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August 31st, 2011 JONATHAN CROWL | Cover Story
 

Gang Green

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


Goldman-Armstrong and seven compatriots were banned from the stadium for a year after protesting the team’s lousy 2006 season by lighting flares at the final home game. He watched the following season from atop ladders across Southwest 18th Avenue. 

Thousands of people who perhaps had never been to a Timbers game before now call themselves members of the Army. Many flock to Section 107 behind the north goal, which Timbers Army veterans refer to as the tourist section.

“There’s definitely a little bit of, ‘Who the hell are these people?’” Goldman-Armstrong says. “All of these people, they seem to think that they can just show up and come right down in front and save seats.… It’s like, no, I’ve been standing here for the last 10 years.”

That sums up many Army members’ views of the fans only now discovering the Timbers: We were here first.

They feel that way about the owners, too.

The original hardcore supporters in 2001 numbered less than a few dozen. They called themselves the Cascade Rangers and gathered in Section 107—later renaming themselves to dispel association with the Glasgow Rangers of the Scottish Premier League. 

Everything about the Army got bigger: its size, volume and renegade attitude. Timbers owners tried to squash it. They failed.

Take the way past owners tried to deal with what the Army calls “YSA.” When opposing keepers strike goal kicks, the Army would yell, “You suck, asshole!”

In 2005, the front office tried to ban profanities and spread leaflets around Section 107 warning the Army against foul language. At one point the team sent security guards to surround Section 107 as a warning. The 1,000 or so Army members abandoned 107 and spread out around the stadium; 107 sat virtually empty as the Army cheers continued, mocking the befuddled owners.
IMAGE: Jacob Garcia

The protest emboldened many Army leaders. It taught them they had more power than they realized, and they used it to influence the current owner, Merritt Paulson.

Paulson arrived in 2007 with two things every sports team owner should have: a love for sports and a lot of money. A Harvard MBA, Paulson worked for the National Basketball Association for five years before forming Peregrine Sports LLC with his father. 

That would be Henry “Hank” Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs and U.S. Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush. The elder Paulson is best known for trying to fend off the nation’s 2008 financial meltdown. According to a 2010 Forbes article, he’s worth $700 million.

It took a few good bruisings before Merritt Paulson learned his lesson with the Army. 

Roger Levesque plays for the rival Seattle Sounders and is widely reviled by the Army. But Paulson saw no problem inviting Levesque to play for one match in a Timbers jersey during a friendly against Toronto FC in October 2007. Army members spray-painted a huge sign that read, “Real Fans Hate Levesque.” Security officials tried to take it down; it just reappeared elsewhere in the North End. After the game, Paulson ran toward the Army’s sections and yelled, “What’s the matter with you guys?”

This failure to understand what the Army considers to be tradition at the games has caused the most problems—and strengthened the Army’s muscle.

The Timbers won promotion to MLS in 2009 and unveiled their official logo at a team-sponsored celebration in June 2010 at Director Park; the stylized ax sent Army members into paroxysms. The design looked too cartoonish and fancified, and violated the sense of history and humility of the simple, dignified logos of the past. The event was a fiasco: Scores of Timbers Army members drowned out everyone else by chanting, “You fucked up! You fucked up!”

Paulson at first responded defensively and defiantly. But he quickly gave in and settled on a plainer logo.

He says he’s learned. The redesign of Jeld-Wen was done in consultation with the Army; it includes stages in front of the North End seats for capos, the Army’s yell leaders. In turn, Army officials agreed to discourage profanity—namely, YSA. But at least once a game, the Army bellows out a repeated chant heard for blocks beyond Jeld-Wen: “We are green, we are white, we are fucking dynamite!”

The Army went corporate in 2009. It might seem a contradiction in terms for an anarchistic group that for years rejected the idea of having a hierarchy. “Some people wanted to mold the fan culture [in the early days], but we let the group grow organically,” says Steven Lenhart, a founding member. “After the MLS announcement, people knew it was time to have something directing the path, making sure [the Army] stayed true to its roots.”

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