From The Stands: New flags in the North End provide color, history to matches

Crossed axes, Clive Charles, rising suns...Creative flag culture sparks matchday fire

Clive Charles Flag

Photo Credit: 
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Green and white. Green and gold. White and black. These are the colors one can often see proudly flying in the North End at Portland Timbers matches. But if you've noticed a few flags you haven't seen before whipping in the wind recently, that’s ok: there’s some new ones to take in.

Members of the Timbers Army unfurled several new flags at the rainy dramatic 3-2 against D.C. United starting on May 3, the largest of which were brought to Providence Park as a means to spice up the mainstays fans have seen in the North End.

“The City of Portland flags are cool, but everyone’s seen them,” said Timbers Army member Steph Nova. “They’ve held us over for a couple of years at this point.”

Among the flags waved in the wind and rain on that Saturday: Little Beirut (right), a black and-white affair with Arabic writing; North End Ultra, a historically-significant maroon flag; a green and white Rising Sun flag; a generic flag with laurels; and the King of Clubs, featuring crossed axes and a golden crown. 

Some of the flags have a specific meaning to them, and others simply go along with motifs popular among Timbers fans.

The Rising Sun flag plays off the Army’s tradition of singing “You Are My Sunshine” in the 80th minute—a tribute itself going back to Timber Jim Serrill’s late daughter Hannah and her favorite song. Traditionally green and yellow, the new flag is green and white, with a striped green and white orb representing the sun in the middle. 

In true Timbers Army fashion, the Little Beirut flag, is a sly, sarcastic nod to comments made by former President George H.W. Bush about protesters in the Rose City in the early 1990s. In addition to the tree, the words “Little Beirut” appear in Arabic scrawl on the front of the flag.

“Of course we’re proud of that. Because we’re us,” laughed Nova.

Most of the new flags have been added to the rotating stock for capos – a shortened slang from capitano, the Italian word for captain – who raise the Army’s cheers from stands at the edge of each section.

Some flags, like the green-and-white Clive Charles flag, are made by individuals to be waved in the interior of the Timbers Army. Brand new for this season, the Clive Charles flag was created as a means to remember a key figure in both Timbers and Portland soccer history as the club’s story moves farther and farther into the MLS era.

“Clive is a legend, he’s an institution in Portland,” said the flag’s owner, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s not just for what he did with the Timbers. He’s a very important figure and you don’t want people forgetting what went on with the Timbers and the community.”

The Clive Charles flag has resonated with fans in the North End, including one fan who had come to Timbers games in the 1970s and just returned this season. 

“He had just moved back to the area and it was a really big deal for him to come back to a Timbers game because it was something his dad did with him,” said the owner. “The flag went up, and it was a trigger for him that people still remembered what Clive did.”

The process for flag selection is rather democratic, with the Timbers Army’s own designers and merchandise managers coming together with members to pitch, vote and order new designs.

“We take all kinds of merch ideas,” said Mike Coleman, a member of the Timbers Army who can often be found helping to arrange flags. “But a lot of people don’t even pitch them, they just make them.”

Along with handmade banners that hang off the edge of the stands, members of the Timbers Army say that the flags are meant to add color to Providence Park when the prior iterations become stale or a clever idea for a particular match arises through the ranks. 

“We just follow the general guidelines the Timbers put out for us, and we just make flags and banners all season long,” said Coleman. 

The big flags are now flying in the hands of the capos, but the Timbers Army says fans shouldn’t be surprised to see lots of new, smaller flags in the following weeks. 

“We’re waiting for smaller ones to come in, but when they do, we’ll put them on poles and get the North End outfitted,” said Nova.