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August 31st, 2011 12:01 am JONATHAN CROWL | Cover Story

Gang Green

The Timbers Army is rowdy, raucous and rebellious. It also wields enormous power.

After years of bad-boy (and bad-girl) behavior, the Army has become one of the most powerful forces in Oregon sports and one of the most influential sports supporters groups in the nation. “The Army is not the first, but they are arguably the biggest,” says Zach Dundas, a sports journalist and author of The Renegade Sportsman (and a former WW writer). “They’ve taken a pioneering role.”The Army has turned this power into financial strength. It’s taken in more than $200,000 so far this year from a savvy ticket deal with the team, membership dues and its own line of merchandise—all run through a behind-the-scenes corporate structure called the 107 Independent Supporters Trust, better known as the 107ist, named for the stadium section where the Army got its start.

The Army has in some ways eclipsed the image of the team itself and is better known than most of the players. At least one former player tells WW that some members of the current team recognize the Army’s clout and question whether Paulson and the front office have granted the Army too much influence.

And not everyone finds the nonstop singing and chanting all that charming. While less profane now than in their early years, Army members still send F-bombs booming through Jeld-Wen. And it can often feel as if the experience at the stadium belongs foremost to the Army; everyone else is just being allowed to sit in.

The question for the Timbers remains how much clout they leave in the Army’s hands if—or when—other fans trail away after the shine comes off the team.

“The emotional relationship of the fans with the club is primarily a social phenomenon,” says Sean Hamil, a sports business expert at the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre in London. “The consumer relationship is all a function of this emotional relationship with the team, and you can manufacture that, and that’s really what you’re doing [with supporters groups].

“It makes sense [for clubs] to develop that fan equity because it means you’ll build a loyal fan base, but you lose a certain amount of control as well.”

FRONT MAN: Abram Goldman-Armstrong
has been supporting the team since 2001.
IMAGE: Jacob Garcia
Abram Goldman-Armstrong is punk rock from head to toe. A Timbers Army regular since 2001, Goldman-Armstrong has jet black hair that runs down into thick sideburns that reach his jaw. He wears black work shoes with plaid shorts, a leather-and-metal wristband on his right arm, and a Timbers sweatband on his left.

“That’s been part of the identity the whole time, the whole punk-rock aspect of it,” Goldman-Armstrong says. “[Now] I think there’s a lot of aspiration to it by some of the newer fans who don’t necessarily come from the music scene at all—it’s just part of what they associate with going to a soccer game.”

He’s originally from a farm outside Yamhill. But a slight Irish accent colors Goldman-Armstrong’s words even 13 years after he studied abroad at University College Cork, where he fell in love with supporters culture by following Cork City F.C. of the League of Ireland. He works salvaging building materials and writes a column for Northwest Brewing News.

Goldman-Armstrong has anchored his spot in the front row of Section 107 since the Timbers joined the United Soccer Leagues 10 years ago. He’s easily recognized by many Portlanders from being featured in the Timbers’ billboard campaign this year promoting the team’s move to MLS.

IMAGE: Jacob Garcia

If its antics cut against the grain of Portland’s famous politeness, the Army reflects a subculture of the city’s young who could easily be walk-ons in Portlandia. (One Army leader says he’s heard the IFC series that spoofs the city is eyeing an episode about the group.)

Goldman-Armstrong says soccer in America has long suffered from family-friendly marketing campaigns that misjudge the demographic most likely to embrace the sport.

“Basically, your typical American ownership group looked at [soccer] as, ‘Oh, that’s for soccer moms and suburbanites,’” he says. “We didn’t fit into what they had in mind.”

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