“Who the hell is TommyJ?”
The Sunderland fan stubs a finger onto the bar room table when he talks, where a large photocopy of Tommy J is lying above the legend ‘he hates chebs’, next to it is a similar picture of a lad called WHED with something about his shed being burgled and missing deckchairs.
Its 4:45 pm, and we’re at the Bitter end pub across from the Timbers ground; PGE park, a baseball stadium also for the local team ‘the beavers’; (the pitch is suspiciously short on one side with the outlines of the baseball field still on it, especially where the pitcher’s mounds used to be). It’s a blazing hot day and if your out with weak English skin your going to get burned; this is still next to the pacific ocean even if we are this far north.
Across from us in the bar the timber fans have blown up a large inflatable doll in a timbers shirt and are bouncing her around the room. Next to it a large banner saying “show us your chebs” Hangs from the roof. Its hard to hear, smoky, very noisy and I’ve already lost my voice from shouting sunderland songs too much. As we talk a timber fan is also swinging from the ceiling, screaming that he, again, loves chebs.
I explain, in short terms who tommyJ is and why he doesn’t love chebs. Its not important. What is important is that the Portland fans are loving it and are going completely mental about the situation.
So far Its been a great tour and we’re talking about the missing fan from the Sunderland message board on RTG/ALS. The first time I heard about it was when I saw the aforementioned poster pinned to the wall of the park, now there around a thousand of them outside and twice that inside. I’m currently using WHED’s head as a beer mat, it’s a little disconcerting having come all this way and being made to feel like you haven’t left home (especially when you live in New York and are thinking about Sunderland as home). The Chebs/tommyj thing is getting to laughable ludicrous proportions, however its lost on a lot of fans who aren’t familiars to RTGs board.
So far its been great in Portland. Like a snowball things are just getting better and better,; despite the hotel that was picked for us by the timber fans having turned out to be smack in the center of the gay district, and being some sort of party hang out for… well lets just say the more extravagant type of person (thanks for that one lads). The first people I met were the ‘west coast leather biker boys’… without the bikes but with the tashes. It was like being in a 70’s player convention, only with more leather.
Actually we already met a lot of west coast SAFC fans in the hotel (around seven to eight of the buggers) and, despite my doubts, had a reasonably good time in the bar (not that sort of good time) there. You can tell who’s there because they’re the ones with shirts hanging in the windows and with FTM written on the blackboard doors that we all have (chalk given by the hotel).
Having been out on the town I’ve already met up with some more bar tending girls (yes different from the last ones) at the local Kells bar and have had quite a good night previously. Yet now on the match day its become apparent that Sunderlands traveling support is actually quite large, even in this small city on the last game of the tour (PDX airport is not the easiest place to get to unless you want to stop over somewhere on the way). There seem to be loads of American fans in older shirts who have never been to a game before (I talked to at least five at the match, there were many more) and all around the ground, from the bullpen to the Bitter end, there’s a river of red and white and white and green. The locals have laid on music and a massive barbeque, this is turning out to be a crazy day,
“We really love chebs.” Says a lad to me, who turns out to be a timber poster on the SMB. In the background the lads, and more notably the Portland lasses start to chant “Chebs, chebs, chebs”
It turns out tommyj isn’t the only one missing, the usual mascot Timber Jim, who rides a motorcycle onto the pitch and cuts a log in half when the timbers score, isn’t here today either (if you’re lucky he climbs up a big pole at one end of the field with his spiky boots, his subistute today looks like shearer with a hormone problem). Nor is our new home shirt which I’ve been dying to see, either this is a cunning legal ploy by both Sunderland and Diadora (our old sponsors) or they’re marketing the new black away shirt to death. So far its not turning out to be so lucky to play in black.
“I hope Timber Jim has a lot of logs” Says Ron to me in Seattle. Its looking like he was right, Jim will need them,
But alas Jim, just like wor tommy, is nowhere to be seen.
Let me tell you a little about the town. Previously we’ve had little chance to see Portland. It’s a city surrounded by trees with a snow line in the mountains easily reachable by a short car journey. Everywhere there are homeless-shelters and church refuges, prostitutes (I comically saw five hiding in one small doorway like sardines) and more importantly pubs, but despite this is in a very beautiful setting, even if the heart is a little industrial. Today I’ve met more Sunderland fans who I’ve been emailing in the last three years then ever in my life, its been an absolute joy and I’ve finally been able to put faces to names
Yes its been great… except for the game. Well enough said of that the better, but at least we didn’t loose: The timber fans managing to intimidate their own goalie by building up their penalty kick so much that their own player belts it into orbit when he takes it.
Excuses for why we played so badly?
1) Its just pre season.
2) They’re half way through their season we haven’t started ours
3) We’re missing key defenders.
4) The team hasn’t played together much
5) Its on bleeding Astroturf again and Mic has already said that he wont let his players commit for the ball on that sort of surface.
6) They were better then us
So basically, after the last game, we’re ready for the premiership in three weeks then.
Kindly my mate Ron and his friends are showing us around their home town, they’re a good bunch of lads who know their football and have been kind enough to drive us from one bar to another, whilst also joining us at the game. Afterwards we avoid the bullpen because its too crowded so head straight for Kells bar and its almost empty smoking cellar. I can tell you this about the game though, those timber lads and lasses are certainly passionate: They rarely shut up and although scream “you suck ass-hole” every time the goalie kicks the ball (a trick I’ve seen the Metrostars do), it is at the very least, training for the heckling we will receive in the premiership. They’ve also made flags of all sorts and are on the prowl for our missing Sunderland message boarder. Its probably lucky that he didn’t come, he would have been mobbed with free beer and girls. Outside the Bullpen the fans tell us they were actually going to go up to Seattle and get him. Distances don’t mean much to people out here.
On our way out of kells bar that night, we meet more timbers fans and every one of them shakes my hand. It very nice to see, they’re far friendlier then the other supporters we’ve met so far and they all wish us luck. They have a reputation as being hooligans in the other cities but I’ve found the opposite, Vancouver was a family ground, Seattle: your star studded club with lofty ambitions and a large mix.
The next morning I pick myself out of bed as best I can and clamber out of the hotel for the taxi and the short journey to the airport. I feel kind of sad, as this has, without question, been the best pre-season tour I’ve been on and I’m sorry I didn’t get more time in any of the cities. We sit in the airport munching our burgers silently (well as much as I can be) watching the girls at wendies burger bar set fire to their deep fat frier (followed shortly by the emergency services).
Through the haze, I’m almost tempted to shed a tear (but that’s just the rancid burning fat prickling my eyes), we certainly have a lot of work ahead of us in the premier judging by our performance pre season, but its been hard to judge given our restriction on play. This has all been about fitness, teamwork and getting to the stage when we can play bigger teams. Last year, as an Echo friend said, the local team outplayed us in Charleston, but when we invited them over the year after, when we were at peak fitness, they looked hopeless. So its hard to judge. I still have hope, I mull, chewing my free Oreo cookie that constitutes lunch on the 150 dollar airplane flight to Atlanta, but that’s what its all about, hope. I’m determined to write about my experiences when I get back home.
Timber fans are without question some of the best and most passionate fans ever seen in the USA, I strongly urge SAFC to let them come over to sunderland for a preseason of their own this or next year.