This is the Timbers Army blog, where members can submit blog posts.
The Timbers Army are legendary in Major League Soccer for our support of the Portland Timbers, whether the team is playing at home or on the road.
However, we oppose concepts of an MLS tournament in lieu of regular season matches in 2020. Our primary concern is for the physical health and mental well-being of all MLS players, coaching staff, and support staff. It is foolish to ask these individuals to leave their homes, families, and support systems in the midst of a global pandemic.
We oppose concepts of limited- or reduced-capacity MLS matches: we would rather attend matches where everyone who has a season ticket can celebrate the beautiful game together and we are prepared to wait until it is safe to do so. Our love for the game will not diminish over time.
We oppose any attempt by MLS or MLS teams to re-create match day experiences through artificial means, whether that be piping in crowd noises and chants over loudspeakers or on broadcast/streaming matches, creating tifo to be hoisted in "neutral" stadiums, etc. The Timbers Army has always been about supporting the Timbers in an organic and authentic way.
We anxiously await the day when we can all safely reconvene at Providence Park, when the drums and horns and our voices erupt with the joy of seeing our players back on the pitch.
For now, we will remain safely at a distance, using our voices and energy to support the safety and well-being of players and our communities
The following is a post from Ben Pollak.
Why is the Iron Front symbol so important, you ask? Why can’t we settle for other antifascist symbols and messages? Hopefully I can help dispel some myths and explain how we got to this point.
The league arbitrarily banned the Iron Front symbol, alleging that there are fans who are uncomfortable seeing it in the stands due to supposed connections to violence, but the Timbers Army has displayed the Iron Front for years in our stadium with no complaints, and indeed the Emerald City Supporters in Seattle have included it on their scarves since at least 2009.
This symbol is important because it comes from a time and place that we would do well to learn from. It was designed by antifascists in Germany in the 1920s, who wanted something that represented their opposition to Hitler and his Nazi party that could be used to easily cover up swastikas. It is especially important for me, as a Jew whose grandfather barely escaped Vienna in 1939, getting a visa to come to the United States the day after the Germans annexed Austria. The vast majority of his family — my family — were murdered by the Nazis, and the Iron Front was the symbol of opposition. It has since been adopted by American antifascists, like myself.
I was told all my life never to let the Holocaust happen again. Well, my friends, NEVER AGAIN IS NOW. We are operating concentration camps, and though we are not yet exterminating people, we are detaining them in conditions that match the descriptions of those used by the Nazis. If you want a first-hand account of the horrors of Nazi concentration camps to compare them with what we are doing to detainees on our own border, I suggest you read Elie Wiesel’s Night or Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
We choose to stand up at a critical time for the world, and say no to hate, no to fascism, and no to bigotry. We are the Timbers Army, we are antifascists, and we want your help. Help us overturn the ban on the Iron Front and reform the code of conduct with guidance from experts on human rights. This simple symbol represents opposition to the three most prominent forms of totalitarian government: fascism, monarchy, and communism. Regardless of party affiliation, you likely oppose these things. Censorship is a very slippery slope, and if we allow the league to ban the Iron Front, what will be next is anyone’s guess.
Is the symbol associated with antifa? Perhaps, but what does that mean? I am antifa, and in fact you probably are too, if you’re reading this. Antifa is an idea. It means anti-fascist. Do you oppose fascism? Then you are antifa. Those who insist antifa are a violent group are lying to you. They have an agenda, and they know what they are doing when they demonize the people who oppose them as violent thugs.
By censoring this symbol, MLS is doing the bidding of those who want to see children in cages. Let’s mean it when we say NEVER AGAIN.
The following is a post from Duane Schulz (@timbersds).
I discovered pro soccer in 1975. 3,000 grew to 30,000 in year one. Commissioner Mildred kissed the boys. We threw beer, swarmed the field, flooded Morrison Avenue post-game, and partied with the team at the Hilton. Timber Jim risked his life every game – it was insane. And it was magic. It wasn’t a sport, it was community, shared values, positive energy. And Portland stood out across the US. We showed the country who we were and how we were different, in many ways a first. And we were ALL the Timbers Army.
