Category Archives: Fan Culture

It all comes down to this.

I think we can all agree that this has not been the easiest of seasons. In fact, when we get right down to it, it’s been pretty ridiculous.

Inexplicable things have happened. Things we’d like to forget. Things we wish had never happened.

Through it all, we keep coming back. Despite our minor disagreements, we still stand united.

And now, with the Cascadia Cup on the line, an Army is gathering.

Eighteen buses at last count. Fifteen hundred tickets in the official allotment.

I’ve spent some time over the last couple weeks listening to the last half dozen or so episodes of Heart and Hand, a Rangers podcast. Bless them. If we could extract the accents, half the time, it would seem they were talking about the Timbers. Poor road form, unexpected and ridiculous losses snatched from the jaws of victory (including one recently that bounced Rangers from the Ramsden Cup) and a host of other similarities, not the least of which is a derby opponent whose fans seem more obsessed with Rangers than with their own club, despite the fact that probably won’t even face each other this year.

Gers are struggling, now in the third division of Scottish football, and as we saw when our Timbers began to struggle in the spring, people are calling for the manager’s head. I’m more than a little stunned by this. Without Ally McCoist, there might be no Rangers. Regardless, it was this quote from the pod that sent me off on this tangent:

One of the frames from them was that there’s no room for sentiment in football. And that, I have to say, is the most stupid thing I think I’ve ever heard. Football is entirely, intrinsically built on sentiment. If it wasn’t, you would change every year and support the most successful club. The reason you stay loyal is sentiment… it’s entirely sentiment.

Entirely sentiment.

Sentiment is why we continue. Sentiment is why, on a Sunday afternoon in October, over 1500 Timbers faithful will travel 180 miles into enemy territory knowing that our boys are underdogs.

“It means more,” one of my TA elders tells me, “because we do it together.” Sentiment.

We have survived this season because we’ve done it together. We’ve celebrated, we’ve mourned. We’re within a point of bringing home the Cascadia Cup and salvaging the season. And this we will do together.

For those unable to make the trip, our triumph will be broadcast Sunday on ESPN.

The soundtrack to our weekend, our Cascadia Cup derby weekend, can be found here. Be warned: it is not safe for sensitive ears.


You can read more from Kristen at her blog.

The FEAST of CASCADIA

From the minds of JNyen and Perronaldinho….


If we are mark’d to LOSE this CUP, we are enow To do our TEAM’S loss; and if to live, The fewer men, the greater share of honour. CLIVE’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more. By Jove, I am not covetous for PLAYOFFS, Nor care I who doth TRIUMPH upon my cost; It yearns me not if men my TIMBER GREEN garments wear; Such outward things dwell not in my desires. But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive. No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from the ROSE CITY. CLIVE’S peace! I would not lose so great an honour As one man more methinks would share from me For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more! Rather proclaim it, NORTHWARD, through my host, That he which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart; his passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse; We would not LOSE in that man’s company That fears his fellowship to LOSE with us.

This day is call’d the FEAST of CASCADIA. He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d, And rouse him at the name of CASCADIA. He that shall live this day, and see old age, Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, And say ‘To-morrow is Saint CASCADIA.’ Then will he strip his sleeve and show his TIMBERS INK, And say ‘These IGOR wounds I had on CASCADIA day.’ Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, But he’ll remember, with advantages, What feats he did that day. Then shall our names, Familiar in his mouth as household words- DOUBLE MOUNTAIN, FULL SAIL and AMNESIA, BRIDGEPORT and CALDERA, DESCHUTES and ALL THE BUSES- Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red. This story shall the good man teach his son; And CASCADIA shall ne’er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that BEARS his GREEN AND GOLD with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in PORTLAND now-a-bed Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That CHEERED with us upon Saint CASCADIA day! ROSE CITY TIL I DIE!

Rose (City) Colored Glasses

“How beautiful is youth! how bright it gleams
With its illusions, aspirations, dreams!
Book of Beginnings, Story without End,
Each maid a heroine, and each man a friend!”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My daughters are Timbers fans. They don’t know why exactly, they’ve never once questioned it, they just are. They come up with their own chants while LARPing around the house in their dress up clothes. They get excited when I coordinate their obnoxiously bright IKEA plates and cups so they each have a green/yellow combo for dinner. The three year old points and says “Daddy, it’s the Timbers game” anytime there is soccer on TV. The six year old happily tricks her four year old Seattleite cousin into saying “Boo Sounders! Go Timbers!” in the presence of his parents. They run around yelling like idiots when the boys in green win, and they give daddy hugs when they find out that they lost (upside to this season: Lots of hugs).

