I went to my first Timbers game in 2002. I recall little except they lost and it rained.
My father took me
when I was 13, riding MAX from the Sunset Transit Center. I loved the
game but knew little more about it than my experience playing
kick-and-chase matchesâwith orange slices, minivans and muddy Tualatin
Hills Park & Recreation fields.
I soon became a
regular at Timbers games in 2005, in the days when you could show up
five minutes before kickoff and stand somewhere in Section 107, home of
the nascent Timbers Army. My nerdy friends and I relished the
opportunity to unleash profanity in public, and light smoke bombs left
over from the Fourth of July.
Soccer, the sport we
loved, had repositioned itself in our lives from our suburban experience
to a gritty, raucous, urban expression of the hip lives in bigger
cities to which we aspired.
We lived through the
Timbersâ sordid history of embarrassing losses to amateur clubs (no
really, this happened last year; we lost a competitive match to a team
of dudes who park cars for a living), devastating injuries to key
players during promising seasons (Cameron Knowles, the original Greg
Oden), and annual fear that whatever minor league we were playing in
pre-Major League Soccer days would fold.
You can imagine my guarded caution about getting too excited for the results of a team I love.
an unprecedented degreeâincluding our promotion to MLS in 2011âthis year
is different. Coach Caleb Porterâs fluid system has breathed life into a
young roster. After a 15-game unbeaten streak that included late-game
heroics to steal a point from Seattle, our once-lowly
Timbers are suddenly within striking distance of trophies, shields and
opportunities to win berths to continental tournaments.
Look, I love the
Trail Blazers. I still have my autographed 1999 Jermaine OâNeal poster.
Yet attending Blazers games increasingly feels like an act of
conspicuous consumption. Stand up and shout when some disturbingly peppy
cheer-squad goon blasts a corporate-branded T-shirt into your section.
But donât cheer too loudly, lest you interrupt the daughter of a Lake
Oswego dentist as she plays Candy Crush.
The stands of
Jeld-Wen Field still show the difference between being a consumer and a
supporter. Comparatively, standing in the Timbers Army is increasingly
an act of performance, in which your presence, vocal contributions,
flag-waving and participation in the spectacle of coordinated,
choreographed chaos actively contribute to the result and atmosphere of
dozen volunteers in February spent an entire weekend in a North Portland
warehouse to paint an acre-sized banner to be unfurled for a total of
2Â½ minutes at the March 3 home opener against the New York Red Bulls.
The banner read âRain or Shine Since 1975,â and featured umbrellas, blue
streamers and a painting of the Morton Salt girl wearing a No Pity
scarfâan implicit nod to our history of atrocious weather on opening
What Blazers fan would spend five minutes on such an effort?
The Timbers arenât in
the basement of the standings or culturally inconsequential anymore,
and, honestly, that annoys some soccer fans.
Gone are the days of
cheap tickets and matches against clubs like the Rochester Rhinos, who
used a piece of Microsoft clip art for a logo. Stadium beers nearly cost
what I make in an hour, insufferable drunken tourists (alas, often from
Beaverton) crowd the Army hoping to be on television, and the growth of
Timbers fandom from a niche, Keep Portland Weird activity to a
mainstream entertainment has prompted numerous accusations of âselling
And therein lies the
cultural moment of the Timbers Army, circa 2013. While every city in
America seems to be fighting for bigger, more global, more shiny,
Portland indifferently shrugs and asks for better, preferably local and
hand-crafted. If you want to sit out rainy winters penning songs that
you and your friends can unveil at a minor-league match against the Utah
Blitzz, well, go for it.
been plenty of existential soul-searching among Timbers fans about our
identity as we grow up, a crisis intimately familiar to Portlanders
skeptical about The New York Timesâ preening attention. âI miss
the USL-league Timbersâ is the new âI liked the original Tarkio album
but canât get into the Decemberists.â
But some things have remained mercifully consistent over the last 10 years.
As I did in 2002, I
attend matches with my parents, although I hang out with them by choice,
having matured enough to enjoy their presence for reasons beyond the
occasional free beer. I also attend with friends, many standing beside
me and many more across the country, watching on illegal Belarusian
websites. I help out, joining the Timbers Army in Oregon Food Bank
drives, soccer-field maintenance sessions and marching in Pride parades,
No Pity scarves and all.
And I sing, blistering my tonsils and larynx with sharp invective and appropriated 1940s Italian anti-fascist songs.
beyond reason, as a Timbers Army tradition tells usâthat what we have
going here is not just this funny little soccer club but our funny
little town and the funny little people who open food carts and ride
bikes and live here. We believe all of it might culminate in the very
best place on Earth, or at least, our place on Earth.
Thatâs worth singing forârain or shine.
[All Rip City Vs. No Pity articles are collected here.]
Aaron Brown is a transportation and social justice advocate based in North Portland.