I moved to DC, watched the Timbers play the Diplomats with Johan Cruyff along with a measly 5,000 in RFK Stadium. When I returned, the NASL was gone, the Timbers were mostly quiet, coming and going in different forms.
We heard noise from our house on the hill above PGE Park. The Timbers were really back! The USL return was hopeful. Our attendance was impressive compared with other USL cities (hint, hint) given the hiatus. An ambitious, smart, energetic new owner gave us the financial and political means to go big, and threw his heart into it. An Army was born in Section 107. We were a team. He knew we could enable his success, and listened and partnered. Bad logo design feedback from the Army, and a new logo appeared. April 13, 2011 blew everybody away — and we became a global template of what Ownership plus Ultras looked like. The media fought to cover games at Providence Park. Our owner showed us he was committed and brought us Magic. 2015 was something. I still get goosebumps and tears when I think about it.
Fast forward to today. It’s not feeling like a partnership anymore. The MLS is going big, and corporate. Atlanta and LA are the models now. It’s inevitable that we’ll be like the NFL, Serie A, EPL, etc. soon – big dollars to the big markets. The $89M gift of a beautiful remodel of PP (Mike Golub’s a true hero) is part of it.
The question is: Can Portland show how a big MLS future can happen while showing a community-style, values-driven, partnership based on dialogue and collaboration?
Today, I’d say no. The army waves lots of flags — many “political,” many with an obscure history. Now an 88-year-old symbol against fascism (in fact, three forms of totalitarian rule – read your history, people) pops up, we include that in the flag collection. A handful of local anarchists use it as well. (They also use the American flag; better pull that down too, and scarves to keep out the smoke from a goal), and the Front Office says no. Is support of the LGBTQ community not political? This time the Front Office–107ist dialogue is met with the current divisive cultural impasse. And now we’ve replaced the Iron Front with a giant fist. Does anyone in the FO know the political meaning of that? This could have turned out differently. There are many possible paths forward, but none taken.
The letter from the Timbers’ ownership this week was a big disappointment. It was a series of statements without supporting facts. It was irrational on its face and illogical in structure. You can’t ban an anti-fascist symbol and say you are anti-fascist. You can’t allow all of the other clearly political content we display and take this position. Chicago Fire FO said it was OK, but we disrespected their small group of guests last week. It’s our FO’s reading of the MLS rule, not the rule. Sadly, that letter could have outlined the steps to come together with a mutually acceptable solution, and at least left a door open ... But no.
I guess we’ll join the other big stadiums full of fans who like but don’t worship the game, stay seated throughout and leave as soon as we start losing. Just like all the big sports. The magic is gone. Massive bummer, what a shame. I guess we’ll hold onto our season tickets. We’ll be able to make a lot of money from them.
The following is a post from Ina Doerr.
There were murmurs earlier this year about what happened when an Iron Front Portlandia tifo was displayed on May 10, 2019, in B.C. Place before the start of the Vancouver Whitecaps–Portland Timbers match. Vancouver was the first match of the season with tifo by the Timbers Army; an away match, but an important away match — a Cascadian away match.
The murmurs have since been overtaken by the roar of #AUnitedFront, so one could be forgiven for not realizing, or even forgetting about, what that tifo showed us: MLS and, by extension, the Portland Timbers Front Office (FO), fundamentally misunderstands the Iron Front image and sees it as a potential threat to corporate sponsorship and television deals.
Months later and here we are, on the day of another Cascadia match. The league continues to dismiss the supporters groups' concerns about the arbitrary nature of the Code of Conduct. Its commissioner continues to send dog whistles to white supremacist-alt right-nationalists that MLS is a place where money is more important than morals. The FO continues to put out garbled messages with contradictory and misleading information.
People in our community have written wonderful pieces on the history of the Iron Front and its significance in contemporary times. Others have written about the League and FO’s treatment of its most important asset: its supporters.
I encourage you to read their words and find something that resonates with you, helps you better understand the situation, encourages you to donate time or money to just and equitable causes, and prepares you for conversations you never imagined you’d have about three arrows pointed down and to the left.
I urge the league to rescind its ban on flying the Iron Front flag, remove the arbitrary word “political” from its fan code of conduct, and work with international experts on human rights to craft language in the fan code of conduct that reflects and supports radical inclusion and anti-discrimination.
