Timbers, West Brom mark 30th anniversary of 1981 exhibition

Thirty years later, teams set for summer rematch

Today the Timbers and England club West Bromwich Albion mark the 30th anniversary of their exhibition game held at Civic Stadium (now JELD-WEN Field) on May 13, 1981, a match West Brom won, 1-0.

Coincidentally, the Timbers and West Brom announced earlier this week that the two sides will return to those same grounds to meet for the second time in their histories, Wednesday, July 20.

These days, fans of both teams will be a little more familiar with their opponents, due to the popularity of the English Premier League in the United States, the availability of MLS matches on television in England, and most importantly, the recent success of the two teams in their respective leagues.

For those who do not follow English soccer, the Baggies currently sit 13th out of 20 teams in the table, guaranteed to remain in the English Premier League for the 2011-12 season, just the second time in club history that they have returned to the EPL for a second successive season. With 43 points and two games remaining on the schedule, West Brom has already achieved its best Premier League finish ever.

The Timbers, on the other hand, have won all four of their MLS home games in 2011, climbing to fifth place in the Western Conference with 13 points through eight games of their inaugural MLS campaign.

Back in 1981, though, the Baggies, based in the West Midlands region in England, were coming off a top-four finish in the English First Division when they visited the Rose City as part of their early summer tour of the United States and Canada. With three of their top players – Peter Barnes, Bryan Robson and Derek Statham – away with the England National Team for their World Cup qualifying efforts, West Brom had just been upset by the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 two nights earlier.

The Timbers, meanwhile, were eight games into their North American Soccer Leagues (NASL) season, sitting at 5-3 following hot starts by striker Dale Mitchell (six goals) and midfielder John Bain (four goals).

The match, scheduled as part of a loan agreement that brought West Brom striker Alistair (Ally) Brown to Portland, figured to be a high-scoring affair.

Manager Ron Atkinson had installed a wide-open, attacking style of play in his West Brom side, which netted 60 goals in 42 games in First Division play the previous season.

Instead, the 6,770 fans in attendance witnessed a hard-fought, tightly contested game. They saw West Brom’s backline put on a clinic, keeping Timbers forwards Brown, the West Brom striker playing for the Timbers on loan, and Stuart Lee out of the penalty area for most of the night, while forcing Portland into eight offsides violations.

But the Timbers defense kept the Baggies grounded as well, limiting their English guests to just nine shots.

The only goal of the game did not arrive until the 80th minute, when West Brom midfielder Terry Summerfield crafted his way in towards the Timbers goal. There, Portland defender Glenn Myernick fought for the ball with Summerfield, who got enough of a touch on the ball with his toe to send it past Timbers keeper Keith MacRae for the game-winner. (The goal was originally charged as an own-goal to Myernick).

After the match, it was evident how badly both coaches wanted to win the supposed exhibition.

“We missed a couple of early chances that would have buried you,” Atkinson told the Timbers’ coach. “As it was, we completely outclassed Portland most of the game.”

“There was no way he (Atkinson) was going to open up,” said Timbers manager Vic Crowe that night, smiling. “There was no way he wanted to lose here.

“Against lesser teams, the way we were moving the ball, we’d have created an awful lot. They’ve got some accomplished defensive players. Even so, we gave them a good game.”

“It was like being back home,” said Lee, a one-time Manchester City player. “They were so tight, we just couldn’t break them down, but let’s face it, they’re one of the best teams in England.”

Now, 30 years later, the two clubs meet for another Wednesday showdown in the Pacific Northwest.

Special thanks to Paul Buker, whose match recap for The Oregonian was used for this article.