It goes without saying that their love for this team finds not only its roots, but its sunlight and water, from their father’s medium-grade obsession. I make no excuses for it, nor do I have any reservations about planting those saplings (pun intended) and encouraging their growth. I was the one that wrapped in them in a USL-era Timbers onesie in their infancy, I was the one that continues to buy them shirts, scarves and jerseys, I am the one that leads our chant sessions during car rides, and I will be the one standing next to them at every game they attend for the rest of their childhood.

It’s an idyllic time in their young lives in regards to their fledgling interest in sports. No real emotional investment, no lingering feelings of pain and anguish the next day. The highs and the lows of the season barely register for ten seconds, before the next shiny/noisy/pink thing grabs hold of their fickle minds. The amount of suffering they felt after Cal FC was far less than what they got from their last skinned knee, and all they know of a wooden spoon is that it’s in the second drawer from the left, next to the spatulas. In short, on a scale of importance, the trials and tribulations of the mighty PTFC fall somewhere between seeing a butterfly and getting a second helping of ice cream.

The magnitude of their innocence goes beyond measure. It is such a beautiful thing to behold, and during this derby week, I envy their naiveté in ways I can hardly put into words. They know there’s a game this Saturday. They know Daddy and Uncle Bardo are going together to watch it. Past those two facts, their weekend is otherwise filled with coloring books and riding bikes, cartoon marathons and a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. They don’t have to fret over who’s playing left back, nor do they give a rat’s ass about Boyd’s lack of fitness. The term GWOut is meaningless to them. The only bus that affects them is the yellow one that comes once in the morning and once in the afternoon. “Idiots” and “morons” are just words you don’t call others, and they unconditionally love everyone they know in Seattle. The final whistle will blow around 3pm on Saturday, and we might win, we might lose, but either way those two girl’s lives will be only slightly altered for only the fleetest of moments.

What a world to live in. What a sweet and pure way to enjoy this game.

I know this won’t last forever. I know that this life will not be fair to them. I know that there will be a boy that breaks their heart. I know that they will fail miserably at something new they try. I know that someone they call a friend will betray them, and I most certainly know that someday, in some unforeseen and previously unimaginable way, this team will rip their soul to pieces.

But I have hope for my girls. I hope that the break up with that boy will make them stronger, more confident women. I hope that after they fail at something, they get up, dust themselves off, and try even harder. I hope they continue to be the radiant little ladies they are already proving to be and I hope that every punch the Timbers deliver to their gut only strengthens their love and passion for the green and gold.

But more than anything, I really, really, hope that there is no one waiting to give me a hug Saturday afternoon.


You can give Mikkel an e-hug on twitter when he needs one.

[post_ender]

Featured image was taken from Eleventy Ones.

The thing about football…

As the season drags on, with every minute of every miserable match, I get just a little closer to having my Chris Cooper Moment.

Don’t know what I’m talking about?

Check this out.

I was there for that match. I wasn’t sitting very far from where Chris had his moment of clarity. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s shaped a lot of how I’ve viewed this season.

Despite what you may think if you only know me from my online persona, I’m not a super-emotional person. I don’t get crazy-excited about many things. I’m not incredibly demonstrative. I’m shy, I tend to keep to myself. For the most part, if I can possibly avoid the spotlight, I do everything in my power to do so.

And yet, here I am, pouring out words and emotion onto the internet for the world to see.

I watched the game tonight from a bar in SE Portland, a bar I’ve never been to when there wasn’t a soccer game on the big screen over the dining room. I sat at a table with people I didn’t know two years ago and I shouted at the tv more than once. In a bar. With strangers.

At my table were two other writers, a winemaker and an elementary school teacher. In various corners of the room were a 107ist board member, the founder of the Timbers Army, a girl I used to work with, and a guy who said some ridiculous things about me elsewhere on the internet.

We unite to support this team. We suffer as one.

I’ve been asked by non-Timbers friends why I put myself through all of this.

Simple.

I can’t remember what my life was like before I found myself in the midst of all of this, this whirling, churning tornado of hopes and dreams and frustration and insanity.

The thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.

– Terry Pratchett

That’s the thing. Terry Pratchett, who I do not in any way associate with soccer, hit the nail on the head. It’s not just about the game. It’s about everything surrounding the game. It’s about the relationships formed, friendships created through mutual celebration or mutual frustration.

And this. This is where a lot of us have spent most of the season:

Yes, yes, I know all the jokes…But I went to Chelsea and to Tottenham and to Rangers, and saw the same thing: that the natural state of a football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score.

– Nick Hornby

And, to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t trade a minute of that bitter disappointment for a minute of peaceful, blissful unawareness.

I just got a message from an internet friend in a city to the north, a city I’ve come to think of as a stronghold of the enemy, asking if I’m okay.