To the players and coaching staff caught in the middle of this battle, who may be feeling awkward not having the full voices and displays of support we usually show you on the pitch, please know that this isn’t about you. It’s about us — all of us.
I leave you with this, and apologies to Ronald Talney for changing the last line:She kneels down, and from the quietness of copper reaches out. We take that stillness into ourselves, and somewhere deep in the earth our breath becomes her city. If she could speak this is what she would say: Follow that breath. Home is the journey we make. This is how the world knows who we are.
The following is a post from Tanya Keith.
I am a Jewish member of Timbers Army. I know I'm not alone, because I had fellow tribe members help me try to light Hanukkah candles in the wind and rain at our MLS Cup Final game in Atlanta. But the rise of antisemitism and antisemitic violence does weigh on me. As we prepare for our son's bar mitzvah, I am more frequently confronted with the fact that my synagogue is always locked due to security concerns. It keeps me up at night" What will this world look like through the lens of synagogue life in a year?
When #AUnitedFront started earlier in August, with the Timbers Army taking a stand against an MLS ban on the antifascist iron front symbol that was all too easily supported by the Timbers Front Office, I waited. As a Jew, I have so many friends that say, "Don't worry, we'll protect you" when the "never again" topic comes up. But I don't really believe them. When your life and the things you love are on the line, will you really stand up for my family against oppression?
What the Timbers Army and away Seattle Sounders supporters did tonight was shout a resounding "Hell yes, we will stand with you" in the quietest possible way. In one of the greatest rivalry games in soccer, our fans and their fans, who typically have no love lost between them, banded together and showed MLS Soccer that we will not back down when the rise of fascism is on the line.
For the first 33 minutes of the match, the stadium sounded more like a Des Moines Menace match than the biggest rivalry in MLS. No flags, no tifo, no singing. ESPN tried to create some sound by cranking up the field mics, but the result was an awkward, uneasy quiet punctuated by players talking and the occasional halfhearted attempt to get a chant started from (I imagine) some white dudes beside themselves in the uncomfortable quiet.
The message was clear. Timbers Army is a huge part of what makes MLS great, and we have always been antifascist. We sing Bella Ciao because of its antifascist history. You can't separate us from who we are.
To my TA family: I love you all. I know you risked getting banned from a game we all love to show support for the Iron Front, but for me, it was so much more than that. I will sleep better tonight knowing that I have an Army behind me, protecting my family from hate and oppression. Your magic is real and I'm so glad to be a part of it.
To Major League Soccer: Your profits are not more important than my family's safety. You talk the big talk about wanting to be more family-friendly ... Well here is your chance. Teach my children that you will stand up to the Faux News bullies that try to make Antifa any more than what we saw tonight: a group of glorious people bravely willing to stand up to hate and fascism.
In closing, here are a few tweets that captured the in stadium experience from awkward silence to the best Timbers Army has ever sounded.
All Quiet: https://twitter.com/jgrawrock/status/1165085528120684544
EBFG United: https://twitter.com/PaulAtkinsonPDX/status/1165084253312307201
The moment the protest ends: https://twitter.com/JBAustin9/status/1165099149236289536
Bella Ciao: https://twitter.com/jgrawrock/status/1165093759626797057
What Antifa actually looks like: https://twitter.com/PaulAtkinsonPDX/status/1165097139602509824
The following is a post by Josh Lawrence.
First... If you haven’t read these, please disregard what I’ve written and skip to these. These are the voices you need to hear.
Nothing personal. It’s just business.
Home. Church. Family.
The bottom line
I was told…
The Nazis didn’t send centrists to Auschwitz. They sent the anti-fascists.
Second ... I’m going to be honest, as I always try to be:
I think the Timbers have done enough in their advocacy for us, as supporters, to speak our mind. I believe that Merritt and the organization are genuinely anti-racist and anti-fascist; at least as much as a rich white man and a business can be. I appreciate their early support of marriage equality, and — what I believe to be their true support for us in their dealings with MLS — to allow us to have anti-fascism signs and banners, and to wear the Iron Front symbol on our clothing. I think that the Iron Front logo ban issue is a tough hill to die on — and right now it indeed does seem like Timbers Army and the Timbers are going to all die on that hill.
