|The Sunshine Flag from back in the day. A long time ago in a section far away.|
The time was 2005 and the English club Sunderland, just promoted to the Premiership after a long dry spell, was completing the Cascadia trifecta for their preseason training. With all 3 clubs still in the USL, it was quite the tour in late June to start in Canada with the Whitecaps, venture south for a visit in Flounderville to then finish in the Rose City. I remember July 23 greatly as Obi and I started our day with breakfast at the Kingston at 8 AM followed by a full tour of the neighborhood all day before the match. While the game itself ended in a scoreless draw, the atmosphere was electric and the attendance was one of the bigger crowds all year. Little did I know that meeting these soccer loving folks from Northern England would change my life so much over the years in the process.
|My collective of 107ist cards. Yeah, I have a few.|
We talk a lot about knowing your history, and in Gary's recent email to me, he wanted to share the details of their football tour from their perspective in all 3 cities. For those lucky enough to be part of the Timbers and the Army at that point, it might bring back some memories of a really fun, but tiring weekend. For those that weren't part of this, this tale reminds me so much of embracing the experience of being a soccer supporter and sharing the love of the game with others. Bonding over the love of soccer is one of the true passions of the game, and while Gary's tale is long, it's rich with commentary about our city and fans with some digs about out friends up north. My hope is that this year, I take some time to share these historical stories from my perspective. As much as events get talked about, it's also important to write about them and share the experience, too. Here is Gary's tale in his own words, enjoy!
THE GREATEST FOOTBALL TOUR, EVER!!!
Our club announced that our 2005 pre-season tour would be in on the North West coast of Canada & the USA, taking in games at Wankcouver, Shittle & Portland. As soon as the details were released, flight & travel arrangements were sorted within a few days, and everyone was looking forward to another new adventure.
The rest of our party were flying direct to Vancouver, but I had to fly to Dallas first to accompany a friend (Fraser) who is shit scared of flying. With great planning Fraser & I arrived in Vancouver, just a few hours before the rest of our party, and we all headed straight down to the car-hire desk to pick up the 10 seater mini-bus, so we could get to our hotel.
Prior to leaving the UK I had booked all our hotels through the Ramada Hotel chain, and searched for info on the teams we were playing. When I came across the soccercityusa board, where the response from those on the board was amazing, so much so that we were so glad the Timbers game was the last on the tour, even though a few (Ultras) had told us to keep away, but everyone else told us that when you meet these guys they were really friendly, unless the Timbers were playing Shittle. This proved to be the case.
Anyway back to the adventure, we made our way across Vancouver to our hotel, which was situated only ½ a mile from Vancouver’s ground, arriving on the Wednesday evening around 8.00pm. BUT!!! We were not aware that we were right in the heart of the red light district, and the girls used our hotel for there clients. It was a bit of an eye-opener, but the hotel had a fantastic sports bar which would stay open all long as someone wanted a drink. So, you can imagine the sore heads the following morning.
|This is Swangard Stadium, former home of the Whitecaps in Burnaby BC.|
The next day (Fri) no arrangements had been made, just a lazy day around the hotel pool, something to eat, and a night in the hotel sports bar. During the course of the day lots of familiar faces and accents started arriving at the hotel, as more & more Sunderland supporters descended on Vancouver for tomorrow’s game. By late evening the bar had around 2-300 Sunderland supporters in it, and to make the evening even better the entertainment that night was a beautiful stripper, who was inviting some of the Guys on stage, for a bit of fun. (no names given, but it wasn’t for the married men, who got on stage, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination)
So game day arrived, and with even more Sunderland supporters hitting our hotel sports bar before the game, it was hard to believe that we were some 6,000 miles from home. The singing & chanting were excellent and gradually got louder as the beers & ciders disappeared. 15 mins before kick-off and the bar emptied as we made our way to the ground (Can I really call it a ground) it was more like a grassed area with a fence around it, and hired in seating. Anyway the game was a bit of a damp squid, and the only entertainment of the day was the Sunderland fans rushing the corporate bleachers behind the goal, to get at some “Dickhead” wearing a Scumcastle shirt. (His brains were obviously up his arse, when he made the decision to wear his “Bar-code” shirt to a Sunderland game, or, he had a death wish)
So it was back to our hotel sports bar after the game, and word had obviously spread about during the game where everyone was going for a drink afterwards, as our bar had ½ hour queues waiting to serve thirsty Mackems. Great weather meant the back doors were opened to the car-park area, to accommodate the Red & Whites. Extra security was called in and the manager took the unusual decision that only Sunderland supporters were allowed in. This had me thinking, has a bar in Canada ever barred the locals to allow it to be taken over by football supporters from England. All I can remember is; “WHAT A NIGHT WE HAD”
|Timbers vs. Whitecaps had a much different look back when.|
So finally we were on the Highway in the USA, heading for Shittle, arriving just in time for the evening rush-hour, anyway after battling horrendous traffic we seemed to be heading well out of the city to our hotel, which was situated in Tacoma (close to the airport) We finally arrived at the hotel around 5.30pm and were greeted by the hotel manager who was a really strange character, a member of some really weird religious group, the guys in our group nick-named him “The Freak”
We settled into our rooms and arranged to meet in the lobby half an hour later, ready to hit the town. “The Freak” told us where to catch a bus into the city, which was a 45min journey, I can remember passing some kind of aircraft museum on the way in, and passing the football stadium, before arriving in town. As time was getting on we simply just had a bar-crawl ending up in some Irish bar close to the fish market, down a small alleyway. Not being a fish eater, the smell in the area was horrendous, almost as bad as the smell when you cross the Tyne Bridge into Newcastle.
