clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Book Review: the 1975 Portland Timbers Season, in Paperback

One of the many interesting tidbits I learned from Michael Orr's (a.k.a. mao, @maofootball) very well researched book, The 1975 Portland Timbers: The Birth of Soccer City USA, was that almost none of the players had ever stretched before that season.

For all the similarities between the Timbers of the 1970s and those of today, there is perhaps no bigger difference between the two eras than player health, and the extent to which it is a concern to the team and the fans. Today's fans expect detailed information about player health, and we expect the athletes we pay to see to put great effort into their physical fitness and health. Contrast that with the 1975 Timbers, who finished the regular season 16-6 despite partying after every game, subsisting on a diet of free Blitz-Weinhard beer, and playing through a litany of serious injuries including concussions.

At least, under the direction of the team's trainer, they were stretching for the first time.

The Timbers' inaugural season was obviously one of many firsts; the mostly English roster were traveling back and forth across the US for the first time, the organization was feeling out all the realities of building a professional sports team for the first time, and of course most of the people of Portland were watching soccer for the first time. Unfortunately, the unlikely success the team experienced in their first go would not be duplicated for quite a while, as for the next 25 years the Timbers failed to build a model for long-term success.

Michael Orr's 115-page account is full of factoids and snippets like those mentioned above, interspersed among the details of the season, both on and off the pitch -- including surprisingly detailed match descriptions. It's compellingly written, one-touch passing its way through that first year, driving me ever forward in the chronology, leaving me incessantly turning the pages to find out what would happen next.

The downside of the sequential narration is that Orr glosses over many details I would like to have read more about, treating them like minor distractions from the descriptions of what was happening on the field. He hints at a team full of interesting characters but does not expand on them beyond the occasional revelatory quotation from one of the myriad interviews he held. He might have have been better served focusing on a few characters and anecdotes, which could have gone further to present a more complete picture of the comedy by which this Timbers squad was assembled.

And I do mean comedy. After all, this was a team that came into existence less than two months before its first match. The home pitch was only 53 yards wide and as hard as concrete. The league was so disorganized that the team had to find its own arrangements for practicing on the road, including an impromptu session in rain-drenched Central Park in Manhattan. There were stories of romance, fake IDs, and dog bites, and on top of all that every player was sporting a fabulous 1970's hairdo -- all the essential elements of a Will Farrell movie.

But the fact that Orr's book left me wanting more is an accomplishment in itself, and I sincerely hope I am not the only reader whose interest in the Timbers' past is piqued by his work. The book is not intended to be the last word on the subject, nor should it be judged as such.

Indeed, Michael Orr's extensive research and straightforward presentation has quite adequately laid the groundwork for a larger ongoing effort to document the full history of the Portland Timbers and form a bridge to the present and future of the club. It's a very worthwhile read, and I wholeheartedly thank Mr Orr for writing it.

The 1975 Portland Timbers: The Birth of Soccer City USA, by Michael Orr, is published by The History Press and is available at your friendly neighborhood bookstore.