going to lead to championships. I feel like we are reacting to other teams play on the field but not forcing them to adjust to us. We are always a step behind. Our pieces are not adding to a greater whole. We seem to be only micromanaging the present with no management plan for the long term which is causing us to not only stagnate but backtrack. The sooner we can get a coach with vision and a long term plan and I believe a GM with better international connections the better. I would love to make the Flounders eat turf year in and year out. RCTID

  7. When you wrote “a torrid season,” did you really mean “a torpid season”? “Torpid” describes the Timbers’ recent play a lot more accurately, IMHO.

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