“I’ll be okay,” I tell him. “I’m an emotional creature. Rather, this miserable game has made me an emotional creature. It has changed me. For the better.”


You can read more from nomad at her blog.

[post_ender]

Hotheads and Bampots

Over the course of a few rocky days in July battle lines were redrawn at the two clubs I love.

These weren’t new fights, but rather the refiring of what had become a “cold war” at both clubs, between the fans and those in a position of authority.

On the 4th of July, Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston abstained from a vote on the admittance of the NewCo Rangers into the SPL, going against the other 10 clubs who all bowed to the pressure of their fans in voting “no”.

Less than a week later, after a defeat to Real Salt Lake, Portland Timbers parted company with head coach John Spencer, and installed Gavin Wilkinson as interim coach in a move that was met with almost universal disapproval among the fans.

Over the following month the talk has grown ever more angry and militant, with talks of boycotts and protests common between both sets of supporters. And here I am stuck in the middle of both.

I grew up a fan of Killie. They are, were, my local team, so it was only natural that I’d end up on the terraces, and later crammed into the seats with legroom that suggests the club expected a crowd of Douglas Baders, at Rugby Park. My wife being Oregonian, and a move over there on the cards, supporting the Timbers was an obvious next step. What wasn’t so obvious was the way the club, and in particular the supporters, would draw me in so wholeheartedly to the point where, whisper it, the Timbers are the team I follow first and foremost now.

Nevertheless, I still keep my eye on Killie and try to stay in touch with what’s going on there. The calls for Johnston to go are nothing new. The Killie Trust, a supporters group, have for a long time set themselves up as wanting change at the top.

When Bobby Fleeting took over the club in the late 80’s, reshaping it into its modern form, he did so by waving a crest of popular support from fans. These were fans that were contemptuously described as “hotheads and bampots” by the old regime, led by Bob Lauchlan. Lauchlan had presided over the club’s bleakest period as the one-time champions slid from relevance and into part-time football and, for a mercifully brief period, the third tier of Scottish football.

Now the supposed benefactors and reformers are shadowy figures. Certain fan representatives claim to know who they are, and vouch for their credibility, but until they step forward and gather support around them, the calls for Johnston to go seem like little more than a futile gesture. Some supporters talk of a popular buy-out, led by a Trust, that could take over the club and hand it to the fans for control, but it’s hard to see that happening when the bank, crucially, are happy to have Johnston there.

There’s no getting away from the elephant in the room – debt. It currently stands around £9m ($14m), which is colossal for a club from a small industrial town in Ayrshire, with an average attendance of around 5,500 (of which around 3,000 are season ticket holders). The loss of so many jobs in the town, the biggest being the pull-out of Diageo who own the Johnnie Walker brand (Johnnie Walker being founded in the town, and the man himself being buried not 2 minutes from where I’m sat right now) has left the town as a whole is a depressed state.

The reasons for the debt are myriad. A decade a go, or so, many clubs is Scotland “chased the dream”, spending lots of money that came into the game through television deals. When that money dried up, a few faced the difficult reality of having run up debts they could no longer service. Killie had gone as far as to build a four star hotel next to Rugby Park, a legacy of ex-Chairman and hotelier Bill Costley.

Johnston arrived on the scene not through a love of the club, or even football in general. He’s a solicitor, and it was only through his connection with Jamie Moffat that he was given the share for a nominal fee of £1. Moffat himself had inherited the club from his late father, and massive Kilmarnock fan, Jim Moffat. The younger Moffat never inherited his father’s love for the club though, and always seemed to be eyeing the exits.

The suspicion held by many fans is that Johnston is a mere puppet of Moffat’s; a buffer to keep the bank happy. He brings no financial investment to the club and has displayed next to no business or marketing know-how in his time at the helm. Local businesses have been gradually alienated, and at a time when jobs are being lost in the town and the cost of football rises, he’s done nothing to arrest the slide in attendance, even following a League Cup win last season.

Instead, he continues to alienate the fans.

Halfway around the world, Gavin Wilkinson is held in much the same regard by Timbers fans. Wilkinson’s reign at the Timbers falls in the “before my time” bracket, so I tend to be guided by those that were around to experience it. The anonymous article posted here drew a lot of attention, but off-site communication with other fans suggest that it’s merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Gavin’s poor relations with fans and players.

Yet, in the one relationship that matters, Wilkinson seems to have his back covered by Merritt Paulson, the club owner. Paulson’s clearly not a stupid guy, but neither was he a “soccer guy” before he got in the Timbers business, and it seems that from very early on Wilkinson has cannily positioned himself as Paulson’s go-to soccer guru.

