Let’s start near the beginning.
In 2006, Wilkinson was the team Captain during the worst season the Timbers have suffered since the reformation of the club in 2001. The Timbers Army still loudly supported the players, but had issue with both the tactics and player personnel decisions of the manager at the time, Chris Agnello. We still sang our player chants, including one for Gavin. About 2/3rds of the way through the season, the Oregonian printed one of their rare stories about the Timbers. Rather than speak of the problems on the field, the story focused on language problems in the TA making the games an anti-family friendly atmosphere. This in a season when the growth in attendance of the TA and the stadium at large was almost literally the only positive story to be told. But more distressingly, the majority of quotes in the piece did not come from a front office employee, but from our Captain. The poor play of the team was blamed on the only people in the city of Portland who cared whether or not those players still had a job. Most of the TA around at that time will tell you that reading that article was easily one of the lowest points they’d ever suffered as a supporter. We couldn’t understand why this article had been written, but more importantly we couldn’t understand from whom it was coming.
At the end of the 2006 season, Agnello was replaced by Wilkinson, who took over both the coaching and GM duties. Everything started to make sense. Practically his first decision in charge was to eliminate all interaction between players and the TA. The Bullpen was a gathering spot after matches for players and fans to co-mingle and it was one of the most important factors in breaking down the barriers and making players feel like they belonged here. Fan favorite players like Hugo Alcaraz-Cueller and Byron Alvarez did not have their contracts renewed. Hugo went to Seattle and won a Championship with the Sounders in 2007. His second decision was to start an officially sanctioned supporters group to compete with, and hopefully replace, the TA. Called the Portland Timbers Official Supporters Club (or PTOSC), Gavin would use player interaction as a way to leverage interest in this group and take power away from the supporters. Ever wonder why Sal Zizzo went to the Thirsty Lion to hang with AO-PDX but you’ve never seen a Timbers player at one of our Food Bank drives, or at 442 to watch the Euros, or at the Bitter End during one of our offseason events? It’s not like the players aren’t aware of us. That’s a legacy of Gavin’s. It’s not simply that players may not mingle with fans, they just can’t mingle with the TA because the TA are drunk louts who offend genteel sensibilities. When you see a publication like Willamette Week hammer on an old, dead stereotype seemingly out of nowhere, remember who the first people they would call on a story would be.
I would refer you to this article, worthy of its own discussion.
This is 2007. Toronto FC was just about to enter the league and the Red Patch Boys were going to play a part in the solidifying the general movement away from catering solely to soccer moms and their kids and embrace real soccer supporters. The Timbers were still a minor league club with what was then almost universally recognized as the most legitimate, sizable, and serious SG in American soccer with the TA. In hindsight, it’s easy to make quotes like…
While we love the Timbers Army, we’d like to refine some of their behavior,” says Wilkinson, at age 33 starting his first coaching job. “I pose that the language they’re using is limiting the potential to bring in more and more kids. There are 60,000 kids playing soccer in Oregon, yet we’re not getting many of them at the games.
… look absurd but I can promise you there were just as many face palms 5 years ago. And in the sentence beneath, promises of added security and police. In literally less than 6 months, Gavin Wilkinson went from a beloved Captain and long-tenured player to a suit who banished the best and most popular players in the squad from the city, tried to supplant the best thing the club had going for it with a pale imitation, and threatened eviction or prosecution if we didn’t do an about face from being in the vanguard of what’s now known at “MLS 2.0” to embracing mascot races and t-shirt cannons. He was on the wrong side of the fans, the wrong side of history, the wrong side of empty, preening authoritarianism, and basically every single constituent piece of what “RCTID” and that Timbers MLS Marketing campaign was supposed to be about. But he did it for the children. As a modern ambassador of soccer, I guess he’s a pretty good youth soccer coach. But as a father with a child, I’d personally keep my kid as far away from that guy as possible.
I regret any language which made it appear I was alluding to any scandal. What I meant to say is that over the course of putting this article together, I had the opportunity to speak with many fans who have had the closest interactions with Wilkinson. From the old fan meetings to people who were friendly with old players, many of them ended up using a variation of a word to describe him.
Players were consistently berated and degraded. Throwing them under the bus was just the public face of a more persistent problem. He refuses to accept personal responsibility for problems, he has a tendency to treat intelligent adults as if they were children, he plays favorites, and he fancies himself a hard-nosed disciplinarian which means that a culture of mutual trust and respect is to be avoided. In short, everything I would like least in a teacher/role model with the capacity of shaping the self-esteem and development of my kid.
This post has been published anonymously at the request of the author.