You know what else? It doesn’t matter what I think.
You heard me.
I’m a straight white man; tall to boot. It is the definition of privilege to say that I want to keep “politics” out of my stadium, and to think that since the Timbers have “done enough” in this fight that it should be abandoned; that we should just go back to watching soccer, drinking beer, and singing with our friends. I can go my merry way into a sea of people that look mostly like me (Portland in general, and Providence Park, specifically) without worrying whether I am welcomed there. Whether I am safe there. I don’t have to worry when I come back into my country that I’ll be detained at immigration because of the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, my accent, as Román Torres reportedly was. I don’t have to be terrorized by racist comments as I walk the streets of “liberal” Portland, as Andrés Flores’ wife Daniela was. When white supremacists come to my town, hell, I can choose my side. And when white supremacists are elected to high-level positions in our government, I don’t have to be scared that they’ll come for me or for my family. If they do, I can just become one of them, like a good, silent, white German citizen might have done in 1938, as their neighbors were dragged to concentration camps.
I don’t need to see a huge banner with a symbol representing anti-fascism, anti-racism, and anti-totalitarianism when I walk into my soccer stadium, because I can just fold into this crowd of standing screaming mostly white mostly men and become one of them, without thinking twice about why a standing screaming crowd of white men might not be the safest place for me to be, historically speaking.
But I know there are people that do need to see this banner. I’ve read the accounts from people of color, from transgendered folks, from LGBTQ+ community members, and from women, who might never have joined this family without seeing large and outward expressions of welcome and acceptance and support and safety that was prominently flown from our terraces, until it was banned this year by MLS, and by the Timbers and Thorns Front Office, because of its “politics.”
I still have a lot to learn. But I think and hope I’ve learned a lot lately — by reading, by following battles like this one, and by listening. One thing I’ve learned is that I can be an ally by amplifying the voices of those whose voices are historically underrepresented, drowned out, or suppressed. This is why I kneel during the anthem. This is why I try (with mixed results) to shut the fuck up when someone is talking about their experience, especially if it’s different than my privileged white male American life. And this is why I will support Timbers Army to the very end of this fight. I trust and believe in Timbers Army and 107IST. I never thought I’d say this, but I trust and believe in ECS and Gorilla FC in this fight. I trust and believe that they — that WE — are amplifying the voice of those that need this, that deserve this. That we have heard them and listened. I don’t believe that MLS or the Timbers or the Thorns have even asked.
So tonight — you know what? — fuck soccer. I’ll be there in 105 to support my family. That family is my little group in 105. It’s all Howitzers. It’s the whole Army. I’d be honored if I might include our players — Diego Valeri and Jeremy Ebobisse and Zarek Valentin and Andrés Flores and all of them — in that family. And today I’m as surprised as you to say it includes ECS and Gorilla FC.
But I’m heartbroken to say that, today at least, it does not include the Front Office, and it certainly does not include MLS (and probably never will). I’m there tonight to amplify voices that need amplification, because I have a loud voice (literally) and, as a tall white man, I have a loud voice. That voice has been co-opted in the past by Timbers and MLS for marketing; as “atmosphere” for selling tickets and raising prices. That’s not what this voice is for: This voice is to support our players. To yell to the rafters a message of love and support and welcome. To scream my support for any symbol that invites everyone in, whether it’s fucking “political” or not.
If it’s decided tonight that silencing our own co-opted voices sends the right message, I’m in. If we have to kill the “atmosphere” at the expense of our players, but really in support of our players, I’m in. In many ways, we’ve become the product that’s being sold — that is still being marketed, even today — and that’s ok to a point, but not tonight.
“Our sunlight is not for franchise.”
Dear Timbers and MLS,
When you ban a symbol that stands for resistance to oppression, you are siding with the oppressors.
Everything else is just noise.
The following is a post by Mike Coleman.
In Sheba’s excellent blog post, she made a point to discuss the inherent conflicts that can arise from business decisions. I’d like to expand a bit on that and focus on the value of a customer, and why I think MLS and the Timbers are taking some customers for granted while inflating the value of others.
