- Dec. 14, 2011
“I got my shirt, it’s got my name on it and it’s got the number twelve. Well in England, that means you’re on the bench because the first eleven play. So I was pissed off. And everyone just started laughing; they said, ‘No, you keep that for the whole season.’” – Willie Anderson
Wee Willie Anderson, is how he came to be known, first at Manchester United, opposite another promising young winger, George Best. When he moved to Aston Villa for £20,000 in 1967, Anderson was a 20-year old prospect capable of reaching the heights of English football. He played 231 times for Villa over six seasons, scoring 36 goals and becoming a favorite at a club struggling for an identity in the Third and Second Divisions. He moved to Cardiff City for £60,000 in 1971 and was a popular figure in Wales for four years.
Before he left Cardiff for good, though, Willie Anderson joined the Portland Timbers of the North American Soccer League on loan in the summer of 1975. Convinced to spend another summer stateside (he had been in Atlanta for the 1969 NASL season where British clubs posed as American ones for a month) by his old manager Vic Crowe, Anderson arrived for the Timbers’ fourth game of their debut season. The first three games were missed due to his inclusion in Cardiff’s side for the 1975 Welsh Cup final against Wrexham. When he did finally come to North America, he joined his new teammates in Vancouver, assisting on a 40-yard goal from Barry Powell with a smart back-heel.
Once Anderson was a full-fledged part of the team, Crowe’s 4-3-3 formation - designed specifically for a balance of Anderson on the right, Jimmy Kelly on the left and Peter Withe in the middle – flourished into a comprehensive offensive juggernaut. The Timbers topped the league table in ’75 as Anderson scored three times and assisted on nine Portland goals en route to Soccer Bowl ’75. Though he played a marvelous game on the right wing, Anderson’s exploits were not enough to keep the Timbers from falling to the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-0 that day, in what remains the pinnacle of all Timbers teams.
Due to a disagreement with Jimmy Andrews, his manager at Cardiff City, Anderson was not allowed to go on loan in the summer of 1976. Instead, he had to wait a year to sign a full-time contract with the Timbers ahead of the 1977 season. Apart from one winter where he played indoor with the Wichita Wings of the Major Indoor Soccer League, Anderson never played for another club.
Over seven years with the Timbers, Anderson scored 13 goals, good for sixteenth in club history, and is second in club history with 53 assists. His 160 games with the club are the club’s second most, having only been surpassed by John Bain, thanks to Bain’s time as player/coach in 1989 and 1990.
It could be argued that at the time of his arrival in Portland, Willie Anderson was among the most well known footballers to ever join the team. Certainly his impact on the field for the NASL Timbers was as influential as any player who has ever worn the green and gold. Without a doubt, Anderson’s no. 12 is instantly recognizable as one of the great Timbers of all-time.