’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.
’ll be talking with many of the memorable figures from the last four decades in the lead-up to Sunday. First up, Timbers NASL forward Tony Betts.
PORTLAND, Ore. – Among a certain segment of Portland soccer fans—those who remember those halcyon days at old Civic Stadium—the name Tony Betts is inseparable from that inaugural Portland Timbers team in 1975.
In front of a sellout home crowd,
Betts rose up on a corner kick in overtime of the team's first-ever playoff match and headed in the game-winning goal
. As soon as the ball hit the back of the net, a hysterical Timbers crowd rushed onto the field to celebrate the 2-1 victory over rival Seattle Sounders.
With that goal, Betts cemented his place in team lore forever.
But the Englishman, who had begun his playing career under Timbers head coach Vic Crowe at Aston Villa, says that he probably shouldn't have been playing in the match at all.
At the end of the 1975 NASL regular season, Betts pulled a thigh muscle that severely limited his mobility. But Betts, who was a competitor through and through, convinced Crowe that he could still contribute off of the bench.
“I hate sitting on the bench,” he recalled. “It was so frustrating. I was biting my nails and Vic was going crazy. I think we were losing 1-0 at the time and Vic was asking me to go on earlier and then we scored the equalizer so I sat down again.”
But as the game wound down and the Timbers began pushing for a game-winner, Crowe rolled the dice and sent the injured Betts out onto the field.
“It was adrenaline really,” Betts said of being able to compete despite the thigh injury. “Playing a full game was not possible and it was great to get on and help the team and get the team to win and obviously score that goal.
“It was probably the highlight of my career up until then.”
Yet when he first decided to take Crowe up on his invitation to play for the Timbers, Betts had no idea what he was getting himself into.
“I didn't even know where Portland was,” Betts admitted. “I looked at the map and thought it was on the coast. Always thought that the West Coast of America was like all of California and we'd be sitting in the sun on the beach after practice. It sounded pretty good.”
Betts arrived in Portland just two days before the team's regular-season opening match—also against Seattle—and so it came as no surprise when the team, each player unfamiliar with his teammates' tendencies, lost that match 1-0 in the driving rain.
Soon, however, Betts and his teammates—veteran English players like Ray Martin, Peter Withe and Willie Anderson—began clicking both on and off the field.
“We had a really, really good team,” Betts said. “Not brilliant players by any means, but we all worked hard together and it was exciting to be with some of the name players that I knew back in England playing on the same team. We all blended very well together. Vic did an awesome job bringing in those players.
“We were all friends—and this is the important part of the '75 team—we did everything together off the field. We would go to the Blitz Brewery and drink beer. We would go to the beach. We would go to Mt. Hood. We would do all of those things off the field. That really helped us.”
After a slow start, the Timbers began a run that led them to a 16-6 regular season record and took them all the way to Soccer Bowl '75 in San Jose, a match that the Timbers lost 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
All these years later, though, what Betts remembers best are the lasting friendships that he formed with his Timbers teammates and the abiding love of the game that they all shared.
“At my age then it was just a whole exciting time,” Betts reflected. “In those days, we just played because we loved to play. I always remember when they said how much we were going to get paid. It didn't really make any difference. We were really playing with some good people in a good town.”