Soccer fans are the most passionate fans on the planet. Yes, every team in every sport has their diehard fans that live and die on every shot, every save and every move but there is something special about being a Soccer fan. Across the globe, there are villages that shut down when the local team is playing. Rivalries are intense. Outside of North America, this worship of the jersey can sometimes go too far. Many cases of violence, racism and destruction are often reported.
Thankfully, in North America and specifically the MLS, the fans are passionate yet rarely go over the top.
Since the boys in blue are in Portland to play against the Timbers this Saturday, Mount Royal Soccer took the opportunity to talk with Sherrilynn Rawson, one of the key members of the Timbers Army. The ‘TA' is known as the biggest and most passionate group of supporters in the MLS. They take their passion to a whole new level and are definitely considered, or should be considered, a role model for every other supporters' group not only in the MLS, but across the globe.
Known as Sheba, Sherrilynn is a member of the Timbers Army and the 107 Independent Supporters Trust (107IST), the nonprofit arm of the Timbers Army. Her credentials also include:
- Secretary, 107IST
- Co-chair, Community Outreach Committee
- Chair, Web Team
- Season ticket holder in the west side of the stadium since 2005, back in the USL days
Let the tour begin!
1. Let's start off with some basic info. What is the capacity at JELD-WEN Field? How much of that is taken up by season ticket holders?
JELD-WEN always sells out for Timbers' matches. Capacity is currently a little over 20,000. The organization would like to expand to about 22,000 seats but the front office must find the perfect balance of maximizing seating and making the rest of the match day experience (concessions and bathrooms) workable for such a large crowd.
This year, there about 15,250 seats were sold to season ticket holders. There is also a waiting list of about 6,500.
2. Is there more than one supporters' group? If so, who are they and how big are they?
There is only one supporters' group, the Timbers Army (TA).
How big we are depends on how you measure. The North End of the stadium, which is a general admission section, holds about 5,000 people. However, you don't have to be in general admission to be TA. For example, I am on the west side in reserved seats and I am DEFINITELY TA. For us, it's simple: If you want to be a part of the Timbers Army, you already are.
For those who want to take their involvement in the Timbers Army to the next level, there is the 107 Independent Supporters Trust, or 107IST. We currently have about 3,000 members and that number only continues to rise. We do charge an annual membership fee of $25. That money goes towards our tifos, it helps with the upfront costs of travel and allows us to do significant charity work in the community. The 107IST has eleven elected board members who work to ensure that we fulfill our mission which is "to support soccer in and around Portland, Oregon - from the grass roots to the highest professional level."
3. Portland is known to have one of the best fan bases in the league. Do many of you go see road games? If so, how many travel and which cities are your favorite destinations?
Yes, we do travel. Last year, we had TA representation at every away match and we certainly hope/expect to repeat that success. Our largest away travel is for games against our Cascadia rivals, Seattle and Vancouver. Last season, our biggest travelling group was 1,500 strong for a game against the Sounders.
4. How much communication do the supporters' groups have with the team's administration?
Our board of XI has regular monthly meetings with the front office, which include various levels of management, occasionally including the owner, coach and/or general manager but always including high level front office management.
5. What is your reputation amongst the MLS as a fan base? Any history of violence?
We are passionate supporters but we are not violent. We jump, clap, chant, shout and sing for the full 90 minutes. Again, we are not a violent bunch. We work very hard at self-policing and we also have zero tolerance for racism, sexism, or homophobia.
6. What are the future plans for the TA?
We are in the second year of a five-year strategic plan created by the 107IST board at last year's annual retreat. We have ambitious plans for growth in several areas, including:
- TAFC (our locally organized amateur soccer league in Portland)
- Membership numbers
- Gross revenue (for our tifos, travel, and community outreach)
- Charitable work
- Youth soccer
- Volunteer hours
- Community outreach
- Away support
- Cascadia match support.
7. Can you give us some of the highlights of the TA's recent success?
In January, we held our Annual General Meeting. Here are some of the points that were highlighted:
- The 107IST made over $62,000 in charitable contributions in 2012. This figure does not include an additional $15,000 raised in 2012 and earmarked for donation in 2013.
- We paid for and donated close to $10,000 worth of uniforms and equipment for local area high schools.
- We donated over $1,400 in match tickets for community outreach, both as fundraisers for auctions and as ways to bring community members to matches.
- We had four separate Oregon Food Bank volunteer opportunities, two in Portland and two in Beaverton.
- We had three successful blood drives, two in Portland and one in Vancouver.
- We had 368 individuals who we know volunteered over 5,000 hours in 2012 in service to the TA and to the community. These individuals logged over 1500 hours of volunteering in the community, and engaged in MANY more activities which didn't get included in the totals. They also logged over 3500 volunteer hours in support of the club, including everything from setting out flags to painting tifos to working on the fan laden to running the merch operation, and engaged in MANY more activities which didn't get included in the totals.
We all know that our very own ‘Ultras de Montréal' is a very passionate group. The atmosphere that they create within Stade Saputo is absolutely electric and magical for the fans and absolute hell for visiting teams. Most teams would love to have that kind of atmosphere in their stadium. However, what the Timbers Army are doing is on a different level. As a Soccer fan, I would love to see the Timbers Army model copied and applied in every MLS city and every Soccer city across the globe.
Great communication with the front office, great reputation across the league, a ‘religious-like' following and getting involved in the city and for those in need is simply amazing. Supporters' groups like that are a true blessing for everyone involved.
Whether you are a fan of the Timbers, a Soccer fan or even a fan of one of their rivals, you can only respect what they are doing and tip your hat to them.
Special thanks goes out to Sherrilynn Rawson for her contribution. You can follow her on Twitter @shebainpdx
Article written by Gio Sardo. You can follow him on Twitter @GioSardo