Guest blog from Sato, Rose City Riveters Steering Committee & Capo
The message below was read at the Rose City Riveters Townhall meeting in April.
During this time of covid, I have been thinking about how we make this supporters group better and more inclusive. Where do we start? How about the beginning and a little history of how Women’s soccer came to be so big in Portland.
10 years ago, Portland announced the forming of the NWSL and that they were one of the cities joining the league. The original plan was to play matches at the University of Portland’s Merlo Field. This plan was quickly changed because within two days the season ticket waitlist exceeded the capacity at Merlo Field. Portland was ready for Women’s Professional soccer.
What made Portland so special that on opening day 13,000+ would watch women play soccer live? The answer lies within Merlo Field itself. Way back in the spring of 1990, I had the privilege and honor of interviewing with Clive Charles. I wanted to play soccer at UP. After asking about my credentials and qualifications, it was clear that I was not the caliber player that he was looking for. But the conversation did not end there. He told me of his dream and vision for women’s soccer, in Portland. Even though I was not qualified to play for him, he still took the time, nearly an hour, to share with me his passion. That fall I started at UP and got to witness his vision slowly come true. This was also the inaugural season of Merlo Field. That year, UP barely missed making the College Cup.
The following year would be different. As a preseason opener, UP would host the North Carolina Tar Heels. Seating sold out within 15 minutes. Over the next few weeks we tried to find ways to add additional seating. Demand was huge. It was North Carolina after all. I don’t remember the outcome. But that doesn’t matter. What does matter is the legacy that Clive Charles had on women’s soccer in Portland.
Why did I want to fill you in on this back story? Portland tends to forget its roots and ignore the silver spoon that makes up Portland and what brought about Thorns soccer. This is the history of Portland in general. Investigate the history of Oregon’s Black exclusion laws, which began in the early pioneer territorial era, and rather than corrected, were actually reinforced in Oregon’s subsequent statehood and constitution. Why are the Portland police so racist? They were literally formed by the KKK. What does this have to do with Portland soccer? Once again, Portland has ignored its roots and taken credit for all the hard work others have done to make women’s soccer what it is in Portland. For those who do not know, Clive Charles was a Black man.
Portland supporters/fans also gloss over the built in volunteer workforce that helps create the rambunctious game day atmosphere. Chants, drums, flags, tifo and all the other things we see on game day didn’t just happen because we are the best fans in the world. Portland had the infrastructure to make all this happen. Most SGs started from ground zero.
Why does this matter? The Riveters have consistently held the arrogant attitude that we are the best fans in the world just by the sheer volume of fans in the stadium. While averaging 20k+ fans for home matches is nothing to ignore, we belittle other markets that struggle. Did those same markets have the same 30+ year infrastructure ready to go? No, they did not. They suffer the same reality all other women’s teams suffer, lack of funding, media and support.
The past year has been a rude awakening for many people. Reconciling with systemic out right racism within themselves and their community. People are finally recognizing those outside of their bubble and norms.
While the world has a long way to go, we can start at home and within ourselves. What does a reformed Riveters SG look like? What do we want to be remembered for? I don’t expect us to be at full capacity until next season, but we can start now to think of what a more inclusive community looks like. Yes, we can still be soccer hooligans for 90 minutes, but what do we look like the rest of the time? Remember, one man had a vision for women’s soccer. Let us not tarnish that vision.