All businesses are built on serving customers, and every business has a variety of customers it’s looking to satisfy. While it may hurt someone’s feelings to hear this, not all customers are created equal. Which customer you value depends entirely on how you want to run your business: Do you want a few customers who shop infrequently but make expensive purchases? Or do you prefer low margins that are offset by a higher frequency of purchases?
At the risk of offending people, at the end of the day each one of us is a customer of MLS. Some of us buy official gear, we watch broadcasts, we visit the web properties, and we attend matches.
In a Yahoo! Sports article today, MLS President Mark Abbot said: “The prohibition on political signage is in place to support the overwhelming majority of MLS fans who come to our stadiums to enjoy a great soccer game ... All of our fans and supporters are important to us and we will continue to engage with them to ensure that we deliver an incredible experience for all.”
I’m going to make a quick aside here that’s not really in the vein of the rest of this post: If you say all fans — and that includes fascists, bigots, and Nazis — you can GTFO right now (and based on what we’ve seen in some stadiums, apparently it does).
MLS is giving equal credence to all fans, but that’s a mistake, because there is a subset of fans — I’ll call them supporters — who are more important to the club than MLS apparently understands.
Let’s go back to a time before I was even really aware of the Timbers. In 2007, Merritt Paulson, through Shortstop LLC, buys the Portland Beavers, and he also gets the Portland Timbers in the deal. Look at that name: Shortstop. Does that name scream, “I am buying a soccer team!”? I can’t pretend to know the true intentions, but that name ...
In any case, Merritt has often said that he was warned about the Timbers Army after buying the club. To his credit, however, he recognized the Timbers Army as an incredible asset. He saw that the atmosphere was just the strategic advantage he needed to draw customers to his new soccer club.
In the end, Merritt goes all in on the Timbers and makes the push to go to MLS. And, who’s his biggest ally in this endeavor? The Timbers Army. People literally quit their jobs to volunteer on MLS2PDX. They showed up at all the council meetings. They lobbied business leaders. They gave everything they had to bring the club they loved to the highest level.
So, the Timbers are headed to MLS, and the Front Office decides they need an awareness campaign to reach people like me; people who didn’t even know the Timbers were still around. Who do they feature on those billboards? The Timbers Army. The same people who volunteered hundreds, if not thousands of hours, helping them reach this point.
“It takes an army to raise a club.” In-fucking-deed.
From my limited history, it really feels like bringing the Cascadia clubs and their supporters into MLS really was an inflection point. MLS featured the Timbers Army, ECS, and Southsiders in all kinds of promotional materials. The sold the league on the backs of the supporters who created an atmosphere unlike anything else in the US and Canada.
I am unsure what MLS would be today without the ability to trade on the work of its supporters. I can tell you this: We’d not have an MLS club today if it weren’t for the work of those Timbers Army members.
But now the league has grown; it has “matured.” Look at the pricing for the new sections added to Providence Park: $3750 for a seat in Tanner Ridge. The cheapest seats in the new section are $1150, making them more expensive than most other “normal” seats.
And who bought those seats? A lot of them went to sponsors and local businesses. These people are the ones who just want “to enjoy a great soccer game.” But, the game isn’t just the 22 men or women on the pitch. No, not even close.
These people also come for the circus. They come for the smoke, the songs, the tifo, the drums, the passion — they come for the same things that still brings goosebumps to my skin and tears to my eyes on a regular basis.
The Timbers have been sold out since 2011, and the Thorns absolutely CRUSH the attendance numbers for women’s soccer teams — and quite a few men’s teams as well. But it’s not because we always field great teams (at least in the case of the Timbers). Why did people still show up when the team wasn’t doing great? Because they wanted the party that the supporters provide.
So, which customer is more valuable? The company that buys four seats in Tanner Ridge to impress their clients? “Hey, Mortimer. Check out the Timbers Army.” “By golly, Randolph, those kids are absolutely bananas!” The folks who sit there to watch the dancing bears as it were?
