James: Was there a demand for a soccer team in Portland at the time?
Michael: There wasn’t really. There certainly was a small community of people who cared about soccer but it wasn’t like there was a public outcry to start a team.
James: I'm James Parkinson and this is By Association, a show about football and the connection we all share with the beautiful game.
In 1975 a brand new soccer club was founded in Portland, Oregon.
Michael: The league at the time, the North American Soccer League was looking into expanding and sort of in the planning stages in between the ‘74 and ‘75 seasons, they had a lot of success with the West Coast teams.
James: That’s Michael Orr.
Michael: I’m Michael Orr and I am the author of The 1975 Portland Timbers: The Birth of Soccer City, USA.
James: A corporation called Oregon Soccer Inc. was established by two businessmen in order to attract investors.
Michael: A guy named Don Paul was one of the orginal, well both investors and men behind the idea. He had been to a game in Seattle and seen what the crowds were like in Seattle and thought, “Hey you know, I’ve got some connections in Portland. Why don’t I see if I can do the same down in Portland.
James: At the time it wasn’t uncommon for new franchises to fall apart early into their existence, but for Don Paul, having muliple investors was seen as a way to build stronger foundations.
Michael: The NASL had plenty of examples of that. They could kind of put up the money up front but they didn’t have the money to run the team beyond a season, maybe a second season. He wanted to spread that out over a number of intevstors to have more representation, more people involved, so that more people had something at stake. If enough of those people felt strongly enough they could more or less gurantee the solvency of the club.
James: So after recruiting about 20-30 local businessmen, ranging from car dealers to insurance brokers and lawyers, Oregon Soccer Inc. had enough funding to meet the NASL’s minimum threshold.
And the league itself was convinced that a Portland team could work. With only one professional basketball team in the city, there was a space during the summer where soccer could take the spotlight.
James: With just four months between the establishment of the franchise and the start of the season, the ownership group still had a lot of work ahead of them, including deciding on a name for the club.
Michael: The Timbers name came from a ‘Name the Team’ contest, asking for any suggestions. And a bunch of names came back and the number one name that was voted on by fans was ‘The Pioneers’.
James: But a local college had already claimed the nickname.
Michael: And so the organisation had moved to the second choice. The team had hired a PR guy by name of Dennis O’Meara, and he really liked the name ‘Timbers’. And so he just filled out a bunch of ballets in the names of all of his family members.
James: With the timber and logging industry playing a significant role in Oregon’s history, the name made sense. The owners settled on the colours of Green and Gold, and the Portland Timbers were born….
James: Once the clubs identity was decided, work began to build a team. The Timbers hired Welshman and former Aston Villa manager, Vic Crowe as the Head Coach who brought with him, several young players from England. But they weren’t quite prepared for what lay ahead….
Michael: You know these guys are thinking. “I’m going to California”, you know they’re thinking, “I’m going to the beach”. Vic Crowe didn’t tell these guys very much about it. They would say “Well where are we going?” and he’d say “Oregon”, and they’d say “Well where’s that?”. He’d say “It’s right next to California”, and so they’d say “Oh yeah, that sound great”.
Ten of the guys arrived at the same time, in the same plane. They flew from London to Seattle and Seattle to Portland. They arrived and when they got to the airport, Crowe was already there, he was waiting for them and then he told them that their first game was in five days.
Michael: What they found when they got here was very different from what they envisioned. But what I think attracted them to the US in general, was I think they thought it was a great chance to go and see America for a couple of months. They knew that no matter what they did, they would be flying around to New York and to Boston and Los Angeles and Chicago and Dallas. They would at least get this great summer of visiting all these big American cities and seeing all the sites. It’s kind of hard to put ourselves in those shoes, but just sort of the lure of going to America was, I think really palpable for these guys.
Mick: When you were eighteen, nineteen years of age and you were a young professional and struggling for a place in a squad of, somewhat thirty to forty players and somebody comes along and gives you that sort of opportunity to make money, to see the world, I don’t think too many of us turned down the opportunity, certainly not in those days.
Mick: My names Michael Hoban, better know as Mick. And I hail from the West Midlands of England, a small town called Tipton in the Black Country.
James: A former Aston Villa player himself, Mick Hoban had come to the US in 1971 to join the Altanta Cheifs and then later, Denver Dynamos, before he was approached by Vic Crowe. He was the first player to sign for the Timbers.
