Rose City till he dies: one fan recalls Timbers tourneys nearly five decades apart
Has it really been 47 years since it all started, 45 since the last time a championship experience occurred here?
Standing amidst the Timbers Army Saturday afternoon at Providence Park, it was hard not recall the old adage that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." And if the fandom that calls the north end of what I remembered as Civic Stadium is any indication, enlistment in the Timbers Army hasn't wavered much through four-plus decades. The hairstyles are different, the bell-bottoms are long gone, and you can't find a good disco station on the radio anymore, but during MLS Cup Saturday, it seemed as though time hadn't moved much at all.
The Timbers Army, and the Portland soccer experience, is very much like it was all those years ago. And I'm grateful for that.
I was there in 1975 when Portland was invited to jump into the North American Soccer League and witnessed their run to the Soccer Bowl that season. Two years later, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and the New York Cosmos came to Portland to battle a team from Seattle for the title. It was always a bit odd to see Seattle, Portland's long-time nemesis, battling for a title on our own soil, but the chance to see Pele was too good an opportunity to pass up.
And, as it turned out, so was this year's MLS Cup. And with it, the chance to reflect on those early years of the Timbers.
There was a certain Spartan charm to being a Timbers fan back in the '70s.
The lines for tickets wound around the stadium because there was no cool ticket buying technology to rely on. In those days, you hoofed it to the ticket booth and bought face-to-face, often looking over a color diagram of the stadium to pick out your seats.
It was a meal at a local bar with dad, T-shirts with the names Anderson, Betts or Kelly on them, and the little thrill you'd get walking through the turnstiles and seeing the field through the walkway for the first time.
And perhaps more importantly, discovering this "new" thing, this soccer could entertain and enthrall in a way you wouldn't suspect it could. It was hockey, baseball and certainly basketball in the Rose City and then along came this thing called soccer that the rest of the world was oddly passionate about but most American's had a "meh" attitude towards.
Suddenly, and out of nowhere, Portlanders were passionate about it as well. We embraced it in a strange and passionate way and through the numerous incarnations of the franchise, it seems special to me that that hasn't changed over the years. The Timbers still mattered to its fans.
And I was one of them. And so was my dad, which always shocked me. He definitely fit the mold of a man who shouldn't have given two hoots about soccer. But he took me time and again, which nurtured a long-time love of the Timbers in my soul.
And that love affair with the Timbers came full circle on a windy, rainy Saturday afternoon at Providence Park, where the noise could be politely called cacophonous, but was more a raucous celebration of not only the current team, but the long and devoted history of the franchise in general.
As always, the Timbers Army was in fine voice throughout much of Saturday's match. The chants were more organized than back in the early days, and certainly more creative, but as I closed my eyes at times, I could feel the same type of energy that those crowds in the formative years brought to the park.
From the very start, they were "our" Timbers and Civic Stadium was a rollicking good time during a Timbers game.
So yes, in many ways so much has changed in and around the Portland Timbers, but much hasn't and that starts with the fans. Saturday's match didn't end with the Timbers hoisting MLS Cup, but it was just the latest reminder that there was something special emanating from the friendly confines of Providence Park and the people who gathered there. And no matter what the name of our soccer facility has gone by, that's something that hasn't changed one bit.
John Baker is editor of the Canby Herald and Molalla Pioneer, sister publications of the Tribune.
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