Or is it the dancing bears themselves? Is it the supporter who doesn’t have $15,000 to write off as a business deduction? They have to save to pay for their tickets — and save they do. And they show up. They show up when the club is winning, and they show up when the club is losing. They show up at their local stadium, and they show up in stadiums across the country. They show up in the downpours, and they show up brutal summer heat.
Rain or shine supporters.
And, let’s be clear: Customers like Mortimer and Randolph are usually pretty easy to deal with. They don’t rock the boat. They don’t ask for much. They want their soccer games fun, devoid of any pesky politics.
They, along with MLS and the Timbers apparently, want us to shut up and sing.
But us? The supporters? We’re not easy to get along with sometimes. We know that this is more than a game, and that the Timbers and Thorns can be more than just clubs. And, we’ll hold the Front Office’s feet to the fire.
I’ll bet any amount of money that if the supporters were to go away and take that beloved atmosphere with them, you’re going to have a much harder time getting Mortimer and Randolph to shell out their money, because you no longer have a differentiated product to sell them: You have a homogeneous corporate sporting event no different from any other league in this country.
Because the clubs and MLS don’t deliver an “incredible experience for all” — the supporters do.
The following is a post by Jack Davis.
What should I do?
Let me begin by stating that I have no right to tell any member of the 107IST what to do. While I am a member, I haven’t really volunteered and I don’t stand in the TA/RCR section. I have met a few of you through various means and interacted with more via Twitter.
Nor am I a member of a group targeted by right-wing nutjobs. I am as WASPy as they come – a straight, white male. I have blue eyes and blond hair for goodness sake. I know I am not a direct subject to the fear and trauma that permeates the discussion around fascism, antifa, etc. At best, I am a tangential member of the TA/RCR community; at worst, a privileged bystander.
So I realize that I have no credibility to guide or advise anyone here. Stipulated. You are free to ignore my thoughts on the key question of the day:
Like many, I am struggling with the options. None of them are really good or satisfying. Boycott? Don’t spend money in Providence Park? Protest sponsors? Give up the Timbers and/or the Thorns? Take up a new hobby? Raise money for select charities?
Realistically, none will be that effective in moving the vast machinery of MLS owners. I keep mulling over the pros and cons of giving up something I love for the cause and wondering would it really change things?
Well, FUCK THAT.
I may be on the fringes of the TA/RCR, but, dammit, I love what this group stands for and creates. And I am not alone. There are thousands of people like me that participate in the PTFC chants, that wave their scarves during OUR national anthem, but for whatever reason don’t stand in the North End. As the tifo said regarding Providence Park, “This place is magical.” And we ALL feel it, no matter where we stand.
I remember several years ago when I told my daughter the story of the Sunshine Goal and Timber Jim, and why “You are My Sunshine” is sung at the 80th minute. She doesn’t even like soccer, but it touched her deeply. She immediately felt the love and support that this community generates. She loves the artistry of the tifos and two-sticks, and she sees a place where all are welcome. My other daughter (the one who plays soccer) sees the Thorns demonstrate daily that women can dominate, be strong, and be celebrated by crowds that most MLS teams would envy. They see every week in the stands and on the TV a raucous, fun, welcoming, politically astute, giving community.
That is what is at stake here: Community.
I know from meeting some of you and interactions on Twitter that for so, so many the TA/RCR is home. It is a place of welcoming, safety, and friendship. It’s a home that so many want and need, and may not even recognize it. But more, it’s a role model for the world, and it shows that practicing diversity, humor, decency, and radical inclusion is the best defense against fascism.
So, what should I do?
I’ll tell you what I want to do: I want to reclaim our heritage. “They” don’t get to define us. I want to reclaim the narrative and put MORE LOVE out into the world. More humor. More wit. More singing, rainbow flag-waving, more support, and more sunshine.
That’s not to say that we stop fighting, protesting, or arguing for what we believe. The stakes are too high. But while doing so in each of our own way, remember to put positive energy into the universe. Defend this place! Because people need it — and others need to know it’s out there.
I need it. My daughters need it, and those we oppose need to see it.
Be a beacon. Be a symbol. Get stuck in.
I intend to do more. Let me know how I can help.
The following is a post from Sheba Rawson.