It’s a relationship that many fans have likened to that of Wormtongue and Theoden from The Lord of the Rings. For me it’s almost like a case of Stockholm Syndrome, where Wilkinson has Paulson convinced that not only is he the right man for the job, but that’s he’s worth riding roughshod over players and fans alike for.

The trade of two popular players this week in Troy Perkins and Mike Chabala gave Wilkinson a chance to indulge in one of his favourite sports: having a little dig at departing players. He claimed that Donovan Ricketts was an “upgrade” over Perkins, a rather classless statement to make as it’s perfectly possible to talk up your new player without having to frame it in reference to the guy who has gone after giving you fantastic service.

It’s something that the club, rather than drop the “upgrade” tack and learn some lessons about PR from what has been somewhat of a clusterfuck, have doubled down on. Paulson himself tweeted “Troy has meant a lot but he’s not Petr Cech. People making him something he’s not” which is a strange assertion as a) no-one ever claimed he was and b) neither is Ricketts. It’s utterly irrelevant to the point.

Perkins weighed in with a rather telling statement to reporters in Montreal, “He’s said some things in the past about guys who had left the club, and that’s him.” Ex-Timbers players have expressed strong opinions on Wilkinson in the past, and it seems that it’s not something that’s going to stop any time soon.

Timbers fans face, I fear, a long and hard fight to remove Wilkinson for a position that he has dug himself into so effectively. When the owner is willing to go toe-to-toe with fans on social media to defend his ginger-haired beau, even as Wilkinson is having to tear up the team that he helped build as he presides over a disaster run of results and performances with all the public grace and charm of a rattlesnake, it’s hard to see how the fans can effect positive change.

Paulson himself weighed in with what was perhaps his “hotheads and bampots” moment when he reacted to the outraged masses on twitter by calling the medium a “cesspool of vitriol” (I would link to these tweets, but Merritt is notorious for deleting them). Now that may be true. Certainly, the British diver Tom Daley felt the full impact that the immediacy and relative anonymity that twitter offers recently. But just because the fans anger is now being directed in a more forthright manner, straight to the owner’s inbox where in the past letters would be screened, and Paulson himself has a itchy twitter finger doesn’t mean that had twitter not been invented the fan’s dissatisfaction with recent events wouldn’t have been manifested in other ways, and may still yet.

Michael Johnstone may not have been, and some would argue he still isn’t, a football fan when he took over, but he certainly seems to enjoy the trappings of being an SPL chairman now. If there’s an opportunity to get his face in front of a camera, Johnston will be there, and in the days after his abstention in the July 4th vote he was elected to the SPL board.

With no figurehead for the hotheads and bampots to rally round, I suspect any attempts to force Johnston out will come to nothing. So long as Johnston wants to stay in the limelight, the bank are happy for him to be there and the fans lack a Fleeting-type character to rally round, all the banners and flags in the world aren’t going to change a thing.

In Portland, it’s difficult to see how the fans will force Wilkinson out so long as Paulson is his Patty Hearst. Clearly Merritt must see something in Wilkinson that convinces him he is the man to guide the Timbers forward, but the failure to transmit this to the fans and get them on board is another failure of communication. From the outside looking in, it’s hard to see any cohesion or direction in the way the Timbers have gone about their first two years in MLS.

But it seems that as bad as it gets, one man remains untouchable in the eye of the storm. The supposedly imminent announcement of a new head coach may take some of the heat off Wilkinson, though I doubt the fans are going to completely forget about the Kiwi as, I suspect, they had better set their expectations to “underwhelmed” in regards to that appointment. I just don’t see how any top coach is going to want to work in this environment, though I’d love to be proven wrong.

What the future holds for both clubs is hard to see at this point. It would be nice, as a fan, to get back to thinking exclusively about what’s happening on the field again. That is why we love the game after all, right?

Maybe I’m some kind of jinx?! That’s the price for having me support a club. At least the Perkins trade took the heat off me as the guy who killed Timbers careers dead. Now I’m the guy who brings an omnishambles of a front office/boardroom to the table.

Whatever happens, one thing is sure. The fans will endure it. Owners and chairmen come and go, as do coaches and managers; the one constant are the fans. They are the beating heart of any club.

Hotheads and bampots they may be, but without them the club is nothing.

#RCTID
#KTID

Why We Hate Gavin

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.

A bully.

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.

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.

We Are The Rose City

This post was originally published on May 13, 2011 in the build-up to the first ever Portland vs Seattle MLS-era match…

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he first MLS era match between Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders is right around the corner and the anticipation is building minute by minute.  It’s a true rivalry, something rare in MLS. I’ve only been following the Timbers for a short while and it didn’t take long to pick up on the depth of feeling that this tie generates among both set of fans. Continue reading We Are The Rose City