Football Milestones

Aston Villa at the Heart of the Portland Timbers - Part II
Field Notes Football Milestones Aston Villa at the Heart of the Portland Timbers - Part II

Football Milestones

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  • Michael Orr
  • Jan. 26, 2012

Vic Crowe’s loan deals in 1975 left more than a few English clubs angry and required a restocking for the 1976 season. Gone were Willie Anderson, Brian Godfrey and Barry Lynch, as well as several others, including Peter Withe. Only Tony Betts and Mick Hoban returned as players with ties to the Villa. Needing new players, Crowe did expand his search beyond only the West Midlands, bringing in English players from the likes of Wigan and Middlesbrough. But four new players joining the Timbers in 1976 were former Villa men. Jim Cumbes replaced Graham Brown in goal, joining the Timbers after spending 1971-75 in goal at the Villa. Cumbes was also a well-known cricketer in England, but found time to spend the summer of ’76 in Portland.

Crowe returned to significant players from his time as Villa manager in recruiting Pat McMahon to Portland. McMahon was a starter on Villa’s League Cup final team of 1971 and had scored the opener against Pelé’s Santos in their 1972 friendly. McMahon had been at Villa since 1969. Another starter from the ’71 League Cup final was Brian Tiler. A central defender who spent four years at Villa, Tiler came to the Timbers as a player-assistant coach, having performed the same duties for Wigan Athletic over the previous two seasons. Finally, Crowe added Neil Rioch, a former Villa player from the early 1970s.

While the Timbers retained a similar demographic, the success of the debut season of 1975 proved impossible to replicate. Though Portland won four of its first six matches, a five-game losing streak quickly followed and the Timbers won just eight times in 1976. The stress of the unsuccessful season was enough to lead Crowe into retirement with Tiler replacing him for the 1977 season.

Willie Anderson returned on a permanent deal ahead of 1977 and the Timbers brought back Betts, Hoban and McMahon from the difficult ’76 season. Portland had a former Aston Villa player as its manager for the third year but the imprint of the team was different as players joined from other NASL cities and with different backgrounds in England. West Midlands clubs still made up the largest sub-sect under Tiler, with West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City also represented, but the similarity of style was gone from Crowe’s original Timbers. As such, Portland struggled again in 1977, winning just ten of twenty-six matches and finishing last in their division for the second straight year.

Before 1978 began, the Timbers hired Don Megson, previously the manager at Bristol Rovers, to replace Tiler and change the direction of the club. Hoban retired after a single appearance in ’78, moving into the apparel business as Nike’s first ever soccer-specific employee. That left only Anderson as a holdover not only from the debut season of 1975 but also as a player with any ties to Aston Villa. Indeed, Anderson was the only former Villa player on a Timbers roster until Terry Donovan joined the club on loan from Villa during the 1982 season, the Timbers’ last in the NASL.

After a very successful 1978 campaign, Megson struggled through 1979 and the start of the 1980 season. Megson was sacked by new Timbers owner Harry Merlo after losing his seventh game of the ’80 season, and was temporarily replaced by Merlo’s minister and general manger, Peter Warner. Four losses later, Merlo convinced Vic Crowe to return from retirement and again lead the Timbers. Crowe’s Timbers won eleven of their final seventeen matches in 1980 but it was not enough to avoid finishing in last place once again.

Crowe’s full-time return in 1981 led to a modestly successful season and a berth in the playoffs for the first time since 1978. But a three-game series loss to the San Diego Sockers ended the season and brought Portland to its final year in the NASL. Donovan joined Anderson and Crowe with Villa connections, though Donovan was from a new era at Villa Park, only joining the club in 1979.

By the time the team folded in November 1982, eleven Timbers had played at both Aston Villa and Portland, with two of the club’s three managers, covering five-and-a-half of the eight seasons, were products of the Villa. Though the impact of those connections certainly waned in the Timbers’ latter years, the success of the original Timbers was undoubtedly tied to a familiarity bred at Villa Park and in the West Midlands.

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