Later on in the night the Sunderland players descended on this Irish bar, and we found out that the bar were sponsors of our game against Shittle. After a few more drinks, posters and banners around the pub disappeared as we all wanted a few mementos to take home, and by the end of the night we were up on the tables singing and chanting our songs as the players watched on in amazement. I don’t think the clubs new players could believe how many Sunderland fans had made the journey over, but eventually after a few more drinks we even had them singing along with us, as it was their night off and the manager (Mick McCarthy) had told them they could let their hair down. As you can imagine nights like this don’t happen very often, so we really made the most of it, not leaving the pub until around 4.30am. (Don’t ask me how we got back to the hotel, I haven’t got a clue)
|The place still smells after all these years.|
After a wash & brush up we gathered in the hotel bar for a drink and then headed out. We asked “The Freak” where the local bars were, but he replied that drinking was against his religion, and he didn’t have a clue where we could find one. So we just decided to take a walk and see where we ended up, as we left our hotel the manager from the hotel next door was just coming out, so we asked him about the local bars, this was when we were given a bit of an insight into the area we were in. He warned us that it was a really bad area for prostitutes and drugs, and advised us not to walk around on our own. But as a group of ten guys we thought we could handle it OK, and thanked him for his advice, but we did take his card, as he had a shuttle-bus, and he said to give him a call if we needed transport.
We were only about 100yds up the road when we came across some drug fuelled prostitute who asked us if we wanted any business, when we declined she told us in no uncertain terms to “F*ck off”
(As most of you are aware, in the area where we live back home, we don’t come across ghetto areas, full of blacks and prostitutes. None of us are racists but we simply don’t have a black population in our area, so this really was a totally different culture, and certainly an eye-opener for us)
So now, we were a little bit more on our guard, and headed up the road, the manager in the hotel next door had recommended a bar to us, and said it was the only “white” bar in the area, but it was approximately 2 miles up the road. As we carried on up we were approached on numerous occasions by beggars, drunks, and druggies all asking for money, so we were a bit relieved when we finally found the bar we were looking for. BUT!!! As we walked in you would have thought we were aliens from outer space, as the whole place went quiet for a few moments and everyone starred at us, but the female owner behind the bar was really friendly, and when she asked us where we were from, she bought a full round of drinks “on the house” and shouted to the locals “Calm down, they’re only tourists” she then told us that the area had many rival gangs, and the locals in her bar get a little on edge when strangers come in.
(Where the hell are we, now we are in the “headquarters of some Hispanic gang”)
|This year's color is blue. Not to be confused with bule. Still hideous.|
Thank God for the female owner, who calmed them all down, and told them they were not going to start any trouble with some guys from England (to be truthful, we were shitting ourselves) The atmosphere in the bar just wasn’t the same after this, and even though we didn’t have any more problems, and had a couple more drinks, you just had that feeling that we were not welcome. We finally decided to head back to the hotel, but first of all we needed something to eat, as we were starving. The female bar owner told us that the only place that would still be open at around midnight, would be the Wendy Burger place just over the road. We thanked her for her hospitality and headed across the road, passing some old tramp on the pavement, who we all gave our loose change too. Well, you always seem more sympathetic when you’ve had a few drinks.
We could see the big sign above Wendy’s advertising “Open 24hrs” so our belly’s were screaming for food, but when we got there the restaurant was closed, and only the drive through was open, and because we were not in a vehicle the snotty nose young kid at the serving hatch would not serve us, even though we offered her a $50 tip between us. So now what were we going to do, while we were trying to decide a Chinese looking guy pulled up to the hatch in a big black S.U.V. with his wife in the passenger seat. SO!!!! We asked him to take our order and gave him the money, he was very obliging and put in our huge order, which the snotty nosed kid agreed to serve as long as it was passed back through his car, before it was given to us. We waited in the car-park while the order was being put together, when we were approached by this HUGE black guy asking if we had any spare change, when we explained that we had just given all our spare change to the old tramp over the road, he said “You guys ain’t cops are you, and pulled out a gun, F*ck me I was shitting myself, we explained that we were just a bunch of guys from England, and not plain-clothed cops, he then said “well that’s OK cos I hate fucking cops and would have blown you away” and then just calmly walked away as if nothing had happened. Jesus I thought this was the “Land of the Free” we were in, not some Gangster movie.
