The time has come for me to make a major decision and, as usual, I am indecisive. No matter what I do, I know that I will be unhappy with my decision. I could take the glass half full approach and think of whatever decision I make as a win, either way, but I dumped that glass over a long time ago.
When the Portland Timbers were resurrected and brought back to PGE Park (Civic Stadium) in 2001 after 20 years or so of dormancy, I became obsessed with the idea of going to every home match. After all, I have blurry, early memories of sitting in Civic Stadium during the 70s with the sun beating down, holding up a Timbers sign that my dad had made. On one side, the sign had a Timbers logo drawn on it by his professional artists’ hand, while the other side contained the then not so old phrase “Rip City,” for our very rare attendance at Trail Blazers’ games. I’d like to believe with my revisionist memory that at a few of those Timbers matches that I was chanting alongside my mom a chorus of “F-U! F-U-C! F-U-C- (you can guess where this is going)!” at the red bastard refs. I know better. My only real memory of the matches was sitting on the east side in the burning summer afternoon heat, blinded by the sun and pretty much distracted by anything besides the action on the field, like most kids under 10. At any rate, the announcement came that the Timbers would be brought back from the ashes in the spring of 2001, so Jeff and I prepared ourselves by playing as a team on Playstation’s FIFA 2K every day with the fouls turned off, until we were beating our electronic opponent by scores of 30-0. Then we would head over to the Matador on Burnside, drink some beer, and discuss the perfect bicycle kick and come up with our new soccer lingo. When the season finally came around in early May of 2001 against the dreaded Seattle Sounders (Shittle Flounders), 12,000+ fans were there to greet our long dormant rivalry with fire and vigor. My friends and I found ourselves sitting in the “Lucky Row,” (a practice they abandoned immediately after this match) so we were gifted with a bunch of free hot dogs and the Timbers crushed the Flounders 2-nil. All of us, well, most of us, were hooked (I don’t remember who all was there to be honest. I know I bought a huge pile of tickets at the box office the day prior.)! Then, a few weeks later, the A League Timbers beat up on San Jose, the defending MLS champs in a downpour. The team came out with fire - especially Sancho (“There’s only one Sancho! Sancho!”), our Trinidad hero, who was knocking opponents down on the shitty slippery field turf at Piggy and generally kicking ass and making life difficult for the supposedly superior opponent. That was the game where I fell in love with going to these matches.
From 2001 till a post-season “friendly” in 2010, I only missed one home match. That sole match was the first home playoff against Charlotte in September 2001 due to a kidney surgery that I could not postpone. I, along with my crew, became fixtures in Section 107 (the Shed) directly behind the north end goal. We were around with the Cascade Rangers through to the Timbers Army, as we would proudly hail the feverish power of the 400 strong that we would bring. I made every match, no matter what. That second season found me racing via Tri-Met from the dialysis clinic in the upstairs of the Red Cross building just over the Fremont Bridge to PGE Park to get to the match before the end of the first half. It didn’t matter that my blood pressure would only be 80/40 and that the bandages barely containing my bulging fistula was soaked red with blood. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t stand in 107 because I was too weak. I would be there with my friends and we would root on our team.
So, why is it that once the A League/USL Timbers became an official Major League team in 2011, has my passion dwindled? Why is it that I willingly gave away my ticket to friends every so often as the season wore on during that first season? Why is it that the dream I once had, so long ago, of a packed sold out boisterous stadium coming true hasn’t sparked more excitement inside me? I used to head to the box office before nearly every match to buy extra tickets for friends, co-workers, friends of friends, family, to bring along to the matches because I knew that once they experienced a match, and the pre and post game festivities, that they would understand the joy and the pure spectacle of being there. That’s all it would take. The “Oh, I don’t really like soccer,” excuse would never hold true. This is how the Army grew. It was all of us spreading the word and bringing the enthusiasm. It was Roberto’s hilarious Tales from the Shed that would appear after every match on the web with stories of the matches and occasional updates about his neighbor “Thong Man.” There was the ‘zine Ax to the Head, which would be dispersed at matches, which was also filled with humor and incisive wit. But mostly, it was those players who played with grit and passion and determination. Who could ever forget players like Gordon, Byron Alverez, the fast sprinting Alcarez, Lord Tennyson, Sancho, the ever-scoreless Brian Winters (who the Ax to the Head once proclaimed that he “is prohibited from scoring due to an ancient gypsy curse. Should he ever put the ball in the net, the country of Yemen would spontaneously implode.”), Napoleon, Tommy Potl, Fadi Afash, the poetic Scot Thompson (S-C-O-T! Scot with one T”) the ridiculous Chugger Adair and the now controversial GM Gavin Wilkinson? And, of course, there’s amazing and legendary Timber Jim, even though Jeff drank his beer at the Bullpen one time by accident. Who could ever forget the pathetic attempt at a mascot that team management tried to introduce for a few seasons - some sort of furry, sad beast that the Shed coined as the Monkey? It would quietly wander around aimlessly scaring young children before standing near the gang in 107, only to be chanted at threateningly with a “Chainsaw the Monkey” refrain. These were good times. We’ve seen our some of our cohorts work together to help the community, help each other through trying times, and even happy marriages come out of this scene. We’ve attended a match with a huge crowd as the starting point for Ryan’s Bachelor Party (6-1!), only to find ourselves back there a few nights later in our suits after his wedding for another match that ended with a rousing victory of 6-0!