I have been struggling to come to terms with what has happened between the supporters I love and the front office of the team I love. How did we get to this place? Why are we in such a contentious space — all over a flag with a circle and three arrows on it?
On its face, it seems absurd. As a 107IST board member since 2011, I’ve had the privilege of working with the same small core of front office members. Over the years, we have had a mostly positive working relationship. They are good humans; I believe that on a personal level they do generally share our ethos in the sense that I firmly believe they are opposed to racism, fascism, white nationalism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia. And given the current political climate, I’m sure they agree, generally speaking, that there are horrifying things happening out there in the wide world that they oppose. Hate crimes against LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants, and people of color are on the rise. Children are being separated from their parents at the border and put in cages under horrific conditions. Hate groups march in our very own streets. They agree that a philosophy that relies on nationalism, racism, rejection of the other, and silencing of dissent is abhorrent. And yet they refuse to let us fly a flag that is the very symbol of resistance to those beliefs.
How did we get here?
As I reflected and tried to wrap my brain around it, I thought about the working relationship we as 107IST board members and the front office have had over the years. It has mostly been positive and productive, especially when we focus on things that we both have in common: We want the men (and since 2013, the women) on the pitch to be successful, and we both care about the community. When we focus on those things, we generally get a lot done. Look at the front office work with Operation Pitch Invasion. Look at the space we have built, grown, and preserved over time in the stadium to provide passionate support for our teams, with smoke, tifo, drums, trumpets, and flags. These things work best when we are of common purpose. We are extremely grateful to have such a positive working relationship. It allows both the club and the supporters to work together toward unprecedented success.
Then I thought about the times we have had our run-ins. The time very early in our MLS history that the front office sold a front office scarf with “No Pity” on it. The time that people popped flares in Rio Tinto and received match bans at home, while at the same time MLS used a picture of the spectacle in the stands in their marketing. The time several years back when the front office briefly floated the idea of carving out a slice of the North End to be reserved seats. The time a couple of years back that a front office line of clothing came out with a couple of items that looked uncomfortably close to items from our own No Pity Originals line.
And then it hit me: Nearly every time we have gone sideways with the front office, it is because — even though we both love our teams and love our town — there are times when we do not share common purpose.
Our purpose is to be the greatest football supporters the world has ever seen. We support soccer in and around Portland, from the grassroots to the highest professional level. And we support Team, Town, and Timbers Army & Riveters.
But the teams themselves — the Timbers and the Thorns — are businesses. Their purpose is to operate in such a way so that they can remain in business.
These purposes do not always align. Each purpose has merit, and often, the two overlap in wonderfully satisfying ways. But sometimes, as now, they do not.
I am grateful for their existence: If they hadn’t been here when they were, the USL Timbers might have ceased to exist. Their purpose — and there is no shame in their freely admitting this — is to make a profit.
And you know what? Sometimes that purpose is at odds with ours, which is totally normal and to be expected. There will always be times when a business owner or business group sees a way to maximize short-term profits that may or may not coincide with the interests of the people who frequent that business. That is when we as supporters feel the rub, and that is when we get into hard spaces that we have to work our way out of in order to get back to the strong, solid, common ground we have, which is supporting the teams and the town.
When I thought about it THAT way, it strangely hurt a lot less.
This isn’t personal, Sheba. It’s just business.
The most obvious evidence of this when it comes to the Iron Front symbol is that it is perfectly acceptable to wear on one’s person in the stadium, just don’t fly it on a flag or hold it up on a banner. The official statement Monday made this point crystal clear to me:
For obvious reasons banners and signs are widely visible to the broader stadium and television audience and thusly fall under a different set of guidelines.
For obvious reasons banners and signs are widely visible to the broader stadium and television audience and thusly fall under a different set of guidelines.
“Obvious reasons.” What could those “obvious reasons” possibly be?
There’s only one answer: television audiences. You can’t easily discern the Iron Front logo on a T-shirt on your TV screen at home or at the local sports bar, but you can definitely make it out on a 9x12 flag waving in the stands.
