The Pull of Portland
– by Briana McColgan
I realized something last night, watching Mark Parsons talk about the Thorns and their fans. See, I’ve been trying to put my finger on it for a while now, why I like supporting the Thorns so much. There’s a lot there. First, I like soccer. All soccer. Any soccer. And the Thorns play some excellent soccer.
Then there’s an added benefit with the Thorns. With most sports, I can acknowledge to myself that I’m being sort of ridiculous – that in the grand scheme of things that matter in this world, whether or not my Red Sox win shouldn’t really rate on that list. Of course, it does. I have very clear memories of absolute heartbreak, and much foggier memories of raucous celebrations and the hangovers that follow. But I know very well I’m just watching grown men play a game. There’s no larger social movement behind it. Supporting women’s sports, on the other hand, is also about equality. Title IX did a lot of good. It increased female participation in sports by 990% in high school, and by 560% in college. But the job’s not done yet, and opportunities to play professionally are still lacking. Even today, even with our beloved Thorns, the minimum salary is less than $7,000. Last year, during the World Cup, there were women playing for professional soccer teams without any pay at all. There are still miles to go in the fight for gender equality, and supporting women’s sports is one way to aid in that battle.
But mostly, when you go to a Thorns game, you aren’t thinking about that. You’re just thinking about the soccer and the atmosphere and the fun. And that isn’t just down to the soccer being played. It’s also the fans. We have excellent fans. We have a supporters section that sings the entire time, not to mention tifo displays to rival men’s sides. We have – quite literally – the best fans in the world. That’s a point of pride for me, and I suspect for a lot of people. But it’s also useful. Thorns fans have more direct influence on their team than any group I’ve ever seen. It’s not just the immediate impact on a game that you might have (or hope to have) anytime you’re in the stands. Honestly, with the Thorns, I think sometimes that backfires. Players from other teams come in ready to play. They want to play in front of a serious, loud, knowledgeable fan base, even if they are, as Meghan Klingenberg described us, “hostile” (which I took as a ringing endorsement). I’ve heard players say that coming to Providence Park was the first time they felt like a professional athlete.
That’s what I realized last night, when Mark Parsons was talking about an as yet unnamed player they were hoping to sign.* He said she was very excited about the idea of playing for the Thorns, that he didn’t think she would be coming here if it weren’t for us. He talked about this being a nice place to live, both Portland as a city and Oregon as a state. But mostly he talked about the fans.
When you follow sports, you see a lot of people go somewhere for the money or for the chance of winning a championship. Occasionally you see someone stay where they started out, and you applaud their loyalty. But coming to the NWSL from Europe means leaving home for less money. In Portland, it also means playing in front of the best fans in the world. It means those fans won’t just know the national team stars, but everyone, right down to the bench players. It means they take you seriously as a professional athlete, game in and game out. That’s one hell of a selling point. And that’s the impact that we, as fans, have on this team. How cool is that?
[*And allegedly just did. -Ed.]