We had planned to walk back to the hotel, but after collecting the food we headed straight back into the pub to use the phone and got the shuttle-bus back.
WE COULD NOT WAIT TO GET THE HELL OF THIS SHIT-HOLE. And we still had the next day (match day) and night to go.
|The North End, 2006. Gary is very much a legend but the sign reinforced it.|
The next morning we left the hotel about 10.30am and headed for downtown Shittle, dressed in our colours ready for the game, which didn’t kick-off till 7.30pm, but we wanted to soak up the atmosphere in the local bars around the ground, which were already packed with Sunderland fans when we got there. They were some great scenes during the day with Sunderland fans attracting quite a big crowd of onlookers as we were singing outside the pub, on the terrace area, which took up most of the wide pavement. Eventually it was time to go to the game, and I must say that after visiting the stadium the previous day, it is certainly a HUGE improvement on Vancouver. We had to endure really strict searches before we got in the ground at a security area which seemed to be about 200yds away from the ground. Again we didn’t really have much interest in the game, as we just look on pre-season tours as a big holiday on the drink, and the game becomes a bit of a blur, but I can remember a crowd of about 15-20 guys, one with a drum, trying to out-sing the Sunderland fans, the only chance they had of doing that was “NO F*CKING CHANCE”.
After the game I know we went back to that big Irish pub near the fish market, but that’s the last memory I have of the night (This cider makes you lose your memory)
The next day, we were finally on our way out of Shittle, and all we can say to all their citizens is;- “THIS IS THE SMELLIEST, MOST UNINVITING, SCARIEST, SHIT-HOLE WE HAVE EVER VISITED, ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD” no wonder the people from Portland call it “SHITTLE”
|Beating these guys never gets old. Ever.|
We found our hotel close to the airport, arriving around 4.00pm on the Thursday and after settling in we headed into Town in our mini-bus parking up in a car-park somewhere close to the river, and walked into town, guess where we were heading, to the nearest bars but Newt had agreed not to drink as he was the nominated driver. I can’t remember the names of the bars but the first place we went was another Irish bar, where we had some food and you were allowed to smoke in the downstairs cellar area, which had a table footy game. After that we ended up in a bar which had a live rock band on, I remember there was a cover charge to get in, but the big guy on the door let us in for free, when he heard we were from England. Already Portland was giving us a good, friendly welcome, with everyone seeming to want to have a friendly chat. We didn’t stay out to long that night as we were all so tired after so many late drinking nights, but when we found our way back to the mini-bus, we had a parking ticket, and Newt insisted we paid it, even though the rest of us just said “tear it up” I went straight to bed when we got back to the hotel, but, Carl, Marsey, Randle, Carls dad Brian & Keith had a bit of a party back in their room, with loads of bottles and cans from the Liquor store, and they phoned a pizza delivery place, who brought along the biggest pizzas I’ve ever seen in my life. Their hotel room the next day looked as if it had had a terrorist attack, with bits of pizzas and empty bottles lying all over. The cleaner refused to clean it up, THAT’S HER BLOODY JOB, ISN’T IT??? Well she won’t be getting a tip.
The next day (Fri) we got the MAX into town and went looking for PGE park, and the Bullpen pub, we could see into the ground through the fence and took a few pictures, before we went into the Bullpen, where we were greeted by the friendliest bar-tender I’ve ever met I’m sure her name was Kathy, and she said that she had heard that a lot of Sunderland fans were expected in town, she made a couple of phone calls to a few Timbers fans and invited us back on the evening, saying that a few of them would come along, for a few drinks with us. After a beautiful meal and another few drinks, we thanked her and said we would be back that evening.
We then walked back into town and the fact that we were wearing our colours, everyone seemed to be saying to us welcome to Portland, and enjoy the game tomorrow. Even cars were tooting their horns and waving at us, at last we seemed to be in a City that knew their football, were friendly, and very welcoming, but nothing could prepare us for what would happen that night.
|The Bullpen, the site of many drinks during the visit from Sunderland fans.|
All spruced up and refreshed, it was back on the MAX and heading for the Bullpen, where we were expecting around 20-30 Timbers fans, but when we opened the door we received the best greeting of our lives, with around 150-200 Timbers fans eagerly awaiting our arrival, they adorned us with scarves, pin-badges and numerous other bits of Timbers memorabilia, and they would not let us buy a drink, at one point I had 7 pints of Woodchuck Cider in front of me, and all the other Sunderland fans had pints put in front of them, with every Timbers fan refusing to accept a drink back from us. Your hospitality, friendliness, and fantastic songs and chants are unrivalled anywhere in the world, no matter where we have been following Sunderland. I would like to mention each and every one of you by name, but I think that would be totally unfair as I’d probably miss someone out.
