It was a night that meant nothing. It was a night that meant everything.
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For the first time in their short A-League history, the Portland Timbers were playing a match that began with the Timbers already eliminated from the playoff race. They had been eliminated when the very same El Paso Patriots team that was visiting PGE Park on this evening had beaten them 3-1 the past weekend in Texas.
But something had happened on the following Tuesday that suddenly made this match very important. The scoreline wouldn't matter (though in the end, it did), and many may have dismissed this Friday evening match as just the Timbers playing out the season. But it was much more than it appeared on the surface. August 29, 2003 was for Clive.
Clive Charles had been fighting prostate cancer for the past two years, but in the middle of the struggle that would eventually take his life, he had finally found the pinnacle he had searched for in his 17 years of coaching the men's and women's teams at the University of Portland, when the Pilots women won the school's first national championship, a 2-1 overtime victory over Santa Clara on December 8, 2002.
Clive Charles had come to Portland before the 1978 season, and in his four years anchoring the left defensive position for the Timbers, he quickly became a crowd favorite, a 3-time NASL All-Star, and was considered by Pele to be one of the best defenders to have ever played in the league, as Clive was selected to Pele's All-Time NASL team. In those four years Clive became a part of Portland, and became the heart and soul of soccer in the Rose City. Clive remained in Portland after his playing days ended, coaching a high school team and creating a strong youth program that remains today, but Clive is best known for the University of Portland teams that were among the country's best for many of the seasons he was at the helm, and for the men and women who passed through his program that could form all-star teams on their own in most of the leagues where these players now play.
The Timbers had announced weeks ago that Clive Charles was going to have his number retired at the season-ending match on August 29. Clive had just been honored by being inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of fame earlier in August, but had been unable to attend the induction. Between these two events, on Tuesday August 26, Clive Charles passed away at his home in Northwest Portland at the age of 51.
I think most of us were completely convinced that Clive was going to beat the cancer that we'd all known he'd been fighting. For most Portland soccer fans, myself included, the announcement of his death didn't seem real. It didn't seem possible. It didn't seem that Clive was a person who could be taken from this world so easily. But just like that, Clive was gone.
On this evening at PGE Park, Clive's spirit was in the park, and evidence of the significance of this evening was everywhere. The Timbers Army supporters had spelled out "CHARLO" in scarves on the dugout in front of section 107. The number "3" had been painted at midfield. The board that everyone knew had Clive's number 3 was hanging in the northeast corner of the stadium, just under the roof, though still covered at this point. The Timbers wore black armbands on their left sleeves, and as the match began, both teams stood silently on the pitch in a moment of silence before the opening kickoff.
I must admit at this point that I had never met Clive in person. I had attended several matches where he was coaching, for both the Pilot men's and women's teams, but I'd never approached him. By nature I am a shy person, and even with my close involvement with the Timbers, I barely said a word to any of the players or the coaches through the entire 2001 season, only beginning to approach them after I knew they had seen me around for a season, and knew who I was and had become familiar with my work. Looking back, I think the only way of describing my reasoning for not even introducing myself to him was I didn't feel worthy. Yes, I had posted a few match reports and photo galleries various matches and scrimmages the Pilots had played over the past few years, but this was Clive Charles we were talking about. In my mind, I might as well have gone up to Pele.
I would only find out in the past few months, and especially in the past few days, that I couldn't have been more wrong. In a way, that made this evening more emotional to me that I had missed that opportunity.
At halftime on this evening, Timbers General Manager Jim Taylor stepped to the podium at PGE Park to begin the ceremony. Most of the members of the current Timbers squad had remained on the field for the ceremony, sitting quietly off the touchline behind the advertising boards. Jim Taylor spoke about what Clive had meant to the Timbers franchise, and then current Timber captain and former Portland Pilot Brian Winters reflected on the impact Clive had on his life, and thanked Clive on behalf of all of the Pilots players he had coached over the years. Former Portland Timber Bill Irwin, who has been Clive's assistant almost as long as Clive had been the Pilots coach, spoke of his former teammate and good friend, and current Timbers coach Bobby Howe spoke of what Clive had meant to the team, and the city.
During the speeches, Clive's son Michael was also on the field, looking very somber and overwhelmed. Each speaker hugged Michael as they finished, and after Bobby Howe had spoken, Jim Taylor announced the official retirement of Clive's #3 Timbers uniform, the first uniform to ever be retired in the nearly 80-year history of PGE Park, and as the five men turned to the northeast corner of the stadium, a white banner slowly fell and Clive's #3 uniform was unveiled, along with the years listed that he had played for the Timbers: 1978 to 1981. The crowd simultaneously rose in a standing ovation which lasted for a good 45 seconds.
