Portland cozies up to soccer in France
There were times when Ericka "Calliope" Crane and her daughter Amani felt right at home during their summer trip to France.
"People who never heard of Oregon were like, 'Oh, Portland. Another one,'" said Crane, who attended the Women's World Cup. "Portland was there, everywhere."
Portland's reputation for supporting women's soccer is strong because the Portland Thorns have been drawing impressive crowds since the birth of the National Women's Soccer League in 2013.
That reputation apparently was bolstered by the presence of Thorns fans during the month-long international tournament, which took place in June and July.
Lora Brown, a capo who leads chants at Providence Park for the Thorns supporters' group the Rose City Riveters, said the Thorns' presence was as impressive off the field as on it during the World Cup.
"You could not go anywhere in France without seeing Portland Thorns gear," she said. "It was everywhere. Even when we popped over to Switzerland, we met two Thorns fans. They were everywhere. It was pretty impressive."
Crane estimated at least 70 Thorns fans came to an informal meet-up for Portlanders during the tournament. Thorns players who were competing noticed their presence.
Crane and her daughter, along with friend Judy Von Fortune and her daughter, Ellen, traveled together and attended the United States-France showdown in Paris and the semifinal and final matches in Leon.
Crane and Von Fortune were among a group of 11 friends who watched the U.S. beat the Netherlands 2-0 in the championship match from a hospitality suite, surrounded mostly by fellow USA supporters. That relieved Crane, who bought the tickets as soon as they went on sale.
"I was bumping elbows with the rich and famous. They treated us really really well," Crane said, noting the suite had a good view and, of course, food and drinks.
Celebrating the win with fellow Americans was special, they said.
"The end of the game, the crowd just going crazy with the realization that they had done something that so few teams (women or men) have done by winning two in a row," Von Fortune said. "People all around us were high-fiving everybody and hugging people. It was really neat."
At the championship match, Von Fortune met fans from around the U.S., including Wyoming, Colorado and even Portland, Maine.
There were a few frustrations. The lack of video replays in the stadium, for one. When the U.S. was awarded the penalty kick that produced its first goal of the title game, fans in the stadium were not shown the foul.
Crane was prepared to spend for World Cup merchandise, but items were available only at stadiums and after waiting more than an hour in line at the championship match she bought only a few items.
"When we got up there, they were out of almost everything. And we were ready to throw down (money)," Crane said.
Von Fortune and Crane said the lack of noticeable merchandising and promotion was one example of the muted support in France for the World Cup compared with four years earlier in Canada.
"I kept talking with my family back here, and it sounded like the excitement back here was very high," Von Fortune said. "You would find it in places in France, but not everywhere."
Still, there were plenty of chances to interact.
Ellen Carder, who traveled to France to celebrate her wife's 60th birthday, said the atmosphere at matches and a rally of Dutch fans in downtown Lyon before the final were among the many highlights.
"They were having so much fun — singing, dancing, chanting. It was wonderful seeing the sheer joy they were experiencing," Carder said.
After the tournament, French people were gracious throughout their travels, Carder said, often offering congratulations for the World Cup victory.
"We had nothing but positive experiences interacting with other fans," Carder said.
Then there were the interactions with favorite players, including a meeting with Christine Sinclair and Tiffeny Milbrett on the street and a reunion of sorts with former Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, who was a studio analyst for the Fox Network.
And it wasn't only fans recognizing players. At the championship match, former Thorns player Mana Shim recognized the Cranes and Von Fortunes and stopped to say hello.
Carder decided last fall to plan the trip to France. For Crane and Von Fortune, the planning took four years. They were inspired after attending the 2015 Women's World Cup and watching the U.S. beat Japan in that championship match at Vancouver, British Columbia.
A nurse who works in the Kaiser-Permanente transgender clinic, Crane started saving for this trip immediately after watching the United States win the 2015 championship — and before France was selected to host the 2019 tournament.
"We didn't even know where we were going, but we changed our lifestyle so we knew we'd be ready to go anywhere," Crane said.
She contributed pay raises for four years to the travel fund, stopped buying appetizers and desserts when eating out and — perhaps most challenging — gave up buying take-out coffee.
Those sacrifices were worth it, not only because of the soccer but because she shared cultural experiences with her 15-year-old daughter, Crane said.
Being there to see the United States raise another World Cup trophy was emotional for Crane.
"I was crying my eyes out, which is parallel with 2015 and almost every game. I cry at every Thorns game, so that's not unusual for me," she said. "Once fans started chanting 'Equal pay!' and the players were walking around wearing their champions shirts it sunk in that this was bigger than any other game I've been a part of.
"I wasn't a kid in '99, but I was definitely younger," Crane said, adding that this triumph "just had this magnitude. Even though it's the end of the tournament, the emotion was, 'The world is yours, use it.'"
Crane, Von Fortune and Brown each say they plan to go to the 2023 Women's World Cup — wherever it is played. FIFA has not yet picked the host country.
"Definitely on my radar. We'll start plugging away at (saving for) that," said Von Fortune, who has promised younger daughter Ruth the next World Cup trip.
Crane also is prepared to save for 2023.
"I learned that it was worth it and that I could do something like that. I'm a single mom, and I wasn't sure if I could fulfill that promise," Crane said. "Vancouver was a little easier because I could drive. Now I know I can do it. (Amani) loved it and I loved it and it was a great way for us to see another part of the world and have something in common."
And share it with a bunch of hometown friends.
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