EACH AND EVERYONE OF YOU ARE “GEMS OF THE EARTH”
I can’t remember what time we left the Bullpen, as we were enjoying ourselves so much, but I can remember that Kathy eventually called time, as she was running out of drink. Even so, that wasn’t the end of the night, we were invited back to a house party at big Abe’s house, with it’s own bar/brewery, a live band, lots of nice single girls (just ask Randle) and a Guy called Brian. This was the first time I had met Barnacle, who was wearing a white dress shirt with Black pin stripes. I told him that it looked bloody awful as it looked too much like a Newcastle shirt, (at this time I was unaware that Barnacle/Brian was a “Skunk” ) When he revealed that he was a Scumcastle fan, we ended up having a fun-fight where I tried to rip that awful shirt off his back. (I ended up with gravel burns from Abe’s driveway) Even though a lot of people think that Brian & I hate each other because of our comments on the soccercity board, we are actually very good friends who simply hate each others clubs, and even though this was the first time we had ever met the two of us drank together all night (But you still support a pile of shit, Brian) 2 cases of woodchuck later or 12 bottles later it was suddenly 6.00am and we ordered 2 taxis to take us back to the hotel. BUT!!! the nights adventure still hadn’t ended, as some guy who had left the party earlier, had beat up some other guy up the road, and while we were waiting for the taxis, the cops arrived, guns drawn and lined us up on the pavement outside Abe’s house, they asked us loads of questions and asked what we were doing, after we explained that we were just over for a football tour and were from England, they asked for our names, Randle replied ALAN SHEARER, & Marsey replied PETER BEARDSLEY well I was trying not to laugh, thank god they didn’t know any Newcastle players. BUT! For the second city running we’d had guns pulled on us, poor little Keith didn’t know what to do, at least this time I wasn’t shitting myself with fear, I couldn’t do anything but laugh due to all the beer. The taxis finally arrived and the cops let us go on our way. I’m not aware of how much longer they were at Abe’s house trying to gather information.
THANKS TO EVERYONE AT THE PARTY, WE HAD A BRILLIANT TIME.
Game day arrives, and remarkably I felt really fresh the next morning probably because the adrenalin and the feel good factor was still running through my veins, and we were all looking forward to the Bitter End & The Bullpen before the game (The Bullpen is still my favourite by a mile, it holds so many happy memories) Once again we were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the T/A and the atmosphere at the game was excellent, I can only describe it as if someone has taken football from Europe and dropped it in Portland. You are finally going to get what you deserve next season with MLS football and your fans will be a credit to the league, once again after the game we all went back to the Bullpen for another fantastic night of banter, singing & drinking. Sadly the following day we had to leave Portland and head back across the pond, but the friendships that were born over those few days will last a lifetime.
|The pitch at the Stadium of Light from my 2006 visit very up close.|
A story for a later date:-
As most of you will be aware, since our visit to Portland in 2005, 31 members of the T/A came over to Seaham (my home town,) the following Easter, to watch Sunderland play away to Man Utd, and home to Scumcastle. I have returned to Portland with my wife Jackie, and our friend Big Paul. Kip & Jen came back over to England the year after that, and we arranged an English wedding reception for them. Then last year Allie returned to England again to watch the Sunderland v Everton game. These are friendships that will never end, regardless of the distance between us.
PORTLAND’S TIMBERS ARMY, MAY I END BY SAYING;-
YOU LEFT AN IMPRESSION ON ME THAT NO OTHER CLUBS FANS ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, CAN COME ANYWHERE CLOSE TOO.
YOU ARE A VERY SPECIAL BREED AND MORE OF A FAMILY THAN A GROUP, YOU PROVED TO THE WORLD HOW SPECIAL FRIENDSHIPS CAN BE FORMED THROUGH FOOTBALL, YOU ARE ALL A CREDIT TO YOUR TEAM, AND THE CITY OF PORTLAND.
I PROMISE OUR PATHS WILL CROSS AGAIN, AS YOU ALL HOLD A SPECIAL PLACE IN MY HEART, AS DO THE TIMBERS.
AND AS ARNIE ONCE SAID;-
“I’LL BE BACK”
BEST WISHES TO YOU ALL,
Do I have any regrets about our visit to Portland, actually yes I had 1 regret, I never met the immortal “TIMBER JIM” but I promised myself that would be rectified one day, and you all know the outcome of that, because we met when Jackie and I returned, and all I can say is that he and his family, are very special people.
MY HEART GOES OUT TO ALL OF YOU, AND THANK YOU FOR THE MEMORIES.