- Feb. 20, 2012
In thirty-seven years, only one number has ever been retired by the Portland Timbers. Clive Charles’ no. 3, though only worn for parts of four seasons, is one of the most significant numbers in club history. Charles’ contributions to soccer in the city of Portland are unmatched over the twenty-five years he spent in the Rose City. Though his accomplishments after his Timbers career are even more impressive, his sixty-seven games in green and gold are noteworthy.
Having grown up in the West Ham United youth system, Charles joined the Hammers’ first team in 1970. He lived for a time with teammate (and future Timbers forward) Clyde Best and trained alongside the likes of Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves and Harry Redknapp. Understandably, playing time was difficult to maintain, and Charles appeared in just fourteen matches over three seasons. He spent two summers on loan at Montreal Olympique of the young North American Soccer League in 1971 and 1972 before moving to Cardiff City.
At Cardiff, the 23-year old defender was named captain in his first season at the club. His teammates in his first full season of 1974/75 included future Timbers Willie Anderson and Bill Irwin. Despite playing in the European Cup Winners Cup against Hungarian side Ferencváros, Charles’ Bluebirds were relegated to Division Three in his first season in Wales. Yet he captained his side to promotion in 1975/76.
After seventy-seven games and five goals at Cardiff, Charles joined Anderson and Best at Portland Timbers in 1978. Under new manager Don Megson, the Timbers were overhauled from the previous West Midlands-heavy regime. Charles joined new recruits Jimmy Conway, formerly of Fulham and Manchester City, John Bain and Brian McNeill of Bristol City, Pat Howard of Newcastle United and star American striker Mike Flater. Playing twenty-five of the team’s thirty games, Charles recorded two assists as Portland reached the NASL’s semifinal round. Only an aggregate loss to the New York Cosmos ended the Timbers’ second most successful NASL season.
In 1979, Charles played in twenty-nine of the club’s thirty games, only missing the strike game of April 14. He assisted five times but the Timbers struggled to a last place finish in the Western Division of the National Conference. Injuries limited the 1980 and 1981 seasons to just nine and four games, respectively, as Charles lost his place in the starting XI with the likes of Glenn Myernick, Young Jeung Cho, Gary Collier and John Pratt taking over defensive responsibilities. Still, Charles was a very popular player in Portland.
Though physical ailments derailed what started as an impressive career with Portland, his time with the Timbers was not wasted. Charles was one of only a few who managed to reach the playoffs twice in their time with the NASL Timbers. His sixty-seven games in defense rank seventh all-time and at the time of his Timbers exit in 1981 were the most in club history. Indeed, his twelve assists rank eleventh in club history and are second most among defenders.
Yet statistics do not tell the whole story of Clive Charles. Even before his coaching fame in the collegiate and national team ranks, Charles was an inspirational figure at the Portland Timbers. His experience and leadership were qualities that served the club well when he featured and were sorely lacking when he was injured. The club retired the no. 3 after he died of prostate cancer in 2003. His name hangs in the Timbers’ Ring of Honor, a position befitting a man of his stature.