Derbies are essential in the formation of football identities. In the US, where the game has faced a plethora of obstacles, the Portland-Seattle rivalry has gained unprecedented popularity. Most football fans are familiar with the great Derbies of Europe and South America. Titles such as Derby Della Capitale, El Clasico, and Argentina’s Superclasico, are permanently imbued into the collective memory football fans. However, few are aware that in the far corner of Northwestern United States, there is a fixture that embodies the underrated legacy of football in North America.
The Great North Western Derby between the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders is the most exciting match MLS has to offer. Last time we were in Seattle, the fans told us that we had to come back from the derby if we wanted to really learn about their club. So we did just that!
In this special North American edition of Derby Days, Eli starts things off by meeting the Sounders fans, and goes to check out a Sounders 2 match; a 20% fan owned club. We then head to Portland where we come across some remarkable characters such as Timber Jim, and former Sounders star Rodger Levesque. The Timbers Army tell us about the credo of the three T’s; Team, Town, and Timbers. This episode was made particularly special by the incredible access to the Timbers Army TIFO making process, as well as some spectacular match day footage.
We sat down with Derby Days host and COPA90 producer, Eli Mengem to talk about Supporters Culture in North America, and how it compares to the other fan groups he has met across the world.
What do you think of North American Supporters Culture?
I think North American Supporters Culture is an incredibly vibrant, flourishing movement that has a huge future ahead of it once the next generation of educated American sports fans start getting involved.
How do other fans in Europe view this fan culture?
Initially I think American Supporters culture was viewed with a little bit of disdain from other fans in Europe, and looking into the history of sports in the States I think that’s understandable. Things are changing however, and almost year by year now American ‘Soccer’ Supporters are becoming a respected force in football culture conversations worldwide. How could they not with the huge numbers they have taken to both The World Cup and Women’s World Cup, as well as the scenes that are being created in the MLS with the Portland Derby.
What are their misconceptions?
That Americans don’t care, and if they do its just a fad. I can assure you its not. When we were in Portland there were fans lining up three days prior to the match just to assure tickets for the Active supporter sections. And remember this is a club that has been around since 1974, longer than PSG!
What makes the Timbers Army so unique?
Where do you begin? Their stadium, perhaps the most unique I’ve ever seen, their Clubhouse named after the German term “FanLaden” , their incredibly creative supporter made apparel, their dedication to choreography, and their use of celebrating the region’s timber heritage with the most unique mascot in history, Timber Jim.
What do you think the rest of the world can learn from the fan scene in the American North West?
I think what the rest of the world could learn is that fan bases should be based on club allegiances and that’s all. What I noted about Portland and Seattle was, whilst both were distinct rival with their own customs and celebrations of their region (Portland with their Lumberjack trade, Seattle with their affinity to the Wizard of OZ) both were united in their passion for including all members of their region, be it Gay, straight, white black, Latino or anything in between. In return members of those more marginalized community provided a unique and healthy contribution to the support in the terraces.
Too often I’ve come across fan bases in Europe celebrating their club and region unity without including the above groups as included. If these fan bases could witness what their missing out on, and realize that passion for a team is passion regardless of colour, race, or sexual orientation, I think they’d be a lot better off, as football clubs, and human beings.