Editor’s Note: Throughout the 2015 season, the Portland Timbers have been celebrating their fifth anniversary since arriving in MLS and 40th anniversary since the club's founding in 1975. This Sunday, when the Timbers host the New York Red Bulls at Providence Park (2pm PT, ESPN), Portland will host an alumni reunion honoring past players from all eras of the club.

We’ll be talking with many of the memorable figures from the last four decades in the lead-up to Sunday. Our latest feature is on the man who scored the first goal in Timbers history: NASL forward Peter Withe.

PORTLAND, Ore. – As his flight descended into Portland International Airport, former NASL-era Timbers forward Peter Withe suddenly began reminiscing about the first time he ever flew into Portland.

In April 1975, Withe was a 23 year-old whose career hadn't quite taken off. In a move to get Withe some much needed playing time—he had made just 17 appearances for his club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, between 1973 and 1975—his manager Bill McGarry booked him a move on loan to the Portland Timbers.

“I remember going home to [my wife] and saying to [her], “You fancy going to America?'” Withe said.

“When I came here it was, for me, an opportunity,” he said. “I just wanted to grow as a player basically, and coming here to a new franchise was another opportunity.”

His flight to Portland, just three days before the team's first ever match against the Seattle Sounders, was certainly a memorable one.

“There was a lot of us [Timbers players] on the flight,” Withe recalled. “I just remember us coming in to land and Brian Godfrey, his children were actually sick. And I just have this vivid memory of him carrying [their vomit]—because they didn’t have any sick bags—and trying to get to the toilet and saying, 'The kids are sick. The kids are sick.'”

It was an inauspicious start to Withe's career in Portland and things only got trickier at the Timbers' first home game at old Civic Stadium.

When the Timbers and Sounders met at midfield ahead of the opening kick-off, they began examining each other’s jerseys: both teams were wearing the same color. As the Sounders hadn't brought any other uniforms, the Timbers players trudged back to the locker room and changed into different tops.



For the first 10 minutes of the match, Withe remembers, the Timbers supporters were booing them every time they touched the ball. The crowd had mistaken their home team for the visitors.




“We came out onto the field and we were playing say 10 minutes and the announcer came over the loudspeaker and he said to all the crowd, he says, 'Will you stop booing the team in [white] because that's the home team. The other team is Seattle.' So people were booing. Every time we got the ball we were booed.”




The Timbers lost that opener 1-0 in the pouring rain.

However, Withe heated up quickly thereafter, scoring in each of the next two games

the first of which against Toronto Metros-Croatia marked the first goal scored in Timbers history. After a big road win against the Vancouver Whitecaps, which brought the team's record to an even two wins and two losses, the Timbers played a big match at home against the Rochester Lancers.








The Lancers made it clear from the very first minute of the match that they were out to intimidate their opponents. Physically imposing Ghanaian defender George Lamptey hit Withe off the ball.




“I could kill you,” Withe remembered Lamptey telling him. “They tell me you are the best player. I'm going to kill you. You come to Rochester you're a dead man.”




Withe took Lamptey's threat as a challenge.




“I’ve always had this thing, no one hurts me,” Withe said. “He hit me and I started going down [but] I just jumped [right] up.”




Lamptey was later cautioned for his rough challenges and nearly came to blows with another Timbers player, Tony Betts. Lamptey's teammate Frank Odoi even got into a fight along the sideline with Timbers head coach Vic Crowe. Unsurprisingly, the Lancers finished the match with ten men.




Withe, however, got the last laugh, scoring a go-ahead goal two minutes into the second half and assisting on Willie Anderson's game-winning goal in overtime. The win over the Lancers pushed the Timbers' record above .500 and the team never looked back.


The wins just kept coming. By the end of July, the Timbers boasted a 16-4 record, having lost only twice since losing on the road in Denver in the third game of the season. Withe was a massive part of that success, having scored 15 goals in that span, including seven game-winners.




By August, Withe's goal-scoring prowess in Portland had drawn the attention of several clubs back home.




“I was playing here and someone had flown in from the UK to come and watch me play and signed me in the evening to play for them,” Withe recalled. “So I was transferred from Wolves to a team called Birmingham City while I was here.”




Despite Withe's having signed a contract with Birmingham City, there was one small hitch: the Timbers made the NASL playoffs and so the team's season hadn't yet finished. Phil Woosnam, the NASL commissioner, explained to Withe that he'd signed a contract with the Timbers and until his team had been knocked out, he couldn't leave.




“Well I’ll tell you what: we’re going to win this,” Withe told Woosnam. “I ain’t losing to anyone. We’re going to beat everyone that comes in front of us.”




Withe and his Timbers teammates followed through on that promise, first defeating the Sounders in the quarterfinals before knocking out the St. Louis Stars in front of over 33,000 fans at Civic Stadium. Withe scored the game-winner in that one, nodding home a Graham Day cross on the goal line.




“I have to keep canceling [plane] tickets,” head coach Vic Crowe told the Oregonian after the match, as six of his players were due back in England. “But for this reason I don't mind.”




Withe, meanwhile, was all bravado and young swagger, telling the Oregonian after the victory over the Stars: “It's winner take all now. And that's going to be Portland.”




But to the disappointment of Withe and his old Timbers teammates, it was not to be. In San Jose, the Timbers lost 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Rowdies.




Like that, Withe's season—and his career as a Timbers player—was over.




After returning to England to play with Birmingham City, Withe's career continued to rise. From 1976 through 1985, Withe scored 136 goals in the English top flight. He even earned himself a place in the English National Team for the 1982 World Cup in Spain. He later went on to manage Wimbledon in England for a short time and then later the national teams for Thailand and Indonesia.




But Withe still remembers his time in Portland fondly. It was, of course, the launching point for a long and successful professional soccer career. However, it was also something else. The camaraderie with his teammates, the wild antics on the road, and the sheer joy of playing in the NASL still stick in Withe's mind even now.




“In all the success that I’ve had in all the clubs that I’ve played for—and as a coach as well, even winning trophies as a manager—this ranks up there with whatever I’ve achieved,” he said.



Timbers 5/40 | First-ever Timbers goalscorer Peter Withe remembers Portland's inaugural season -