And when you think of it that way, all the rest of the noise falls away. Clearly, the front office and/or the league has decided that it is bad for business to have the Iron Front image visible on TV. What led to that decision? Who knows. Maybe some right-wing owner or league business partner saw the flag waving in some B-roll of the Timbers Army used in some MLS commercial and vaguely remembered it from some Fox News scare piece he’d seen. Maybe somebody pointed it out to some owner or league official when Seattle folks got booted for flying their “Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist, Always Seattle” banner in Vancouver awhile back. Whatever the reason, sometime between 2017 and 2018 somebody with money saw that flag flying in our stands, and they didn’t like it. And at that point the league, and by extension our front office, had to make a business decision — and that is exactly what the Iron Front flag ban clearly is.
Here’s the thing about business decisions: They are usually gambles, based on predictions of how the market will react. I don’t envy business people. They have to make tough calls all the time. Will the public buy more of our product if we do x as opposed to y? How much should I invest in the business in the short term in hopes of yielding a bigger return later? Is this the right price point? How do I appeal to the widest audience?
Here’s the other thing about business decisions: If they look like they are wrong, you can always reverse them, because they aren’t actually based on moral principles. They are based on what is best for the bottom line. And again, there is no shame in a business admitting that this is what they do.
Once I thought of the Iron Front decision in this light, it was a lot easier to think it through. The decision to not allow the flag to fly didn’t have to have anything to do with deeply held moral values (though I do believe the individuals working in the front office hold strong, positive moral values): This was about the bottom line. Someone somewhere thinks that flying the Iron Front flag is bad for business.
And if that is true, then our course of action is also clear.
Look, I LOVE working with the front office on behalf of supporters. Our front office is TREMENDOUS to work with. They have afforded us opportunities that few supporter groups can claim. Opportunity to set up pretty complicated riggings for tifo. Smoke. Drums. Trumpets. Capo stands. And, most importantly, a good-sized chunk of the stadium that is general admission, which allows for new folks to be welcomed in with friends, to learn chants and song alongside more experienced people, to learn to love the game alongside its most ardent supporters, and to become Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters. To Get. Stuck In.
So. YES. THANK YOU, front office, for being a tremendous business partner to work with.
But you know what?
We are pretty fucking tremendous SUPPORTERS to work with.
We provide the front office with the most organized supporters the league has ever seen. Other front offices from around the league and even in other major league sports come to us to ask how to get the kind of supporters our front office has. We are legion. We are passionate. We are dedicated. We are inclusive. We get it done — in the stands and on the streets. Our support is second to none.
And you know what? We are GOOD FOR BUSINESS. And that is okay with me ... as long as it also aligns with our ethos and with our mission.
Here’s where I think our front office really went wrong on this one: They simply made a bad business decision. They assumed that a mere symbol on a flag could be taken away with very little business cost from us, in exchange for money, goodwill, whatever it was from whoever in the league or its partners was offended by the image on the screen.
When we get into these tight spots, it is not unusual for one of the folks in the front office to shout in exasperation something like: “Would you like to be working with [horrible MLS ownership group] instead?” And my (usually unstated) response is: “No, of course not. Would you rather be working with [horrible MLS supporter group] instead?”
And if this is a business decision with which we disagree, our course of action is simple: Persuade the front office that this is a bad business decision so that they can change course. There are several ways to do this, of course, including refusing to purchase food and beverages in the stadium, refusing season ticket renewals, and the like. These might or might not make a dent in a stadium that has a waiting list in the thousands for season tickets.
But the biggest reason we are such an amazing business asset for this club is our passionate support in the stands.
We joke about being part of MLS marketing. How crowd shots of the Timbers Army are used in ad campaigns for tournaments we aren’t even in. We know that our passion is good for business.
So if our ethos is only worth supporting when it’s good for business, let’s make sure that not supporting our ethos is bad for business. You want to silence us in the stands? Fine. Let’s show them what silence sounds like. You want to reign in our visual displays in the stands? Fine. Let’s show them what that looks like. You want to control the message of those full, raucous stands? Fine. We'll show you what an empty stand looks like. I’m pretty sure they won’t like what they see.
I hate that we are having to go down this road. But if this is just a business, we have to treat it like one. And that breaks my heart just a little. I always thought we were Més Que Un Club, but maybe I was mistaken. Come on, Timbers front office. Prove me wrong. Please.