I must go off on a tangent here, because it is pertinent, and closely intertwined with the events of this evening, and the events of 1978. In that same year when Clive joined the Timbers, the team also hired Jim Serrill, better known to all Timbers fans as "Timber Jim", who was still the Timbers mascot and biggest fan twenty five years later. For the past three seasons, Timber Jim was still climbing the pole and sawing off pieces of the log after each Timbers goal, at the age of 49.
A few weeks previously, on August 16, while the world was watching news on the major blackouts that affected the Northeast, an article quietly slipped out on OregonLive's website (largely disabled by the blackout), and in the Oregonian, stating that Timber Jim was retiring. At the time, it was announced that Timber Jim would not be returning for the final three home games, as Jim had taken a job in Seattle that would only allow him to return for the weekends.
But on this evening at PGE Park, it would not have been complete without Timber Jim there, and as the game began, there he was, the familiar white beard of the Timbers beloved Timber Jim, proudly leading the cheers of the crowd and firing up the chainsaw, just as he had done in the days when Clive Charles patrolled the defense for the Timbers.
After Clive's retired jersey had been unveiled, Jim Taylor announced that Timber Jim would be sawing a piece off the log in Clive's honor, and just as he had done hundreds of times before, Timber Jim sawed the last few inches off a log that was set up behind the north goal, and brought the piece out to midfield and presented it to Michael Charles, who held the piece aloft as the crowd once again rose to their feet in applause. Michael himself then went to the podium and spoke of his father, but the emotion of the evening seemed to be overwhelming him by this point, and he did not speak for long. But his love for his father was very apparent to all in attendance, and the moist eyes of those around him and throughout the stadium made it evident that many thousands of Portlanders and people throughout the soccer world felt like they had just lost a family member.
Bryn Ritchie had put the Timbers up 1-0 in the first half on this night, and in the second half of the match, former Portland Pilot Scott Benedetti fittingly scored the second goal of the evening for the Timbers, then in the 84th minute, Jake Sagare also scored for the Timbers which put a perfect 3-0 score onto the scoreboard. I think many people in the stands (including myself) were thinking after Beni's goal that it was almost written in the stars that the Timbers were going to score three goals on the night, so Sagare's goal was just a matter of time. There just had to be a "3" on the scoreboard under the Timbers name on the scoreboard at the end of the evening, just as it had been on Clive's uniform. It was destiny.
Even though this was Clive's night, after the match, many Timbers fans turned their thoughts to their beloved Timber Jim. He had returned for this one match, but his time as the Timbers mascot was over, and the Timbers Army and other Timbers fans had momentos for Jim, including a trophy fashioned from a cut log with Jim proudly standing on a pole atop the trophy (with the log having been signed by most of the regular Timbers Army supporters), a handmade green and yellow Timbers axe, and a photo of Timber Jim signed by the Timbers Army supporters. Timber Jim himself was in tears as he left the field for the final time, and literally dozens of supporters had to give their beloved symbol of the Timbers for the past quarter century a handshake or a hug, to thank him for what he has done for the Timbers, and to let him know he will be missed.
For many Timbers fans, saying goodbye to the two most enduring symbols of the Portland Timbers, and of soccer in the Rose City, could have been a moment of great sadness. But instead, it defined itself as a moment of joyful memories for many Timbers fans. Afterwards, many of the Timbers Army supporters remained to meet the players, the coaches, and Timber Jim, and the atmosphere was one of great appreciation that people like Clive Charles and Jim Serrill, and the countless others who have turned Portland into Soccer City USA, have been there to pour their hearts and their souls into the beautiful game, and to make it thrive in the Rose City. It's well known throughout the country that Portland has among the most loyal and fanatic soccer supporters anywhere, and it's not a coincidence that it's happened in a city that has men like Clive and Jim, who lit that flame in the 1970's that continues to burn today.
Portland IS Soccer City USA. Without Clive or Jim, I think most Portland soccer fans would agree that we probably wouldn't be able to say that.
On August 29, 2003, the Portland Timbers broke their A-League single-game attendance record with an announced crowd of 13,351, the largest crowd the A-League has seen this season.
All this for a game that meant nothing?
No. This game, this night, meant everything.