After attending his first Portland Timbers match at old Civic Stadium during the NASL era, nine-year-old Ken Reade was anxious to kick around a soccer ball.
Reade and his father drove out to the local sporting goods store in Gresham, Ore., only to make a startling discovery: the store didn't have a single soccer ball for sale. Everything else a kid like Reade could have wanted was there—footballs, basketballs, baseballs—but no soccer balls available.
So Reade made do with what he could get, a .99 cent rubber ball from the grocery store, the kind you would have to dig out of a big metal cage.
Welcome to American soccer circa 1975.
Despite the hiccups in his burgeoning soccer fandom, Reade, now a resident of Northampton, Mass., stuck around and has remained a dedicated Timbers fan ever since.
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Reade, though, has never forgotten those heady days in the mid and late 1970s when this foreign sport captivated an entire city, birthed Soccer City, USA and spawned a generation of diehard soccer fans, himself least of all.
It all began, Reade says, in those first few weeks of the 1975 NASL season.
“I think the first game we went to was about 10- or 12,000 people and then it seemed like every other game beyond that it just kept going exponentially higher and higher all the way up through the playoffs and the classic Tony Betts header against Seattle,” says Reade, whose family held season tickets right up until the team's final NASL season in 1982.
“It was absolutely a magical experience for a young, impressionable nine-year-old kid.”
Reade vividly remembers the anarchic scenes at Civic Stadium after the Timbers' sudden death overtime victory over the Seattle Sounders in the 1975 NASL playoffs.
“I just remember almost getting stampeded as a kid,” he recalls. “It was this euphoria slash terror. Just this wide-eyed kid wondering, 'What is going on?' It was really something. It really got that passion in me going.
“I remember when [the game-winning] goal was scored it was a total pitch invasion. People were running down the aisles and then jumping off over the edge onto the field.”
Reade would leave Portland in 1989 after college and has lived in the Rose City only sporadically since. Nevertheless, despite his distance from the team, Reade is a Timbers season ticket holder, having first put down his deposit when the team was brought into MLS ahead of the 2011 season.
“A lot of people always ask what the heck am I doing living 3,000 miles away with a season ticket?” he says. “But in my mind it's a connection that I miss being there so much it's a way for me to feel connected to and supportive of the team in a very small way.
“It's a great thing to be able to have that. I'm very proud to say I have a season ticket.”
While Reade will often swap his North End ticket with friends or sells them at cost to Timbers Army supporters, he does make it out to Providence Park at least once every season and often takes in Timbers away matches in person on the east coast.
The allure of coming out to Portland every year, he says, is sharing his passion for the team with his two daughters, now 11 and 12 years-old.
At their first Timbers match in 2011, Reade's daughters watched the play on the pitch and the intensity in the stands with much of the same wide-eyed astonishment as their father did so many years ago.
“It was equally as intense for them,” Reade says of that first match with his daughters. “I could see they were sort of holding my hand a little tighter. It was a big deal for them.
“It's extremely gratifying for me to expose them to that same passion and that same environment. It's great to see in their eyes all over again.”
When Reade takes a look around Providence Park and sees all the children and families in the stands, he's reminded of his own group of friends—“soccer rats” he calls them—who grew up watching Timbers matches together in the NASL days. He's happy to see a whole new generation of young fans appreciating the game, something that they will one day pass on to children of their own as he has.
“Now at the games, I can totally picture myself at that age and it warms my heart—I can't tell you how much—just to know that there will be that whole other generation growing up with the club.”