Going into the 2012 season, after a personally bleak effort at supporting my squad, I decided to recommit myself. That first year the Timbers were an MLS team, I found myself with one season ticket in the Timbers Army/General Admission section. What I did not realize at the time of renewing then was that none of the core of my personal gang was going to join me for a variety of reasons. What I also didn’t realize, or consider at the time, is that with the stadium sold out for every match, I’d have to show up over an hour early to find a place to be. This was a shock to the system. I was used to showing up to matches just as the game was kicking off – wandering down to my spot with my close friends – and jumping into the fray. None of these things were a part of that first season. I felt like an outsider. Sure, I’d occasionally run into the old acquaintance from the early days, but only in passing. It was all too massive for me. I loved the thrill of seeing the old stadium packed and the newest remodel looked great, and I was excited that this was now truly MAJOR league, but I wasn’t enjoying it as much. I found myself handing off the ticket to co-workers fairly frequently, just because I didn’t want to bother anymore - thus, the recommit. This season, I grabbed the chance to purchase a second set of season tickets. I was able to now bring a friend with me to every match. The only thing is I still haven’t made every match. It has all been much more enjoyable and fun to share the experience once again, but surprisingly, it’s not always easy to find people free. Also, I seem to be much busier all the time. I have been out of town for a few games. I have chosen to spend time with family and friends away from town, when the opportunities have arisen, as opposed to scrapping an entire weekend (and that damn extra hour to hour and a half) just to go to a match. Besides, who wants to hang out with me that long – sitting around doing nothing and drinking really overpriced beer, while we watch the scoreboard count down from 70 minutes to zero, before resetting back to 20 more minutes? And I hate to say it, but how many more years can I get into chanting the same damn chants over and over after hearing most of them for the last 12 years? Why have I had to defend myself for not joining in on chants that I dislike or am simply sick to death of, while a bunch of self-professed “capos” stand facing the rest of us leading the endless chants without watching a lick of the match? Sorry, everybody, but I’ve been there and done that (and I’d rather not get into my feelings on the use of the word “capo”). Having the Timbers Army become an actual organizational entity in recent years, as opposed to the loose collection of oddballs and intellectuals it always was, has been fantastic in many ways. The charitable work that gets done is heartwarming and amazing, but much of the fun feels as though it’s been sucked out of it. It’s become politicized and cumbersome and somewhat unwelcoming at times. Don’t get me wrong, I still love going to the matches and live and die with every bit of action as it ebbs and flows up and down the pitch. It’s just that everything outside of the actual game has become more of a chore. Have I worn myself out? Has it been too many years of disappointment with the season ending results? Maybe that final USL playoff loss in the fall of 2010, after the Timbers dominated the regular season, when the team was wiped out yet again, took a larger toll on me than I realize. It was tough to take, as has much of this season.
It is time to think about renewing. My ticket guy has called and left messages, emails have been sent and I received a damn bill for next season’s total. It has a due date! I found this highly unnecessary. It was going to be an actual decision that I would have to make this season regarding renewing, but sending a bill certainly didn’t warm my heart or entice me to reach for my credit card. Now that the season tickets are three times more expensive than what I used to spend up through 2010 and now that I am stuck with a pair of tickets, turning that into six times the cost, I am at a crossroad. I could use that money. It is getting too expensive for me, especially if I am not going to be attending all of the matches, but I don’t want to lose my spot. There are supposed to be something like 6,000 people on the season ticket waiting list. If I drop out now, then I would be out of luck down the road. If this is a temporary lull in my passion for the games, I don’t want to lose my place when that fire returns to my gut. I am exploring finding some of my old cohorts to join me and take over that second ticket, but if this doesn’t happen, I think this may be the end of my days as a season ticket holder. It pains me to even think that, but it could be time. I do not know why my desire for all of this has waned, despite my continual internal arguments for and against. Maybe it is time to let someone else get their turn at the matches to experience the amazing display, while I tune in on TV somewhere instead.