We are sad to report that Jimmy Conway, former Republic of Ireland national and legendary midfielder for the NASL Portland Timbers, passed away on February 14th, 2020, at the age of 73.
What made Jimmy Conway a Timbers Legend?
You’ve seen the name hanging in the rafters. You know he played for the NASL Timbers. You probably know that he was one of the Timbers from that era that stuck around and made our neck of the woods his home. However, many of you may not truly understand who Jimmy Conway is and the impact he has had on growing the beautiful game here in Oregon.
Jimmy was raised in the Stella Maris FC development program in Dublin which has long been a hotbed for producing future national team players and international managers. Jimmy himself had 20 caps with Ireland throughout his career. After a stint with local club Bohemian FC, he was recruited to play for Fulham FC during the club’s most prolific era and is still fondly remembered by Cottagers to this day. Ten years and 360 matches later, he did a stint with Manchester City before coming across to play with the Timbers in 1978 at the age of 31. He wore the armband for the team the next year, was a player/assistant coach the year after that, and it has been argued that he was the most talented player to ever wear our crest over his heart. More than an exceptionally skilled player, he was always a man of integrity, and this was reflected in his style of play. Through 15 years of playing (443 games), he never once received a caution or ejection. Unfortunately, his career was cut short due to a persistent injury and developed long-term health issues, caused by putting his head where it belonged as a part of the game.
As was the hope of the Timbers front office when recruiting players back in the day, Jimmy got stuck in and cultivated the love of the beautiful game through his continued support of the NASL Timbers. In the years following his retirement from competitive play (other than the Timbers indoor team), Jimmy continued on as an assistant coach. In 1981, he and Clive Charles were hired by Oregon Youth Soccer Association (OYSA) as head coaches in the organization’s 7th year. It was through his role as the director of coaching with OYSA that his status as a soccer legend in Oregon was solidified. Jimmy’s experience growing up in a top flight youth system helped him to know just what was needed to facilitate the growth of the local youth development system, and he knew it would take an army of well-trained people to pull it off.
One of Jimmy’s many positive qualities, and one that made him a great player, captain, coach, and person was his ability to spot strengths in others and foster the development of those individuals’ unique abilities. In his early years with OYSA, Jimmy scoured the countryside giving intensive coaching clinics to soccer moms and dads, many of whom were entirely new to the game. Through his work, he was able to identify individuals for higher level training and ultimately was responsible for licensing well over 1,000 soccer coaches, truly creating an army of soccer instructors in and around Oregon. Forget teaching someone to fish: if you teach them to teach, you can benefit an entire community. This was perhaps Jimmy’s greatest gift to all of us. If you grew up playing the game in the Portland area, odds are good that you were coached by someone trained by Jimmy, if not by Jimmy himself.
Unfortunately, due to his declining health, Jimmy retired from OYSA in 2009. The Oregon Youth Soccer Foundation (the non-profit arm of OYSA) created the Jimmy Conway Coach Education Scholarships to honor his impact. These scholarships provide those of lesser means the opportunity to attend the US Soccer Federation National “D” license course, run by OYSA.
Outside of his work with OYSA, Jimmy coached soccer at Pacific University from 1983 to 1987 with a record of 51-37-9 and at OSU from 1988 to 1999 with a record of 97-88-14. At the start of the USL era in Portland in 2001, Jimmy returned to the Timbers and renewed his role as an assistant coach until 2005. He was also on the U. S. Soccer Federation's national staff, following his work heading OYSA’s connection to the U.S. Youth Soccer's Olympic Development Program, lending his skills and experience to the national effort while also keeping us all up to speed locally. Jimmy Conway always valued taking care of the next generation of players, and his steadfast dedication to their development made him a true PTFC legend.
Little was known about the effects of persistent head trauma at the time of Jimmy’s retirement, and there is much we still don’t understand. He was diagnosed with trauma-induced dementia, one of many forms that doctors are now able to identify. The most common form of dementia in athletes is dementia pugilistica. Commonly known as boxer’s syndrome or scientifically as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, it is the result of repeated head trauma. Common symptoms are dementia and parkinsonism, which can take years or even decades to manifest. Some also experience slurred speech and poor coordination. At times, a single traumatic incident can cause similar symptoms, as well as long-term memory loss, depending on the affected part of the brain.
As a result of the growing body of knowledge of the long-term effects of head trauma, we have seen many leagues in many sports taking head injuries very seriously. We don’t need to look further than the retirement of our own ‘There’s Only One’ Eddie Johnson, whose MLS career was cut short in what we were all hoping to be his prime. Given the overlapping nature of all forms of dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association leads the way in all forms of dementia research. For several years, 107IST members followed the lead of Jimmy’s long-time teammate and champion, Mick Hoban, and joined the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in support of their efforts.
The 107IST and Timbers Army extend our condolences to the Conway family.