Football Milestones

Pitch Invasions & Live Tigers: The Origins of the Portland - San Jose Rivalry
Field Notes Football Milestones Pitch Invasions & Live Tigers: The Origins of the Portland - San Jose Rivalry
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Football Milestones

Images courtesy of Nick Nicolas and The Oregonian

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  • May. 3, 2011

As Portland Timbers play host to San Jose Earthquakes in their first competitive match since the 2005 US Open Cup, it is worth remembering just how fierce the rivalry once was. While the Timbers certainly had regional rivals in Seattle Sounders and even played in a cup competition against Vancouver Whitecaps (the Columbia Cup) in their first season of 1975, Portland’s biggest on-field rivalry was with San Jose.

Formed a year earlier, along with Los Angeles Aztecs, Seattle and Vancouver in the first great western expansion of the North American Soccer League, the Earthquakes led the NASL in attendance in 1974. Playing at the notoriously narrow Spartan Stadium on the campus of San Jose State University, the early Earthquakes sides were well known as tough and high scoring. San Jose lead the league in goals in ’74 with Paul Child’s league-leading fifteen as the highlight. The Earthquakes even played two friendlies against Club América.

In their first meeting, June 14, 1975, Portland traveled south on a four-game winning streak. That run was abruptly halted as the Earthquakes limited the Timbers to a Tony Betts goal and won the game 2-1 with a late goal. But the story of the game was the fighting. Graham Day and Derek Craig were sent off for Portland and San Jose, respectively, after their punches earned them straight red cards ten minutes into the second half.

In the seventieth minute the game got completely out of hand when 37-year old player-assistant coach Momcilo “Gabbo” Gavri? earned a straight red for a roughing foul. From that point forward fouls, fights and pitch invasions ensued. Portland’s Barry Powell was whistled for a foul in the seventy-fifth minute for kicking Boris Bandov in the ribs. The referee’s calling of the foul was not quick enough for San Jose assistant coach, and former Red Star stalwart, Ivan Toplak. Running across the field to challenge the referee, who stood near the Timbers’ bench, Toplak’s eruption led to confusion in the stadium. While players from both sides stood by, waiting to see the referee’s reaction, a San Jose supporter ran onto the field and punched Peter Withe in the head. With that unbelievable occurrence the Timbers’ substitutes joined the fracas on the pitch, before assistant Leo Crowther managed to prevent them from engaging in additional fighting. Toplak was cautioned but nothing was done about the pitch invasion.

After the game the Timbers were pelted with all manner of objects while leaving the pitch and another fan made his way onto the field, punching Mick Hoban in the process. In all, seventy-one fouls were called and the three straight reds.

When Portland returned to San Jose on June 28, the Earthquakes welcomed the Timbers back to Spartan Stadium with the promise of extra security. To that end, in addition to debuting new signing Jinky Johnstone from Celtic, San Jose introduced a new form of on-field security: Bombay, a massive tiger on loan to the Earthquakes from Marine World-Africa USA. Bombay patrolled the sidelines during warm-ups, chasing Chris Dangerfield near mid-field and growling at Timbers’ goalkeeper Graham Brown.

Ultimately the tiger was removed and the game was played under real security. No pitch invasions were reported and the Timbers emerged with a 2-1 win thanks to goals from the teenaged Dangerfield and Peter Withe. When San Jose finally came to Portland in late July, the Timbers were the top team in the league and showed that class in a 3-2 victory. Withe scored twice more and Powell got the third.

Certainly Seattle and Vancouver matches will rightfully earn derby monikers in 2011. Yet there should be no forgetting the importance of the rivalry with San Jose from the earliest days. Timbers teams have played against the Earthquakes in a series of friendlies over the past few seasons but it has been six years since the last competitive match. Tuesday’s US Open Cup qualifier can rekindle that once-strong rivalry, though hopefully without the red cards, pitch invasions or wild animals.

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