PORTLAND, Ore. – As Sara “Sally” Wall (née Faddis) looked around Providence Park during a visit all she could say was, "Wow."
Wall, who first started working for the NASL-era Portland Timbers as an executive secretary in 1976 and who later became director of marketing, hadn't been back to the stadium since she left the club ahead of the 1980 season.
"There was no cover over there on that east side of the stadium. In fact, those were old rickety wood bleachers.," she explained, pointing at what is now the KeyBank Club. "Of course, there was nothing here on the south end, except the balcony there at the Multnomah Athletic Club. We did put huge bunches of bleachers in and filled that all in during Soccer Bowl '77."
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A lot has changed since her time with the club: teams have come and gone, the stadium has had several different names, and even the character and look of Portland itself has transformed. The one thing that has endured is the city's abiding love for its Timbers.
"It was crazy," Wall said of the team's first few years in town. "We had our really staunch followers and we had fans that were just absolutely crazy over the Timbers. They were just die-hard fans. We would have these after-game parties at one of the local hotels here and the place would just be mobbed. Mobbed."
As strongly as the Timbers started that first season in 1975, both on and off the field, it still took time and hard work to grow the game.
"Soccer was newer to people then," she said.
Wall says that the work the players and organization did back in the 1970s helped pave the way for the success of not just the Timbers, but soccer in general in Portland.
"I think the Timbers opened the door to soccer here because they were so hands on," she said. "We had players everywhere. They weren't just playing on the field. We had them doing clinics. Just exposing them everywhere we could, which I think opened the door to an interest.
"Kids who learned to play soccer are now fans and come to the games," she continued. "We didn't have that as much back in the 70s. Youth participation in the city was limited until the Timbers came to town…It just took time for people to learn about the sport."
During her time with the club, Wall met some of the most famous players in the NASL, including Pele at Soccer Bowl '77, but few left a bigger lasting impression on her then Timbers legend Clive Charles. Charles, who played for the club from 1978-81, put down roots in Portland after his playing career ended. He later coached at Reynolds High School and then led both the men’s and women’s soccer programs at the University of Portland.
"What a great guy. He was just so genuine and so nice," she said. "He left a huge hole [when he passed away], not only in the world of soccer, but in the world of humanity. He was a wonderful, wonderful guy."
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Players like Charles and his Timbers teammates Willie Anderson and Jimmy Conway helped establish deep soccer roots in their adopted city.
But, Wall says, there is a special characteristic about Portland itself that has made it such a durable soccer hotbed.
"I think part of it is that Portland people are loyal," she said. "When they have something that they're attached to, they're very loyal. We even found that with our fans, even though they were a considerably smaller group, they're very loyal people and they want to part of something that's exciting."