So What If We Suck?
It’s sad to say that the #SWIWS (So What If We Suck) hashtag has found itself attached to the #RCTID one on more than a few occasions this year as the Timbers have found the going tough in their second year of MLS.
The sentiment is well-meaning. It’s basically “we’ll support you ever more”. Yeah, we suck, so what? We still love the club.
I get all that, and I appreciate it, I really do, and yet I hate it.
So what if we suck? It’s fucking shit to suck, that’s so what!
I don’t expect the team to win every game and, to be honest, as much as I want us to, if we did it would probably bore me to tears. You need the agony to truly appreciate the ecstasy.
So it’s not all about the glory, but, still, fuck this #SWIWS sentiment. I give the team my absolute support when I’m in the ground. I sing, I cheer, I hug random strangers when we score. The Timbers Army sing their support of the club, no matter what. There was no better example of the Army’s dedication to the cause than the way they drove the side on despite finding themselves 4-1 before half time in the LA game.
So What… even if the sentiment is right, just doesn’t sit right with me. It carries a “oh well, doesn’t really matter” connotation, but football does matter to me. Okay, it’s not life or death, but it’s a passion of mine, and it’s something I put a lot of myself in to. I’m not obsessive, though my wife might disagree when she’s asking me why I’m watching a random German football game, but this stuff matters.
So I care that we suck, and I don’t like it. I want better. As I said, I appreciate the sentiment and don’t mean to offend those that use it, but my unwavering support for the club is summed up perfectly by RCTID – Rose City Till I Die – it doesn’t mean I have to acquiesce to having the team playing poorly.
Despite a Season of Suck the club announced that there were 7,000 fans currently on the season ticket waiting list – a staggering number, especially as the club struggle on through a torrid season. There’s certainly no question that these fans are seeking to attach themselves to a winning team!
No, it’s seems it’s rather more that they want to attach themselves to the Timbers Army.
There’s a phrase to describe this phenomena – Basking In Reflecting Glory, or BIRGing, for short.
I grew up in a town where I could see the relative supports for the big Glasgow clubs wax and wane depending on whichever was doing better at the time. I never did understand that mentality. Gloryhunting, us fans of local, not so successful, clubs would call it.
There’s certainly no way that thousands are lining up to support the Timbers on the basis of the reflected glory cast by the exploits of the team.
Yet, even as the team on the pitch has flirted with disaster, winked at calamity and rounded third-base with misery, the fans continue to garner positive headlines both for their unwavering support in the stands, and tireless community work.
Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that Army?
Who wouldn’t want to bask in that glory?
Some fans, in a conspiratorial mood, have drawn from the release of an increase in waiting list figures an inference that a season ticket price rise is on the way. I mean, after all, if you’re not willing to stump up for a pay hike on your ticket, then someone else surely will. It’s the first step on a path towards a “supply and demand” argument with regards to ticket prices.
This, taken with a loose (obviously since deleted, but undoubtedly screencapped somewhere) tweet from club owner Merritt Paulson about General Admission vs Assigned Seating in the North End, as well as complaints by some fans about chaotic lines to get into the ground on game day, has fostered a burgeoning Them vs Us attitude. Battle lines are being drawn, with the purity and tradition of the Timbers Army at stake.
The GA debate rages on and off on twitter and facebook, as well as the various Timbers forums. As every MLS match gets sold out, and the prestige of the Army shows no sign of abating, it’s little wonder than more new fans are being drawn to it like moths to a flame, and this creates problems that supporters groups are continually working hard to put right, without having to resort to assigned seating.
Assigned seating, critics argue, would rob the Army of something integral. It takes away that spirit of freedom and flexibility.
Besides which, the rest of the ground is Assigned Seating. The option is there for those that want it. My wife, after experiencing the lines for the Vancouver match was adamant that if we got tickets for the Seattle match, they had to be assigned. Fortunately we were able to scored tickets for the West with friends, and so avoided a long wait in line and no chance of a spot in the “prestige” lower sections – besides which, we sat up in the 200s for the Whitecaps, and enjoyed it just fine.
So the arguments for and against carry on, while the club itself continues to deny any move away from General Admission. For some the answer is to install Safe Standing in the North End, on the model used in Europe. It’s a hybrid system that allows the club to increase capacity, while maintaining seating should it be needed for whatever reason, such as a non-football event.
Speaking as someone who grew up with terracing, before all-seated stadia became a legal requirement in Scotland, I found standing with the TA a reminder of just how much fun going to the game could be. Standing at the game is almost a primordial thing. I’d lost touch with that sense of tribal belonging in the years I’d been sitting in the cramped stands at Rugby Park.
It may well be that all this talk of Assigned Seating and Price Rises is nothing more than hot air. Or it way turn out that the waters are being tested after all. Given that there’s little good news to grab on to on the field, the stuff off it tends to get magnified and over-analysed in a way it wouldn’t if the team were doing the business.
A season and a half on from their MLS debut, the Timbers continue to be overshadowed by the Army. The attention and recognition were nice for a while, but even the most ardent fan was going to tire eventually of every Timbers story having to shoehorn some kind of tenuous Army angle into it.
And there are only so many patronising head pats anyone can take.
It’s a symbiotic relationship – there would be no club without the fans, and there would be no fans without the club. It’s about time the club started pulling it’s weight.
I’m probably not the guy to pontificate too long on the subject of the Timbers Army. My first live match was only last year, the 3-3 draw with New York. Though, in my defence, I would point out that the commute from Scotland to Portland is a bit of a tricky one.
There are folks who have been TA from back before I could even point to Oregon on a map, never mind tell you the name of Portland’s top club. So, it’s to those guys and girls that I defer.
My tuppence worth though would be that the Army, and the Timbers faithful in general, have something special going on, and when you have something precious like that, it’s should be nurtured. It’s not just about bending to the Army’s every whim – at the end of the day the club has to function as a business – but finding that balance where the Front Office are able to service the growing number of wannabe supporters, while maintaining the unique atmosphere that the North End bring each and every match has to be paramount.
I hope that General Admission stays, and that the price are kept relatively low. I makes is affordable to all who want to sample it, and gives the North End a special kind of buzz that would be lost if the stadium went entirely Assigned Seating. I say that as someone who hasn’t got a season ticket yet, and have long wait ahead of me to get one, but so be it.
There are lots of supporters groups in MLS, but there is only one Army.
The support still grows and BIRGers, and late adopters, want to be a part of something wonderful.
And who knows, maybe one day they’ll want to be bask in the reflected glory of what happens where it truly matters – on the pitch.
No sooner did I post this than there was a post on the Timbers Army sight about the importance of General Admission. They obviously have a lot more authority on the subject that I do, so go check it out if you haven’t already.