- Feb. 13, 2012
“We had a group from Wolverhampton Wanderers, a group from Aston Villa and one from Birmingham City. So we were at least in proximity to one another from home. But we didn’t have a practice game against anybody before we took the field against Seattle. It was a grand experiment.” – Mick Hoban
Sixty-five games, four seasons, three assists. The statistics are unspectacular, but the impact of the player whose name the numbers follow cannot be underestimated. The original no. 4, Mick Hoban wore the traditional defender’s number from 1975-78. More importantly, Hoban was the first ever player signed by the Portland Timbers.
Announced simultaneously with Brian Godfrey, his former teammate at Aston Villa, Hoban’s name first appeared in the Portland press on March 25, 1975. Having played four previous seasons in the North American Soccer League with the Atlanta Chiefs (Apollos in ’73) and Denver Dynamos, Hoban was no stranger to the league. Hoban was captain and business manager in his final season at Atlanta as well as captain and community relations manager in Denver, prior to joining the nascent Timbers. Manager Vic Crowe employed the 23-year old defender in a role befitting that experience.
Hoban arrived in Portland on April 10, just three days after Crowe announced the signing of nine new players, the majority of which came from West Midlands clubs. Setting the foundation for a wide-reaching community outreach program, Hoban met with city leaders, representatives from schools and youth organizations and generally served as the Timbers’ first person many in Portland ever associated with professional soccer. By the time his teammates came to Portland, en masse in late April, Hoban worked with the club to arrange for lodging, transportation and host families to help acclimate the mostly British newcomers, a novel concept in 1975.
On the field, Hoban was a key member of the greatest ever Timbers side, starting fourteen of the sixteen games he played in 1975. As a free defender, Hoban played alongside Graham Day in central defense or with Godfrey when the latter dropped back from his usual midfield role. Injuries kept him out of the famous playoff games at Civic Stadium and indeed out of Soccer Bowl ’75.
Starting forty-eight of the fifty matches in 1976 and 1977, Hoban was a constant amid changes in Portland’s personnel and line-ups. While others found returning to the Timbers difficult due to loan agreements, Hoban was the first Timbers player signed to a full-time, full-year contract ahead of the 1976 season. Though the team was not as successful as the debut season, Hoban’s contributions cannot be ignored. His three assists in ’77 were the most by a defender and good for third-best in a team highlighted by forwards Stewart Scullion and Clyde Best.
By 1978, at the age of 26, Hoban served as a player and community relations liaison under new manager Don Megson. He appeared in a single game of the Timbers’ second most successful NASL season before resigning to join local footwear company Nike as its first soccer-specific employee. When he retired as a player, Hoban’s sixty-five appearances trailed only Tony Betts (66) in the number of games played in green and gold and to this day ranks eighth place among all-time Timbers defenders (He will be passed in 2012 if Futty Danso makes two appearances).
Today, Hoban is an Alumni Ambassador for the Major League Soccer version of the Timbers. Along with former players from every era, he once again officially represents the club and has been instrumental in the organization’s embracing of the past.
Though he took part in just four of the Timbers’ eight NASL seasons, Mick Hoban is among the most important players to ever play at Civic Stadium. His contributions to the club and community rank among the most significant in the 37-year history of the Portland Timbers. As the original no. 4, and one of only two players to wear it for at least four years (fellow Alumni Ambassador Lee Morrison being the other), Hoban is a name that belongs near the top in the club’s history.