Consider the sports team. On the one hand, franchises are just for-profit corporations. Fans are, in one famous comedian’s immortal words, rooting for laundry.
On the other, a beloved team is a near-mystical pact: thousands of strangers join together to believe that spending hours (or decades) watching five, nine, or 11 paid specialists chase a ball can actually mean something. This week, some fans of our Major League Soccer club, the mighty Portland Timbers, provide a fine demonstration of the latter principle.
Thursday night, the Hollywood Theater hosts “Beating Seattle Never Gets Old,” a gala benefit for Bless Field. This all-weather soccer complex at North Portland’s New Columbia housing development will serve a multinational community of young players, grassroots clubs, and public schools, creating a spit-shined footballing and social asset for one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods.
“Beating Seattle” promises a deep-dive into local soccer’s surprisingly rich, hirsute history: the event’s centerpiece is archival footage from the original Portland Timbers’ short but glorious 1970s existence. Amid the general disco inferno of ‘70s America, soccer enjoyed a brief heyday thanks to the free-spending North American Soccer League, which imported high-priced (and usually aging) European and Latin American stars to unlikely places like Tulsa, Edmonton, and Portland, Oregon.
“Beating Seattle Never Gets Old”
Thursday, April 4 at 7 pm
The shorts were short, the hair was big. In between debauched nights at Studio 54, the NASL got some soccer played before its untimely demise in the uncool 1980s. Along the way, the league seeded the soccer fanaticism that has turned the modern Timbers into one of MLS’s crown jewels—and launched the still-fratricidal rivalry between Portland and the Seattle Sounders. The Hollywood event will showcase some of the ‘70s Timbers’ finest moments: playing the Brazilian legend Pele and his glamour-boy New York Cosmos; kicking a ball around baseball’s legendary Wrigley Field; and a truly epic moment in front of 31,000 at what’s now JeldWen Field.
Vintage Timbers players like Willie Anderson, Bernie Fagan, Roger Goldingay, Mick Hoban, Bill Irwin, and Jimmy Kelly will be on hand to relive the moments—or what they can remember of them.
Meanwhile, “Beating Seattle” also provides an excellent cross-section of the Timbers’ increasingly ambitious fan culture. While most media coverage focuses on the raucous, self-choreographing Timbers Army, the club’s supporters arguably do their most interesting work away from JeldWen. Through the volunteer effort Operation Pitch Invasion, Timbers fans have repaired and renovated public soccer fields across the metro area, with Bless Field the most recent and large-scale project. OPI is, in effect, one public face of the 107 Independent Supporters Trust, the fast-growing nonprofit organization that provides the Army with its organizational backbone.
In all, the evening proves that sometimes—Seinfeld notwithstanding—sports can go beyond drycleaning.