It’s Halloween night and I’m sitting at the dining room table in a friend’s house in inner NE Portland. I didn’t expect to be here, but here I am.
That’s maybe the truest statement of the entirety of my sports fandom and my connections to the Timbers Army, the Rose City Riveters, RangersFirst, ProstAmerika, WATP Magazine and TheCup.US. I didn’t expect to be here, but here I am.
Seated at the table are people I know pretty well and people I’ve just met. The two that I know well are soccer people: both TA, one a player with Old Growth FC.
As it always does, the conversation over dinner eventually turns to soccer. But this time, it’s not about the game itself, but about how we ended up so engrossed in the community that surrounds it.
It’s a thing I think about a lot. How did we all end up here? How did we get so lucky to stumble into this ready-made family?
My story is simple enough. A ridiculous number of you have probably heard it before. I was a baseball fan. I went to Beavers games. The hotel where I worked got Beavers tickets from Jack Cain and, occasionally, Timbers tickets, too.
When the announcement was made that Portland had been awarded an MLS franchise, I put down a deposit for tickets. I did it on a whim, not knowing if I’d actually use the tickets or not. And when it came time to wholly buy in, I did that, too. On my birthday in 2010, I bought two tickets, the cheapest I could get: section 221, row R, seats 1 and 2.
I took 17 credits at Portland State that fall. I worked 40-45 hours a week. I was exhausted. And then I was done with school in December, lost my long-term job the first week of January of 2011, and felt utterly lost. I no longer felt like I was me. I was adrift.
But I knew I had these tickets. And I knew the season was going to start in a few months. At least I had that to look forward to, though I had no idea what it would mean to me in the long run.
I talked a friend into buying my other ticket. We went and got our axe pictures taken in a little pop-up store a couple blocks from Pioneer Courthouse Square (we’re both on the poster and on the councourse at Providence Park). We stood in line in the rain opening day.
Walking into the stadium, feeling the crowd around me, it was like coming home. I felt like me again. I felt again.
My story isn’t as dramatic as some. I’ve heard stories of newly-single parents buying tickets so they knew they would have something to share with their kids, stories of grief and loss and sadness. These stories become stories of a search for refuge and companionship, of a desire for community that is nothing short of tribal.
They find it in the North End of Providence Park. They find it among the Timbers Army and the Riveters. We find friendship and love and acceptance and support and so much more.
“My soccer family in 107 for Thorns got me through a break-up and a brief couch-surfing period last summer,” one friend tells me. “For me, getting involved with this particular group of soccer fans meant more than having soccer friends; it was a support network.”
Another says simply,”The TA made Portland my home.”
These are common refrains. People are lost, they take a turn somewhere and find themselves in the midst of this thing where we hold their hands, help them through their break-ups, their divorces, their sadness and despair. We help them find their voices and, with a little luck, the teams give them something for which to cheer.
We saw this again today when a newly-minted Timbers fan posted an open letter to the Timbers on her Facebook page:
As it turns out, Allison and her mom will be at Providence Park. They will be there because someone in the TA posted this on Twitter and someone else made sure that Merritt saw it and, if it wasn’t clear before, Merritt’s a pretty emotional guy. Now it’s on the Timbers to make sure they get the win for Allison and her mom.
Regardless of the result, this is the last home game of the year. This is one last chance to be together as a group, as family. One last chance.
For all the things this team has given us, chiefly this common focal point around which we’ve all come together, we will rally to give them all we have.