- May. 10, 2011
Three days before the 30th anniversary of their first meeting, Portland Timbers announced a friendly against West Bromwich Albion. The match will take place at Jeld-Wen Field on July 20 as part of a series of international friendlies hosted in Portland this summer. Unlike the matches against Ajax or Club América, the Timbers have quite a long history with West Brom.
The inaugural Portland Timbers side in 1975 was built from the West Midlands area of England. Players came from clubs like Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Birmingham City. Though no players came from West Bromwich Albion in that first season, the Baggies were well-known rivals, particularly for the five players who came from Wolves. Manager Vic Crowe, who had played and coached at Aston Villa himself, grew up in the West Brom youth teams.
In their second season, 1976, Portland added goalkeeper Jim Cumbes from Aston Villa. Cumbes had spent two seasons prior to his four at Villa keeping goal at The Hawthorns, featuring 64 times for Albion. Cumbes was the Timbers’ starting keeper, playing in twenty-two games.
While Cumbes only spent one season in the North American Soccer League, the Timbers were not finished employing former West Brom players. Signed in 1979, Dave Butler became the second Portland player to have Albion in his pedigree. While the striker never appeared in a first team match for West Brom, Butler had signed his first professional contract with the Baggies as a sixteen-year old. Butler also only played one season in Portland, scoring six goals in his twenty games for the Timbers, good for second best in that side.
In 1981 Portland brought in their final West Brom player of the NASL era by signing Alistair Brown on loan. The forward was coming to the end of his twelve-year tenure with Albion but spent a productive season in Portland scoring nine goals in twenty-four Timbers matches.
During that 1981 season the Timbers welcomed West Brom to Civic Stadium in what was the final international friendly of the NASL era. The Baggies joined the likes of Rangers, Ipswich Town and Manchester United as guests of the Timbers when they arrived just one week after finishing fourth in the First Division. Albion defeated the Timbers that day 1-0, facing their teammate Brown in front of 6770.
In 2008 Portland brought former West Brom midfielder Mark Briggs in for a trial, though he ultimately did not sign with the team.
While West Bromwich Albion are not the most glamorous club in the world, or even England, they certainly do have a long tradition of affiliation with the Portland Timbers. The resumption of a connection with the West Midlands area is a nice reminder of the interwoven stories of the 1970s and ‘80s as well as a chance to further develop a relationship with a club that has provided the Timbers players and coaches from its infancy.