Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Portland’s Happy Hooligans

Portland is usually identified with the guy who peed in an open reservoir, Tonya Harding, Monica Lewinsky and the cast of Portlandia. Now the New York Times has recognized Portland for the hooligans of the Timbers Army.

Timbers+Army+Los+Angeles+Galaxy+v+Portland+PZoQUBkT8inlDepicting Portlanders as rain-soaked, beer-chugging, log-cutting soccer maniacs may not be totally flattering, but it is a step up from the portrayal of us as too polite to go first at a 4-way stop.

The Times article says the fans, not the players, are the spectacle at Portland Timbers games. Tickets remain relatively cheap, the stadium is cozy and built for soccer and the beer is handcrafted and plentiful. But the fans stand out. Or, as author Joe Rhodes explains, they act like South American soccer fans.

Soccer may be ho-hum elsewhere, but in Portland it is a “stadium-filling, culture-defining, loud, passionate phenomenon, with throngs of chanting supporters spilling out of bars and restaurants into the streets around the downtown stadium.”

There are “thousands of shouting, singing, marching participants, waving their banners and scarves, and some of them aren’t drunk.”

Rhodes offers no particular explanation for such fierce fandom. Maybe you can hang out at Powell’s Bookstore or Stumptown Coffee for only so long before you need to don an outrageous outfit and become enthralled with the goose-bleating sound of vuvuzelas at a soccer game. He says the games are like a Portlandia casting call. Maybe with enough quirky characters for an entire season.

Before, during and after Timbers games, especially ones with arch rivals, there is a lot of scowling, posing and taunting. And more drinking, of course. When the Vancouver team won the Cascadia Cup in Portland, its players walked down a street to a lounge amid Timbers fans, ducked into a bar and drank celebratory brews from their winner’s trophy.

Portland soccer fans studiously avoid marching and refrain from face paint. They don’t want anyone to mistake them with Seattle Sounders fans who do.

The Timbers Army has its own website, where it reflectively describes its antics, which have included smoke bombs, as “part carnival, part mosh pit, part revival meeting, part Christmas morning.” The website also provides the lyrics and melodies of chants and songs for key parts of the match, such as “Can’t Help Falling Love” at the 85th minute.

Members come from all walks of life, wearing white and green, with pockets full of confetti and bellies full of beer.

The Army isn’t unique to the Timbers. It is a mutual benefit organization that funds activities in the Portland soccer community and qualifies members for discounts on merchandise and dibs on seats on charter buses for away games.

Portland’s soccer fans may be bizarre, but so far no one has accused any scarf-waving, foot-stomping fan of bashing the knee of an opposing player or visiting partisan. Nor would you confuse them with the politely noisy, pizza-munching courtside crowd at Portland Trail Blazer games.

As Rhodes points out, Portland Timbers fans resemble the insurance sign that says, “We’re a lot like you, a little different.” Maybe a lot weirder.





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