My friend Brent and I went to the last Portland Timbers home game weekend before last.
I was lucky - had an early day off - and got a leisurely afternoon to laze in the rare, warm September sunshine. Ate at the little Nicholas Restaurant along SE Grand, savoring the pokey, hole-in-the-wall Lebanosity of the joint and the delicious hummus and shwarma and hot, crisp flatbread.
I was also privileged to be sitting next to a little family group; adult children, (I think) stepfather and their mother, whose maturely ruddy, vigorous beauty - all whipcord grace and strong head coiffed in iron-gray hair - was as delicious as the kibbi. I thoroughly enjoyed both the taste of the food, and the presence of this magnificent woman, until it was time to drive across the bridges and stroll down to the Civic.
The stands were barely filling when I sat with my cold beer and camera. Only a handful of the Timbers Army regulars had found their way to Section 107.The Army is a civic treasure, a boiling pot of all things loud, urban and Portland. But it was a rare moment to enjoy seeing the Army in an intimate camera, ones and twos, and be able to savor the character of the individuals that make the group so vital.
I loved this woman:
She was enjoying a vigorous conversation with her companion, visibly relishing her temptingly curvy figure encased in her tight Timbers green which revealed every convex inch of her, her friend, her drink, her anticipation of the coming match. She, too, was lovely, and I had to capture her in pixels.
Half an hour before kickoff and the stands started to fill. Loud chattering groups filed in with their hats, scarves and banners. Families with racing kids shouting with excitement. Over to my right little strings of kid soccer teams snaked down to the field to prepare for their half time munchkin soccer game.
The game was "Cheap Plastic Crap Hat" night, and you can see the faithful scored their cheap plastic crap. Notice the inverted cap near the center of the picture - this was actually a tumbler and held two of the pathetically small cups the Civic sells for a ridiculously inflated price. Shrewd.I also love this little girl; I call her the "Littlest Soldier" in the Timbers Army. She is often far afield from her mom and dad, and sings, leaps, chants and cheers along with the grownups - the love of the game, and of the true supporter commitment has clearly been with her for much of her short life.She's utterly, disarmingly adorable. So here she is again.Brent, his friend John and John's two sons arrived just before kickoff, and we settled in to watch some serious soccer. Portland had been in a nasty skid, and had dropped the previous game to this Cleveland team, the arse-end of the league. We needed a win tonight to go into the playoffs.The game was fast, lots of one-touch soccer, and the Timbers were pushing up looking for a goal. This meant that they were open to counterattack, and the Clevelanders provided just that - it was a good match.
Then in the later stages of the first half - Goal! Timbers 1-0!The Army roared, the crowd cheered, Timber Joey sawed his slab off The Log, and all was right with the world.
Joey does a great job; he's a good cheerleader and "mascot", and of the most bearable sort, since it seems to be the rule that all professional and most amateur teams need one of these things. But what made the evening particularly memorable for me was the presence of THE symbol of the Timbers, Timber Jim.
It was great to seem him there to celebrate the team's first league title since 2004. And, rather touchingly, he led the Army in "You Are My Sunshine". I understand that the story behind this is that after Jim's daughter was killed in an auto accident he led the song as a tribute to his little granddaughter, Hannah, who loved it. It's special to him, and the Army, and I've never been to a game where he was there, and the Army sang "Sunshine".
But now I have.
The Timbers won, 2-1, amid a haze of smoke and the singing of the Army. We shouted and roared and cursed right along. Soccer is a cruel game - perhaps more like life than the fantasies that other pro sports try and sell you. It is anticipation denied, hope crushed, the agonizing intercession of the post or the crossbar denying you. It is almost unendurable tension in hopes of a moment of transcendent release. And when it's right, and good, and joyful, it is among the happiest of places and times.After the final long whistle the fans stood and bayed for the players, and the players unrolled a banner thanking the fans and came down to the Shed End for the traditional singalong. The players donned the silly Cheap Plastic Crap Hats, and sang and celebrated with the crowd.Perhaps the most endearing moment was when the players were presented with their 25-or-so individual portraits done in the style of Portland's Matt Groening. Here's my confounding favorite Takayuki Suzuki with his "Simpsons" avatar:Finally the team trooped away to the showers, and the singing ended, and the stands emptied, and night and darkness and silence fell over the field.
Until the next time.
"Across the field of play
the dusk has come, the hour is late.
The fight is done and lost or won,
the player files out through the gate.
The tumult dies, the cheer is hushed,
the stands are bare, the park is still.
But through the night there shines the light,
home beyond the silent hill."