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Talking “Happy Little Trees” with the Timbers Army

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Bob Ross Tifo Timbers

Since the Portland Timbers joined Major League Soccer in 2011, the North End of Providence Park has been home to the tifo displays of the Timbers Army. Driven by a passion for their city and its club, the Timbers Army have put up display after impressive display, culminating in the “Happy Little Trees” tifo before Friday’s season opener against Minnesota United FC.

Inspired by painter and public broadcasting television host Bob Ross, the tifo covered most of Providence Park, getting fans involved not just in the North End’s Timbers Army sections, but in the east and west stands as well. Just as the Timbers were a hit on the field, beating the Loons 5-1, the tifo was a hit off of it, drawing applause from throughout the Rose City and beyond.

One week before “Happy Little Trees” was finished, however, we had a chance to sit down with several of the members of the Timbers Army who contributed to the display.

“We were painting the home closer last year and it just kind of popped up,” Colin, the lead designer of Friday’s tifo, says. “We were talking about doing it Bob Ross themed and we were like, this makes sense. And after having a pretty lackluster performance last year as far as the Timbers were concerned, we were like, we need something pretty positive. There is nothing more positive than Bob Ross, smiling and saying, we are all happy little trees here.”

The idea of celebrating both team and town is something that the Timbers Army volunteers continually come back to.

“From back when we first started doing tifo, we always concentrated on celebrating Portland and the Timbers,” says Nando, one of the project leads. “No matter how bad we were I think that we want to pose a more positive message, that we are there for the team no matter what.”

Ray Terrill

“When I started painting tifo,” says Josh, the 107IST warehouse manager and the rigging lead for “Happy Little Trees”, “that was what was taught to me. It’s not about winning or losing -- although that is part of it — it is about celebrating the town, celebrating the club, and celebrating who we are.”

“For me personally, I don’t care about the other supporter groups or what they do or what they say. For me it is just joy. Helping to paint this stuff, I get to do it with my friends. There are great friendships that are built out of it.”

Nando, Josh, and Colin are among a core group of volunteer members of the Timbers Army and the 107IST, its organizing arm, who worked on the main lift of the tifo: a smiling bust of Bob Ross with his iconic afro, painting a USL-era Portland Timbers logo. The small group worked together to keep the tifo a surprise, keeping the theme secret until it was time for it to go up.

Ray Terrill

But, they were far from the only fans to work on it. As they spoke, a crowd had gathered in the 107IST’s tifo warehouse — located at Southwest 17th and Alder, just across the street from the Fanladen, the organization’s home — and were hard at work painting the massive backdrop that would form the bulk of Friday’s display.

There had been, Josh estimates, as many as forty people helping to paint the tifo over the course of that day; a relief after a low turnout the week before as tifo painting conflicted with the Timbers’ annual log blessing.

“It is great,” Colin says of the day’s turnout, “we may not have to come in tomorrow. Fingers crossed.”

However, the group quickly agreed that they would be back to to continue working on the project, regardless. Hearing the amount of work put into each tifo, it is no surprise that they were expecting to be back the next day.

“Everybody just leaves their jobs and comes here and spends those six hours after work working again,” says Josh. “But it is that core group of people and we have all become good friends and it is enjoyable. It is fun to do it. That’s why we do it; it is fun to do.”

“The concrete floors start to get old after a little while.”

Ray Terrill

From its inception, each tifo is a labor of love for the volunteers with a payoff that comes when the display is raised.

“It is anxiety until the last rope is taught on there,” says Colin.

“I guess I get the biggest enjoyment of people’s reactions when they see it,” chips in Josh. “There is a picture that somebody sent of a couple in the south stands when they saw “Ack Ack” last year and their faces, when they saw it and they put all of the theme together, that was super enjoyable.”

“For me,” says Nando, “the best reaction is seeing the players in their huddle, but they are not paying attention to whoever is saying anything because they all keep looking back. They all want to see what it is, but they are like, am I in the huddle or not in the huddle?”

Colin continues, “The players, after the game, talk about it and they are always interested in what is going on. They are amped for it. They get pumped, which is part of why we do it. To hear that it really matters to the players, is huge. That was probably the best compliment that I have heard: that it matters to the players.”

Ray Terrill

Of course, with each display the bar is raised for the Timbers Army. And the Army’s volunteers are always looking to raise the bar. Although Nando, Josh and Colin are not necessarily going to be involved with the next tifo, they are always looking for inspiration.

“We try to do better than what we did the year before,” says Nando. “We are always trying to figure out new, innovative ways to show the display, but we also want to come up with better designs and better ideas. So every year we are going to try to top whatever happened last year. It might not be this one, it might be one later in the season, when Vancouver comes to town, but whatever display we do, we try to make it not bigger, but a better concept.”

“The gears are always turning,” Josh interjects.

“There is no end to the creative people who are here,” says Colin. “From the designs of the clothes to the tifos, there is a large resource pool that you can take from. They are some of the most creative people I have worked with, actually.”

Photos courtesy of Ray Terrill. You can find more of his photos on Flickr. Thanks, Ray.