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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


Northwest by Northwest

Written by on March 16, 2012 | 2 Comments »
Posted in English Premier League, General, MLS

Anybody who saw the Portland Timbers’ home opener against the Philadelphia Union probably couldn’t help but be impressed by the fantastic atmosphere at Jeld-Wen Field (nor could they probably help reading numerous articles about how impressive that atmosphere was). 

Along with Seattle and Vancouver the Timbers are helping to grow a soccer culture in the Pacific Northwest as each stadium within the region develop its own unique atmosphere so, for those of you who have never travelled there (and with a little bit of poetic licence allowed), here is a guide that matches up the venues in the Northwest of America with their counterparts in the Northwest of England. 

Jeld-Wen Field qualifies as Anfield. The Timbers Army supporters group benefit greatly from being in a soccer specific stadium that is small enough to always sell out yet big enough to make plenty of noise. 

The game against Philadelphia demonstrated how much atmosphere can be generated by playing a game in the open air at night; with the contrast of the green of the field against the black of the sky only adding to the sense of occasion. 

None of this would matter much though if the supporters were merely greeting every pass with polite applause. 

Instead the Timbers fans create a cacophony of sound that never seems to stop from before the first whistle until after the final player has left the field, more importantly though (see Seattle below) they rarely lose sight of the fact that the game itself is the most important thing. 

Defending your goal against the Timbers Army end of the field is probably as close as MLS gets to a side being pummelled as Liverpool attack the Kop (including the mandatory “they are trying to suck this ball into the net” quip from the commentator for those watching on television). 

Seattle’s CenturyLink Field can be compared to Old Trafford. The LA Galaxy may match United by being the darlings of the media but their stadium and crowd have yet to come close to matching Manchester’s  “Theatre of Dreams” in terms of support or “must see” status. 

The Seattle Sounders on the other hand sell out every game and have garnished a “we do things properly” style of thinking that makes many other fans look at them askance. 

There is no doubt that the various supporters groups create a terrific atmosphere (and no doubt that a huge number of them are knowledgeable about the game) it’s just that more often than not their chants and songs bear little resemblance to what is happening on the field. 

Just as no game at Old Trafford is complete without a phalanx of tourists taking pictures of Ryan Giggs as he prepares for a corner (although given that it is Ryan Giggs they could be paparazzi I guess) no game at CenturyLink Field is complete without the casual television observer looking up in excitement as the crowd roar only to find that a player is down injured and the fans have chosen that moment as an opportunity to break into one of their many routines. 

Finally, the Vancouver Whitecaps’ BC Place is most akin to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

Like City the Whitecaps (or one version of them)  were a hugely successful club a generation ago and that success created a core of support for the side that never really went away.

Bad times followed for both teams, but in recent years brand new stadia and the elevation of the team to a different strata of competition and expectation haves changed the dynamics of the match day experience.

As with the Etihad, BC Place has a core of fans that will support the players no matter what happens on the field, but it also has the newcomers who simply go along to see what all the fuss is about.

That makes it one of those grounds where the team often need to inspire the vast majority of the crowd rather than the other way around but when they do the noise can be impressive and, for a venue that is not used solely for soccer, it comes pretty close to feeling like a “proper” stadium despite the cavernous nature of the structure.

Of course all of these comparisons are in some way sweeping generalizations that fail to take account of the fact that each of these three teams has done phenomenally well in garnering a level of support that would please more than a few top flight European teams, and it’s sometimes easy to forget how new they are in their current incarnations.

The supporters culture of each will grow organically, but differently, over the years and those differences are the factor that will keep the rivalry alive.

In an increasingly homogenized sporting world being able to tell which stadium you are at, or watching on television, simply by the sound that the fans are making is no small accomplishment at all. 

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2 responses to “Northwest by Northwest”

  1. jonk says:

    Very interesting (and fair) crowd analysis, but be prepared for the onslaught of commenter’s deriding your comparisons.

    I will add a bit to your Jeld-Wen description based on my own experience. While the Timbers Army very much has a playbook/order to their songs regardless of what is happening, there is a certain intensity that gets cranked up or down depending on the game action. But as you probably noticed there are also specific chants for goals for, goals against, etc.

  2. Russell Berrisford says:

    Jonk- thanks. I’m not really opposed to pre-arranged chants and songs, but I think that they way it comes across in Portland makes it seem more “organic”.

    That may possibly be the venue as much as the fans though.

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