Timbers 5/40 | Forty years of Portland Timbers alumni reconnect with club, supporters at "special" reunion

PORTLAND, Ore. – To celebrate 40 years of Portland Timbers history, the club hosted Timbers on Sunday at Providence Park. After a brunch in the morning at the KeyBank Club, alumni from all team eras came out onto the field on Sunday at halftime of the Timbers match against the New York Red Bulls at Providence Park.

And then they made a break for goal.

After their names had been called out and photos taken, the alumni, in an impromptu display of support for the Timbers faithful, headed to the North End to applaud the crowd. Soon, players from all eras—NASL, USL, MLS—were walking up the steps and standing along the North End capo stand as throngs of fans chanted their support.

It must have been surreal for players like Tom Poltl (right) and Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar, fan favorites who played hard for the crest, to hear their names chanted for the first time in several years.

Even more surreal perhaps for the men who helped imbue a love of the game in the Rose City—names like Peter Withe, Willie Anderson, Tony Betts, John Bain, Bernie Fagan—to see how the culture they created has evolved and grown since the 1970s.

“I think it's still emotional,” said Noeleen Conway, wife of Timbers Ring of Honor member Jimmy Conway of coming back to the stadium. “The soccer community is like a big warm blanket. They just wrap themselves around you and they're so supportive. It's heartwarming to feel that love and to know that Jimmy is so well-loved and remembered.”

On a weekend that included a Timbers Army gathering for supporters and past players at Kells Irish Pub as well as at the KeyBank Club brunch, many of the players and their families reminisced about old times.

“It's really great catching up with old guys that I played with and seeing people the likes of Timber Jim and some of these guys from the 70s that started this wave of Portland soccer,” said USL-era Timbers player Brian Winters. Winters, a former captain, played in 127 matches for Portland. “It's humbling to be a part of it and it's really fantastic where it's gone.”

That growth has even astonished Roger Goldingay, who played for the Timbers in that inaugural 1975 campaign.

“It's been a long trip and a lot of things have happened,” Goldingay said. “Now what the Timbers have done in the last five years to rejuvenate that—the Timbers Army, Timber Joey, and the whole response of the fans—is phenomenal. It's really fantastic.”

Timbers owner Merritt Paulson was on hand to welcome the group and noted the alumni’s roles in the club’s unique history and how they helped lay the foundation for what became Soccer City, USA.

“That's really what's separated us from the rest,” Timbers owner Merritt Paulson told the gathered alumni. “To have 40 years of legitimate history is so special. I look around this room and I owe so much of what we've been able to do the last five years to each and every one of you.”

Former Timbers forward Jorge Perlaza echoed that sentiment, noting how much support for the team has grown even since he scored the first home goal in Timbers MLS history.

“It's a sentiment of joy being back and seeing the evolution of the club and seeing how the club has grown,” Perlaza said through a translator. “To score here first and really get off on the right foot to start  the season [in 2011] is a special memory that I'll never forget.”

Neither will the alumni forget the warm wave of applause and cheers as they made their way onto the capo stand and stood in front of thousands of adoring Timbers fans, many of whom remember those heady days be it NASL, USL or MLS eras.

From 1975 to the present, over three eras of players, coaches, and staff have developed a soccer legacy that's now being left to a new generation of fans and players who are growing up cheering for and loving their Portland Timbers.

As the players walked back into the tunnel from the capo stand, bringing up the rear was USL-era Timbers forward Byron Alvarez's young daughter, wearing a jersey with her father's name on the back.

“P-T. F-C,” she sang. “P-T. F-C.”