“You Guys Fucked the Team Tonight”: Timbers Owner Squabbles With Silent Fans

Portland's street politics flow into the Providence Park stands.

Timbers Army fans refuse to cheer at an Aug. 23 game in protest of an MLS Iron Front flag ban. (WW staff)

When the Seattle Sounders travel to Portland to play their most bitter rivals, the Timbers, Providence Park typically explodes with noise.

But last Friday, Aug. 23, the teams played in front of an eerie mumble.

Related: What Happens When the Timbers Army Stops Cheering? National Media Coverage, and an Allegedly Angry Owner

In protest of a recent Major League Soccer ban on flags and banners bearing an antifascist symbol, Portland and Seattle soccer fans decided to remain silent for the first 33 minutes of the game.

The silent demonstration was a first for Providence Park, and represents a crossing over of two of this city's most distinctive traits: pugnacious leftist politics and fanatic soccer fandom.

What's all the fuss about?

An antifascist symbol called the Iron Front (a circle encompassing three arrows). Some recall seeing it on Timbers Army banners a decade ago. The symbol was banned by the league this May.

Why protest for just 33 minutes?

The Iron Front symbol was an emblem of a German socialist, paramilitary organization that opposed the National Socialist Party—the Nazis. The Emerald City Supporters and Timbers Army remained silent for 33 minutes to commemorate the year Hitler disbanded the Iron Front: 1933.

Why target the Iron Front symbol specifically?

The symbol often appears at Portland antifascist rallies and is sometimes donned by individuals involved in violent clashes with far-right extremists. When the Timbers front office announced its decision to uphold the MLS ban in May, it said the symbol had been "clearly appropriated and linked to the antifa movement, and sometimes in a context of violence."

Timbers Army member and Cider Riot owner Abram Goldman Armstrong disagrees. Goldman Armstrong is arguably the most vocally antifascist business owner in Portland. His bar is at the center of one of the highest-profile criminal cases in Portland: Six far-right organizers were indicted for attacking antifascists at Cider Riot on May 1.

He says some of the first antifascist and anti-racist banners were painted in his basement a decade ago."We've always felt it was very important to make sure people know that the stadium is a safe space for everyone," Goldman Armstrong says.

What does the Timbers' owner, Merritt Paulson, make of the protest?

After Friday's game, fan Jeffrey Ball alleged on Twitter that the team's owner was not happy about the silence.

Ball tells WW he was seated in section 108, row 2, behind the goal, and that after the game he spotted Paulson on the field. "I saw him and I was upset the front office didn't fight harder for the Timbers Army because we've been flying the Iron Front flag since before the team was even in the MLS," Ball says.

So he yelled to Paulson, "Fight for us!" and says Paulson responded "more than once" with "You guys fucked the team tonight." Ball adds that several of his friends also heard Paulson.

"I was shocked," Ball says. "The Timbers Army has had the team's and [Paulson]'s back for a decade. It's not unreasonable for them to ask for him to stand up for them once in a while."

Paulson and the Timbers declined to comment on the exchange.

What happens next?

No other official protests have been announced. But Sheba Rawson, a board member of the Timbers Army nonprofit 107 Independent Supporters Trust, says the Timbers Army isn't letting the matter drop.

"While we hope for the best," Rawson says, "we are also prepared for the worst."

Her argument is that the symbol is not inherently political but a beacon of inclusivity.

"In a world where so many times, so many members of our community are marginalized and made to feel unsafe," she says, "it is not difficult to prioritize making sure that they all feel safe in the stands."

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