A Trip North: Of Tiffs and Tifo
Back up beer: check.
That was the routine on the sidewalk outside the Oregon Convention Center Saturday lunchtime, as Timbers fans gathered for the trip to see Portland’s first MLS game at the Seattle Sounders FC. With 500 tickets issued, most of the ten bus loads of Timbers supporters had probably not done “Seattle Away” before. There were plenty of 20-somethings milling around, recounting their Friday nights out and, for some, their Saturday morning soccer games. On the Widmer bus, our bus captain spelled out the rules and was to make sure everyone made it into the stadium.
Rule one was pick up your trash, for which he was jeered and called Mom. Rule two was no Number Twos in the bus bathroom. There were other rules but he was soon drowned out in Timbers chants.
A great cheer went up as we crossed the line into Washington State, where Derek said we could now officially behave like Washingtonians. People had their own suggestions as to what that might mean, none of them flattering. He added that we should be self-policing, which was a contradiction.
Our driver Terry turned out to be a great sport. Soon Widmer brewery schwag (scarves and T shirts) was being raffled off in aid of his tip.
Kim Larson, 27, was at first miffed [annoyed] to not be seated with her boyfriend John Daiker. But after a couple of pints she settled down.
By the time the coaches rallied in Centralia for a bathroom break there was a surreal sense to the day. “Awayday Legends” T shirts were peddled to a scrum, a fish pinata was axed to the head under a tree, and ESPN’s tanned crew zipped around capturing what they could on camera.
In fact they loaned Rob Jerand, a regular Timbers Army capo, a Flip cam to tape some atmosphere on the bus. He said he felt a bit fake requesting a chant, but it was not a normal day. Representing Portland was paramount.
Around six pm, the sight of the Qwest Field from I-5 was sobering. For a few minutes. So much blue and rave green on the Seattle streets was a red flag to the Army as they hammered on the windows and taunted to the locals.
If this rivalry is “much hyped” (and having a Timbers Army fan making it into the Wall Street Journal is the essence of hype), the corollary to that is “much photographed.” A forest of cameras greeted us as we assembled outside the stadium.
Chanting through Qwest’s echoing concrete tunnels was hair-raising. After singing in the rain for an hour (nothing new there) the Sounders show began, most markedly with the Emerald City Supporters’ tifo, which covered their entire end.
Banners depicted five Sounders players, followed by a hand crushing a Timbers logo and a rose, and the words “Decades of Dominance.” Finally, the joker in the pack, came Roger Levesque’s crazy face and the tag “48 seconds.”
Even if you had no idea whose the faces were, you got the message. (Basically “We’re better than you and we really care to tell you.”) The Army’s riposte (away tifos are super rare) was a banner reading “We’re the Timbers Army, who are you?”
The match was a chance for two sets of fans to get a look at each other. Although they were so far away it was hard to hear the ECS clearly. Even on the sides, Sounders fans stood for the entire game and occasionally sang. Apart from a few edible missiles, those on the left of the Timbers Army were pretty cordial.
Under the stands in the concession area Kim was now wet and cold. She and John had had a tiff [minor argument] and were through. He was standing nearby, wearing his wet fishing hat, staring into space.
It could have all gone not so well if Futty Danso hadn’t equalized in the 65th minute. But from then on it was plain sailing. The players looked lively and the fans sang louder. Self-policing was not that hard.
Back on the bus, our driver Terry had cashed in his tips to buy more beer, which was then sold off in aid of…Terry’s tip. It was a mind boggling transaction for some. Fans hunched over their phones in the dark replaying the highlights. Kim Larson, who had now made up again with John, told how she had tried to get warm by wrapping herself in paper towels in the ladies room. Many laughed but one female Sounders fan spent $15 on a rain poncho for her. “So [Seattle] fans are not all bad,” said Larson.
Jerand conceded that Sounders and Timbers fans have things common. They had cooperated on the necessity of self-policing. Any incidents would have possibly threatened the chances of away fans—for either side—getting future tickets.
After poring over the video some more, he admitted, “Yeah, they took tifo up a level.” He was impressed that it unfolded over time and had a “sort-of narrative” to it.
“We’re going to have to come back with something better,” Jerand said, looking forward to July 10.