Timbers Army goes to war

If your jersey is anything but white and green and you play Class A soccer, PGE Park is an unfriendly place for one reason: the Timbers Army – the raucous, diehard fans who sit along the third base line at PGE Park and spend 90 minutes heckling, cheering and drinking beer every home game.

The army was established by 10 guys who got together when the Timbers first came to Portland in 2001. Fan Dave Diffendorfer was there from the beginning.

“I’ve been around since pretty much day one,” he said, “but I was always behind the scenes.”

Since then, their numbers have swelled exponentially. Three years ago 50 or 100 people would identify themselves as members of the Timbers Army. Today Diffendorfer estimates the army has over 600 members, several of whom collaborate to put out the new Ax to the Head fanzine, which is currently in its second iteration and will publish monthly for the rest of the season.

The zine reflects the group’s spirit in all of its irreverent glory. Highlights include articles by Timbers players, an homage to famous Timbers mascot Timber Jim (known off the field as Jim Serrill) and a dig at Tribune sports columnist Dwight Jaynes.

Kurt Schubothe has been a soccer fan as long as Diffendorfer, way before there was a zine and back when Jaynes was still with The Oregonian.

“We’ve grown mainly by word of mouth,” Schubothe said. “There’s a soccer history here, with the original Timbers and at UP with Clive Charles.”

The history is rich. The late Clive Charles and the Timbers of the 1970s helped to establish Portland as “Soccer City, USA.”

Besides Portland’s reputation as a soccer town, Schubothe points to the Timbers Army’s acceptance and diversity as another main factor in its growth, a sentiment with which Shawn Levy (yes, the movie reviewer) agrees.

“It’s a huge, diverse group, with people from all over the world who come together for a great sporting spectacle,” Levy said. “It’s professional sports the way it used to be: community-based, fan-supported and done much more for the love than for the money.”

Even with the increased numbers, Diffendorfer says that it is the nucleus of original members that keep the Army together, organizing meetings in the off-season and working with the Timbers management.

“The management really makes it work,” he said. “We’ve had our issues but it’s always worked out.”

Upon attending a game and sitting in the midst of the Timbers Army, it is easy to see how PGE Park security and Timbers management could have some “issues,” but no more than at any other ballpark or stadium. Some of the chants – which hail from soccer-rich countries such as Bosnia, Mexico and England – are slightly offensive but are meant to be funny and in good humor.

Among their many chants, “You suck, asshole” (directed at the opposing team’s goalkeeper after a save) and “A rope, a tree, hang the referee” stand out as Timber Army favorites and can be heard several times per game. Other chants and cheers are less discernible, but the crowd is almost never quiet and explodes anytime either team gets a shot on goal.

“It’s basically a party for 90 minutes,” Diffendorfer said.

After matches, players and coaches can often be found continuing the party at the Bullpen Tavern, joining fans at their favorite hangout for a beer and camaraderie.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Diffendorfer said. “To go to the bar after the game and have the players come over, too.”

But the Timbers Army isn’t just about chants and beer or even player-fan interaction, though that is certainly part of what makes the Timbers and their fans so unique. This is a group that takes care of its own and the community around it.

Serrill recently lost a daughter in a car accident. The group rallied around their icon, setting up a trust fund for his granddaughter. A cut of proceeds from special Timbers Army merchandise is donated to the fund.

“It’s a pretty close-knit group,” Diffendorfer said. And one that’s only growing bigger.