Mick: Vic knew me as a player. He also knew that I had played at that stage in 1975, I’d already played four years in the North American Soccer League and on both occasions in Atlanta and Denver I also worked in community relations. And so I undertood what it takes or what it took to help a franchise grow.
I arrived on April, I beleive it was April the fifteenth. April tenth or fifteenth. First match was May second.
James: That first match was against Seattle Sounders, marking the beginning of the local rivalry. As you would expect for a team that was formed in just a few weeks, it was a slow start to season for the Timbers.
Michael: About six thousand fans came to the first game. Of course it poured down rain and the Timbers lost.
James: But, very quickly, things began to change.
Michael: Once the team came together, the players really fit the style that Crowe wanted to play. He was very strict and demanded results.
Mick: And he believed in hard work and team ethic and for him there were no stars. You were just another name on the roster and what was expected of you is a blue collar, 100% mentality…
Michael: After the first two games, they won, a lot.
James: Including defeating Pele’s Cosmos 2-1, in New York - and a seven-game winning streak. The people of Portland responded. As the team gained momentum, attendances grew progressively with each home game.
Michael: Because they were winning and they were scoring a lot of goals, people became interested and it became kind of a social phenomenon.
James: One of the biggest turning points was Portland’s second meeting with Seattle.
Michael: It was the first time the Timbers sold out Civic Stadium. And they beat the Sounders. Peter Withe scored both goals in the 2-1 win and the team just kind of took off on this spontaneous lap around the stadium, thanking the crowd for being there. Attending the games had become this act of civic significance, that you went to support this team and in particular playing against Seattle, the long time regional rival. And to win the game and send the team off like that is really one of the highlights of the whole season.
James: The two teams met again, just seven days later at Seattle’s Memorial Stadium in the second last game of the season with the Sounders winning 3-2.
But the Timbers would get another chance to face their rivals for the third time in sixteen days, this time in the playoffs, with the home crowd behind them.
Mick: It would have been the Quarter Final against our arch rivals who’d come into the league the year before.
That’s a memorable game because we also won that late in the game against Seattle from a now famous goal.
And the crowd, literally, because there was no way to stop them, there were literally thousands that rushed the field. No violence, just exuberance.
James: The Timbers went on to defeat St. Louis 1-0 in the Semi Final five days later, only to lose 2-0 to Tampa Bay Rowdies in the 1975 Soccer Bowl. Despite the disappointment of the final, the Timbers had earned something far more valuable. The respect and deep affection of the Portland community.
Michael: These guys weren’t making a tonne of money. You know, four or five thousand dollars for the whole summer. That was it.
Mick: There weren’t endorsment deals, there weren’t car agency deals in those days, and so various fans and boosters would just offer you a car for a week, for the month or a weekend, possibly for the season. As they did with things like their vacation homes. They were so open and welcoming and friendly that they basically said, “how can we help you?”.
Michael: You know, the team would have these post game parties where anybody could come. And so you could go and meet Jimmy Kelly or Willie Anderson or Tony Betts or Mick Hoban or any of these guys who you could watch on the pitch, and then you could buy them a beer at the hotel after the game.
James: In just four short months the Timbers had gone from a group of players thrown together at the last minute to a hard working, competitive team on the field that captured the hearts and minds of the Rose City.
Michael: 27,000 fans for a professional soccer game in Portland, in July, that couldn’t have been conceived of in May. It was impossible that there could be this many people coming to this stadium to see a sport that most people, even then, still didn’t really understand.
Mick: That early inclusiveness and the willingness of the players in the franchise to emerse itself in the community, and to become one and live alongside the community, and to represent the community, it’s a reflection of the city. Football when it’s done right around the world, means more to a city than just the sport itself, it becomes interwoven into the fabric of the society.
Michael: People really felt these guys were part of the Portland community for that summer. When we think of professional soccer in this city, it’s the Timbers, there’s no other team, there’s no other connection. And it doesn’t matter if there was a gap or what-have-you. Going all the way back to that first season, there’s that expectation that this is the team that really represents the community.
James: This episode was produced by me, James Parkinson. Many thanks to Mick Hoban and Michael Orr. And if you enjoyed this episode you should go and read Michael’s book, The 1975 Portland Timbers: The Birth of Soccer City, USA. It’s available on Amazon.
Music featured in this episode comes from Dexter Britain, Cityfires and Sounds Like an Earful under creative commons and Audio Network.
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