I know lots of people have gone through some seriously life-changing events this year and I in no way mean to belittle those experiences. Births, deaths, marriages, divorces, graduations. Hugely significant happenings, all of them.
But I’ve had two pretty big events this year myself. The first was losing my job of seven years. It was a job I enjoyed where I was lucky enough to work with dozens of people that, over the years, had become more like family than coworkers. But, looking back, it was a job that hindered any sort of creative pursuits, limited pretty much every other aspect of my life and once asked me to make the choice between a promotion and my education.
The second “event” is that, through a couple lucky turns along the way, I ended up being a season ticket holder for the Portland Timbers.
I’ve never been a sports nut, never played sports when I was a kid unless it was a required part of my academic career. I followed the Winterhawks, our local major-junior hockey team, when I was in junior high and high school. I profess to be a Packers fan, but that’s mostly just genetics. I do my best to avoid the Trailblazers if at all possible, a very difficult thing to do when one lives in Portland.
So, no, I know nothing about soccer. I had no idea what I was getting into when I put down the deposit for two seats several years ago before the team made the jump from the USL to MLS, essentially taking the Timbers from being a lower-tier venture meant to sell tickets when the local AAA baseball team was on the road and putting them on par with teams featuring marquee names like Beckham and Donovan and Henry. To me, this prospect was less about the big names in soccer and more about finally having something that might compete for headlines vs. the Trailblazers. It was time.
When my number came up last summer to finally purchase the tickets, I wasn’t sure it really was for me. I’d been to a few matches over the years but still didn’t really understand the true appeal of the game. But I remembered a chance encounter with a few members of the Timbers Army (see this for details) and I decided to dive in.
Best. Decision. Ever.
So, unemployed me has spent the better part of the last six months as a fulltime Timbers supporter. I think I’ve almost figured out the offsides rule. Almost.
I’ve seen some phenomenal matches and some heart-wrenching breakdowns. I was there for the home opener when we stood in line for hours while it rained sideways. I’ve witnessed keeper Troy Perkins create magic. I’ve marveled (like many others) that our mascot carries a chainsaw. A chainsaw.
But there’s more to it than surviving the weather or following the events on the pitch. There’s a sense of unity here as well as a sometimes overwhelming sense of community pride. We sew patches onto our sweatshirts that sport the Portland municipal flag. We collectively find ways to volunteer, to give back to the city we love. We support not just our team, but each other.
We’ve been lucky to get where we are. And I know I’m late to the party. I don’t count myself among the faithful who have stood with the team since the ’70s, or even since its reincarnation ten years ago. I was not among the 18th Street Ladder Crew who were relegated to the sidewalk for a full season after demonstrating their displeasure with choices made by the team in the 2006 season. I didn’t take up the Timbers Army trademark scarf until just a few weeks ago. I don’t know why I waited so long, but I look forward to making up for time lost.
I know that in the years to come, the novelty of it all will wear off for some. The crowds may thin, the faithful will be tested. The New York Times will eventually stop writing about us.
I look forward to moving next year from my cheap seats into the North End to stand side by side with those who shouldered the heavy burdens that were necessary in order to bring us all to where we are now. And I hope to pick up my share of the burdens we face as we group and progress, both as a team and as the greatest football supporters the world has ever seen.
Rose city ’til I die.