At the end of August 2012, whilst on a family holiday in Cornwall, I pieced together my views on the turgid 2-1 win over Vancouver. Upon my return to hashtagHQ, instead of picking up my quill and ink to over-analyse the laughably hideous Gavin “Give me my lunch money back” Wilkinson’s end game that was playing out, I literally flopped out of the driver’s seat of my car and face first into the world of VAT returns and Payroll software. However, in a fucking oddly bittersweet end to the year, I wearily watched us limp across the finish line to take a mouthful of golden nectar from our Cascadia Cup.
So here I am, still wearing my Timbers shirt every Monday at the average-quality, overly- competitive 5 aside game I’m involved in. You may have seen me proudly parading my No Pity scarf around the subzero Christmas Market of Munich in early December. It may have left the tips of my fingers, but it’s still there… I’m fucking excited.
Caleb Porter is football man. Not only that, he’s an educated man. Not only that, he knows infinitely more about the game than I do, and I hope to take great pleasure in dissecting his work.
There’s one reason why I’ve waited to kick the blog back into life yet. It’s simply… that I don’t like friendlies. And I don’t like pre-season. I don’t really like rumours (although I’ll spread ‘em) and I don’t really like waiting for stuff. As most of you know, by day I’m a Newcastle United fan, so I’ve thrown myself back into that. But, it has to be understood, that I hate International Weekends, I loathe England friendlies, and I’m no big fan of Euro/WC qualifiers. I even get bored FA Cup weekends past the Third Round. We’re never in them, and I’ve got nothing to do!
I am a man who eats, sleeps and breathes Club football. And I’m bouncing off the walls now that the new season is mere days away.
To show that I care, to show that I’m not just a Johnny Come Lately, I bring a peace offering. I was lucky enough to speak with Abram Goldman-Armstrong, founding Board Member of the 107ist, in regards to what Supporters Groups meant to the MLS and it’s development through the years, and into the future. It was an article that I began writing for another site, but it’s one that never came to light.
You returned to Oregon to support the USL Timbers after spending a year or so in Cork, Ireland. What were the initial differences in Soccer fans, crowds and cultures?
I think the main difference was that there really wasn’t a cohesive supporter’s culture in Portland in 2001. We started from scratch, everyone bringing their chants, traditions from where they had followed football previously, big English and Scottish influences, but also South American and Mexican influences, even a few Eastern European and German chants were soon thrown into the mix.
Whilst in Ireland, you followed Cork City, standing in The Shed. What elements from that experience, or European football Culture, influenced the Timbers Army?
The Shed had a great spirit of creativity; people were always coming up with silly new chants, and taking the piss out of random things. I remember once there was a campaign sign for a woman running on the Fine Gael ticket (hard right party in Ireland) and we spent much of one half tossing the sign around and having a laugh with that. That spirit of creativity and fun was one common factor in Cork City and Portland. In Cork things were a bit different, as everyone knew all the standard chants, in Portland in order to get a chant going, you really had to work at it until others joined in.
That element of creativity comes across in things like the extravagant Tifo’s and the formation of a Supporters Group to channel and mould the identity of the Timbers Army. Was that something that was natural, or something you gained from other football cultures?
I can’t take credit for all of it, there were a bunch of people who liked the same style of support as I did. In the early years there was a very heavy English-Irish-Scottish influence in our chants, lots of handclaps, etc. Over the years we have shifted to a more German-Eastern European and South American style with capos, and drums and horns.
Right now we are putting the finishing touches on a Fanladen in the German style, part clubhouse, part meeting hall for the supporters group officers and committees, it’s going to be a first for North America.
How many people were involved in the initial stages, and how organically did it come together? Did you deliberately come together as a group? If so, what was the initial ‘manifesto’?
The Timbers Army coalesced over the course of the 2001 season, before the team started playing a group of guys got together and organized the Cascade Rangers supporters group. Brothers Steven “Nevets” and Jim “Lendog” Lenhart were the driving forces behind the Cascade Rangers, they all bought tickets behind the North goal in Section 107 “the Woodshed” as it was known. I bought tickets there as well, but didn’t like the “Rangers” in the name. In 2001 no-one had official Timbers gear, but the colors were green and white and there were a bunch of Celtic supporters coming to matches in their Celtic kits, so in 2002 the Timbers brought out a green and white hoops kit. By that time the group had started calling itself the Timbers Army, it came from the chant “We Are Timbers Army, We Are Mental and We’re Barmy, True Supporters for ever more”. There were about 40 or so regulars in the bottom of 107 in 2001, but it grew by the end of the season there were probably 200.
