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Portland's Version of the Ultras?


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Greeeeatt story:D posted by on the old board by London Ont. soccer fan about the Timber Army in The Oregonian:



No pity in Rose City

The passionate soccer fans of Section 107 have enlisted in the Timbers Army

Thursday, June 10, 2004


Blood oozed from a dime-sized wound on the top of Eben Crawford's shaved head. He fingered the bristly mess, wiping away a sticky stew of cells to reveal two puncture wounds that looked suspiciously like the handiwork of a misdirected vampire. "I got bit in the head," he kept repeating, his voice full of awe. "I got bit in the head."

Crawford, a 21-year-old nanotechnology worker from Southeast Portland, had just attended his first Portland Timbers soccer game, where he had elected to hang out in Section 107, home, he'd heard, to only the most passionate of fans, where confetti and expletives fell like rain and the goal celebrations resembled a crazed bacchanalia. He had come away from his first visit with this souvenir.

He could not wait, he told me afterwards, his eyes glazed and wild, as he wiped the wetness from his head onto his pants, to go back to that section again. "I'm probably going to buy a season ticket at this point," he said. I told him he should probably also consider a tetanus shot.

But it was already too late. He was rabid. I could see it clearly. Eben Crawford had met the Timbers Army.

For four years now, perfectly normal men and women -- techies and writers and artists and lobbyists and political fund-raisers -- had entered Section 107 to watch a Timbers game, and emerged raving lunatics. There, in the shadow of the north goal, they had discovered an enclave of people just like themselves -- people who shared the same lonely obsession: They were soccer fans, living in the United States.

Before long, as many as 200 people were regularly showing up to sit in 107, known among the fans as the Woodshed. They were a diverse group, spanning all ages and backgrounds, even nationalities. Expat Serbs and Croats and Brits and Latinos had discovered the section and claimed it as their own, too.

Really, it had become like a fix -- a fix for the most hopeless of addicts. Not only were the residents of 107 soccer fans, but they had chosen to throw their lot in with a struggling A-League side, temporarily owned by a baseball team. They knew what it was like to love, and love hopelessly. For a time, a sign hung in the Woodshed that said, "So what if we suck?"

And then, improbably, the Timbers began to win this year. They won, and won, and won until they had gone their first four games undefeated. On a recent Saturday night, I accompanied several members of the Timbers Army to the team's fifth game, curious to see whether the streak would hold, and whether victory had in any way softened their fanaticism.

"This is not adult day care," Jeremy Wright, a lobbyist for OSPIRG, had explained to me before the game. Wright, who is 31 and has a charming gap-toothed smile and a raspy voice, , had once driven nearly 2,000 miles with several other Timbers fans just to see a game in Calgary.

I caught up with Wright and a few other Timbers Army members at McFadden's, a bar in downtown Portland, where they had gathered to kill a few hops before the match.

Despite the fact that they refer to themselves as an army and wear what basically amounts to a uniform (green team jersey and knit scarves), it was immediately apparent that the group is quite informal. There is no leadership, no membership requirement. In fact they pride themselves on being egalitarian.

One man, I noticed, was conspicuously without a beer in his hand. "That's Pong," someone explained. "He doesn't drink -- at least not alcohol." From his bag, Pong, who declined to give me any other name ("Outside of the cops and work, that's how everyone knows me," he said) removed a plastic bottle of a brown liquid the consistency of motor oil and offered me a swig. I must confess that my suspicious reporter's instincts clearly were not working on this particular night. I had known these people only five minutes. A strange man had just offered me a mysterious elixir. And I responded by unscrewing the cap and taking a big gulp.

"Homemade root beer," Pong explained. "Lots and lots of caffeine." I learned later that everyone else simply called it Rootcrack.

The group stormed over to the park just before kickoff. Almost immediately the chanting started. Much of it was crude. Some of it was poetic. The Timbers were playing a team called the Milwaukee Wave United on this particular night, and unfortunately for the Wave's keeper, he was beginning the game in the goal directly in front of the Woodshed.

"You call that Milwaukee's Best?" someone trilled. Soon the whole section had picked up the heckling. "You call that Milwaukee's Best?"

"Your beer is . . .," someone called out, and the reporter had to delete expletive here. "And so is your team."

It was around this time that one of the Timbers' mascots, a furry thing that is rumored to be a sasquatch but which looks suspiciously like an albino orangutan, made the unfortunate mistake of wandering too close to the Woodshed.

"We hate you, monkey," a man hissed. The monkey-thing waved, apparently trying to make peace.

"Chain-saw the monkey!" someone screamed. Soon 200 voices had joined in: "Chain-saw the monkey! Chain-saw the monkey!" The monkey carefully backed away.

The mood remained confident, cocky even. "You're going home in a Portland ambulance," they jeered when a Milwaukee player went down. And then in the 14th minute Milwaukee scored. And then they scored again. Suddenly, the Woodshed was dead silent. It remained silent for a long time.

A man who was visiting the section from Minnesota and whose face was now bright red with drink, began to repeat "Di -ving head-er!" "Di-ving head-er!" over and over again, until the man next to me threatened to take a diving header off the dugout if he didn't stop. Things were looking hopeless.

And then in the second half, in the 65th minute, a young player named Alan Gordon headed the ball into Milwaukee's net. Diving header man looked smug. I was trying to write this development down in my notebook when all of a sudden I went blind. A thick, lung-searing cloud of smoke had enveloped the section. I looked down and, amid the dancing feet, spotted a smoke bomb fizzing in a tin pail filled with sand. At least they are practicing responsible hooliganism, I thought. Then I heard the fire alarm go off.

Fifteen minutes later, with only a few minutes left to play, Gordon scored once more to tie the game. The Woodshed exploded. Strangers embraced. Men leapt on the dugout to dance delirious jigs. Another smoke bomb was lit. Pong handed me one of his scarves to breathe through.

The game then went into overtime. Sudden death. The first goal scored would win. Bob Kellett, a freelance writer, sat next to me, nervously gnawing on his scarf. There were moments when he could not bear to watch and put his head down on the dugout. "I'm from Philadelphia," he had told me earlier. "I'm used to heartbreak and sorrow from my sports teams."

But then, only five minutes into overtime, Gordon wrestled past two defenders to take on the keeper, and sent a shot to the far corner of the net. Chaos ensued. A crush of green enveloped me. I briefly spotted Kellett tap-dancing on the dugout and then lost him. It was at some point during this melee that Pong and Crawford while jumping up and down accidentally married tooth and skull.

Much later, the Milwaukee coach would actually make a special trip to a bar called the Bull Pen, where the Timbers Army was now bivouacked and furiously at work making hops an endangered species. He stared at them. Then he opened his mouth. They had called his keeper nasty, pungent names. They had mocked his team. But instead of chastising them, he congratulated them and called them amazing fans.

I was there when this happened, but, then again, I wasn't. I was too busy thinking -- about blood and fire alarms and drunkenness and passion. I was thinking about the feel of a scarf around my neck, and the smell of smoke in my hair. I was thinking about Rootcrack. I was thinking: How soon is the next game?

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