- Jan. 23, 2012
In the mid-1970s, no two trans-Atlantic clubs were more heavily connected than the Portland Timbers and Aston Villa Football Club. At a time when summer loans to North American Soccer League clubs were commonplace, the Timbers tapped the West Midlands region of England more intensely than any other, with the majority of players coming from Aston Villa. Between the 1975 and 1977 seasons, the Timbers featured nine different players who had previously spent time at the Villa, as well as both managers.
When the Timbers were founded in January 1975, the club sought a manager who could easily bring players to Portland in what was an extremely short window. The season started May 2 and the club had neither a manager nor players even by March. Oregon Soccer, Inc., then the owners of the Timbers, turned to Vic Crowe, a former NASL player with the Atlanta Chiefs. Crowe had been a Welsh international, while playing at Aston Villa from 1952-64. The rugged wing-half played in 294 games for the Villa, scoring ten times. When he moved to Peterborough United at age 32, Crowe was a club legend at Villa Park, having captained the side to promotion to the First Division in 1960 and to the League Cup in 1961. When the managerial position opened at Villa in 1970, Crowe returned to his familiar ground, coaching his former team for nearly four years. His 1971/72 team won the Third Division in record-breaking fashion after having reached the League Cup final in ’71.
Crowe took charge of the Timbers in March 1975 and sought familiar players to fill his inaugural roster. With little time, Crowe flipped through his roster sheets from his four years in charge of Villa and found five players, by that time with different clubs, who were willing to join him for the summer. The most notable addition in the Timbers’ first season was Willie Anderson, a famous winger for six years at Aston Villa, 1967-73. Anderson was a starter at Cardiff City at that time, and he came on loan to the Timbers. Likewise, Crowe tapped his former captain, Brian Godfrey, who had spent four years at Villa, 1967-71. Godfrey captained the side that lost to Tottenham Hotspur in the ’71 League Cup final and though past his prime by ’75, was vitally important in adding toughness, discipline and leadership to what became a very young Timbers team.
Both Godfrey and Anderson would have been well known to Villa supporters at the time. Three more young players joined the Timbers in their debut season, each of which had been in the youth and reserve teams at the Villa, prior to moving stateside. Tony Betts had won the 1972 FA Youth Cup with Villa under manager Leo Crowther, who himself was employed by the Timbers as the inaugural assistant coach. Mick Hoban, who made his debut against Pelé’s Santos in a 1972 friendly, and Barry Lynch had each come through the Villa reserves before playing together in Atlanta in the NASL earlier in the decade.
In addition to the five former Villa players, Crowe found room in his debut roster for five players coming directly from Wolverhampton Wanderers, including Peter Withe, then a young forward struggling to find his footing in the First Division. Withe signed with Aston Villa in 1980 and famously scored the match-winning goal in the 1982 European Cup final against Bayern Munich. Crowe also added Birmingham City defender Ray Martin in 1975, a long-time nemesis of Anderson and another player with strong ties to the West Midlands. In total, the Timbers featured eleven of their seventeen players from three West Midlands clubs.
That familiarity bred success for the debutant Timbers, leading to a 16-6 regular season record, two playoff victories and a berth in Soccer Bowl ’75. Though Portland ultimately lost to Tampa Bay Rowdies in the league’s championship game, the Villa connections were vital to the success of the very first Timbers team.