What do the Timbers Army/107ist now contribute to the match day experience and the community as a whole?
The atmosphere in Portland is recognized as one of the best in the MLS, and unlike any other in the US or Canada, it’s been that way since we were in the USL and that’s what the Timbers Army contributes. Chanting from 45 minutes prior to kickoff until the players hit the showers after the match win lose or draw, drums, trumpets, smoke, flags, tifo, various choreos. As far as the community, 107ist coordinates volunteer efforts for various causes, and donates money to buy uniforms for youth soccer teams. We outfit 7 local high schools, we recently gave a check for $40,000 to Harper’s Playground, which is building a fully accessible playground for children of all abilities. 107ist runs Operation Pitch Invasion, a non-profit which restores soccer fields, and volunteer to fix soccer equipment. Our community outreach team works with youth soccer programs providing coaches and volunteers.
Diverting away from the Timbers Army, in your experience, what elements of North American football culture are unique in comparison to others?
I think the friendships you build with rival supporters. The US and Canada are big countries, when someone travels thousands of miles to support their club you have got to respect them, and we end up friends with most other supporters, except for the 90 minutes when our teams play each other.
The existing fan base in Portland must’ve been a determining factor in granting the city an MLS franchise. What part did the supporters group have in creating that vocal presence, and/or bringing the franchise to Portland?
Someone famously said most MLS teams have supporters because they are MLS, Portland has an MLS club because it has supporters. The MLS to PDX campaign was a major shift in our collective consciousness, we went from a loosely affiliated “army with no generals” to an effective organizing and lobbying force. Supporters spent hours packing city council meetings, writing letters in support of MLS to the local paper, we even held a rally at City Hall like any political campaign. Portland is not a very sports friendly city, people have seen Seattle taxpayers get hosed for both MLB and NFL stadiums in recent years, and Portlanders were not entirely supportive of the remodeling of the stadium required for MLS. The Timbers Army found ourselves a very powerful political group, out of that we organized the 107 Independent Supporters Trust to help ease the transition into MLS.
Does the Supporters Group work with the Portland Timbers front office?
The 107ist Board meets monthly with the Timbers Front Office.
Do you feel that your influence is worthwhile? Is it a portal for the fans to reach the club owners and influence change, or is it a mutual, business relationship?
Overall we have a good relationship with them, though it is often strained, and there are plenty of areas of friction. Our influence is sometimes taken into account by the club, at other times disregarded. We sometimes have to work around them rather than with them to get the best result for supporters. (They put out a survey investigating doing away with general admission in the Timbers Army section and we hit social media very hard to get people to say no to getting rid of it, their survey results came in 3 to 1 in favor of keeping GA.)
I know you have had a hand in soccersupporters.org, a collective of like-minded Supporters Groups across North America. What role do Supporters Groups play in popularising US Soccer domestically and do their mutual ideals supersede any footballing rivalries?
The Independent Supporters Council was something I saw the need for as the Timbers were in the early stages of getting ready for MLS. I saw the corporate structure of the MLS as a threat to the grassroots supporters culture that we had built in Portland over the last decade, and knew we couldn’t fight it alone. Luckily I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and we got together in Seattle in 2009 at a pub across from the official MLS supporters summit, to talk about organizing and the issues facing supporters. It’s still a fledgling organization, but it is gaining power all the time. The MLS tries to work on supporter issues, but it doesn’t get supporter culture, so we have to get together and work on the real issues and present a unified front to them.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your worst enemies in terms of football rivalries (in our case Seattle) but they all face similar issues. All supporters want to be allowed to bring flags, drums, tifo, etc, to matches, everyone wants bigger away ticket allotments, and better away day policing. It’s really encouraging to sit down at ISC meetings and see how passionate and intelligent your fellow supporters are.
Where do you see 107ist/Timbers Army, Portland Timbers and the MLS/North American Soccer in the next 5-10 years?
The Timbers win the Cascadia Cup, US Open Cup, and MLS Cup, in that time. (either that or the institute promotion relegation and we get relegated). The Cascadian National Team plays in the FIFI Wild Cup, or another alternate world cup event.
I see the Timbers Army as continuing to grow, our FO eventually making all our dreams come true and giving us a terrace in the North End.
I’m not much of one to predict the future, but I do see soccer and supporters culture continuing to grow in North America. It can’t be done with remote suburban stadiums though, it’s got to be done the way it is here in Cascadia where Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver all have city-center stadiums, easily accessible by transit. I see Cascadia as a rising power in soccer as our MLS teams academy programs develop even more local talent, building on the already strong youth and collegiate programs in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
…and guess what? We bloody did win the Cascadia Cup.