A Shared History: Portland's ties to Aston Villa go back thirty years
Editor’s Note: With next week's upcoming friendly against Aston Villa approaching (July 24, 7:30pm PT, TICKETS), we once again reached out to Timbers writer and soccer historian Michael Orr. Orr is the managing writer and editor of FC Media, a contributor to English football journal Blizzard and was the lead curator for last summer’s Oregon Historical Society exhibit, “Soccer City, USA: The Portland Timbers and the NASL Years, 1975-1981.”.
On February 27, 1971, Aston Villa played Tottenham Hotspur in the English League Cup Final before 100,000 at Wembley Stadium. For the Portland Timbers, a club still four years from conception, that date is a unique starting point in a long a fruitful relationship with the famous club from Birmingham. Under the leadership of manager, and former captain, Vic Crowe, four future Timbers featured against Spurs: captain Brian Godfrey, Brian Tiler, Pat McMahon and Willie Anderson.
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Though more recently forgotten, in part due to the clout of the former West Ham United players who have had dramatic impacts in the Rose City (Clyde Best, Clive Charles, Bobby Howe), it was Aston Villa that was the original English club to supply key players to the Portland Timbers.
Crowe, a Villa player from 1952-64 and manager from 1970-74, took over at Portland in the spring of 1975 as the club’s debut manager. With little time to find players before the season started, Crowe employed another former Villa coach, Leo Crowther, to acquire players for the upcoming season. Five players with ties to the Villa signed on, including Anderson, Godfrey, Tony Betts, Mick Hoban and Barry Lynch. A young forward from Wolverhampton Wanderers named Peter Withe also joined the team.
“[Vic Crowe] was a tough, uncompromising, honest, hard-working club man for the Villa. Well respected at Aston Villa, well respected by the players over here,” remembers Hoban, the first player signed by Crowe in Portland. Hoban made his Villa debut under Crowe in a 1972 friendly against Pelé’s Santos at Villa Park. Hoban now serves as a Timbers Alumni Ambassador.
The collection of former Villa players and coaches defined the Timbers inaugural season, starting nearly every match and contributing in key roles: Godfrey as captain, Anderson as offensive catalyst, Betts as explosive scorer, Hoban and Lynch as defensive stalwarts. Portland finished 1975 with a 16-6 record, best in the North American Soccer League, reaching the Soccer Bowl before falling to Tampa Bay Rowdies in San Jose.
When the Timbers returned in 1976, Crowe brought back Betts and Hoban while adding four more former Villa players: McMahon, Tiler, goalkeeper Jim Cumbes and Neil Rioch. Tiler served dual roles of player and assistant coach, replacing Crowther. Though the season was far less successful than the first, the impact of Portland’s Villa connection was undeniable.
Tiler took over as manager in 1977 after Crowe’s first retirement. Anderson returned to Portland after a year away and Betts, Hoban and McMahon were all starters in the Timbers’ third season.
A coaching change made 1978 the first season in Portland without a former Villa player as the top man at the Timbers. Only Anderson remained in ’78 and ’79 before Crowe was brought back to the helm in a unique managerial succession in the middle of the 1980 season. By 1982, Crowe lured Terry Donovan to Portland, making the former Irish international the eleventh player to feature for both Aston Villa and Portland Timbers.
While Donovan and Anderson played under Crowe in 1982, it was Withe who made the connection between the two clubs all the more remarkable. The team’s leading scorer and driving force in 1975, Withe left Portland and became a star in the English First Division. By 1980 he signed with Villa and on May 26, 1982 scored the only goal in the club’s famous victory over Bayern Munich in the European Cup Final.
Now thirty years later, no Villa player has come back through Portland to play for the Timbers. Yet with the July 24 friendly at JELD-WEN Field, old memories and connections can be rekindled. Though Crowe passed away in 2009 and many of the players who bridged the two clubs are scattered across the globe, the association with Aston Villa is a key element in the development and history of the Portland Timbers.
A list of players with Portland Timbers-Aston Villa ties broken down by year they played with the Timbers
Vic Crowe (75-76; 80-82) - head coach
Leo Crowther (not a former Villa player but former Villa assistant - 75)
Willie Anderson (75; 77-82)
Tony Betts (75-77)
Brian Godfrey (75)
Mick Hoban (75-78)
Barry Lynch (75; 77)
Peter Withe (75)
Jim Cumbes (76)
Pat McMahon (76-77)
Neil Rioch (76)
Brian Tiler (76) - player/assistant (77) - head coach
Terry Donovan (82)