There is further proof that the existence of American football fans and their soccer culture are entering the mainstream consciousness of the rest of the world.
Europeans are beginning to learn that more and more soccer specific stadia are being created and the days of top level football being played on pitches with alien markings are rare, but there is little knowledge and appreciation for the strength of the North American supporter culture.
That too is beginning to change, and nowhere is that appreciation currently stronger than in the Spanish city of Oviedo where the financially struggling local club Real Oviedo have received help from a most unusual source.
In far away Cascadia, Portland Timbers supporters have been among those participating in a public sale of Oviedo shares.
This unusual interaction begins with Sherrilynn Rawson, an Oregon elementary school administrator, who is a leading member of the 107-ist, the business wing of the Timbers Army.
A fluent Spanish speaker, she developed a fondness for Real Oviedo when a curious Oviedista began to ask questions about the Timbers online.
“About a year and a half ago I was reading messages on a Timbers Army message board online and somebody from Oviedo posted some questions about the Portland Timbers. He had seen some information and videos online and wanted to know more. Several of us posted answers to his questions.”
Rawson kept in touch with the Spanish fan, in turn learning more about the Ovedistas additionally answering his curiosity about the Portland Timbers, Cascadian football passion and Major League Soccer.
“He and I subsequently struck up an email correspondence and the exchange of information about our teams and towns continued. He shared information about the northern Spanish town of Oviedo and the region of Asturias, I shared information about Portland and about Cascadia and the Pacific Northwest. I told him about the history of the Portland Timbers, going back to the NASL in the 1970s, and he told me about the history of Real Oviedo going back to 1926.”
The friendship extended beyond the internet and soon books began to fly across the Atlantic as the level of curiosity increased according to Rawson:
“I sent him the history of the Portland Timbers that we received as season ticket holders. He sent me El Espíritu de 2003, a book about Real Oviedo’s darkest hours, when in two years they had fallen from 1a división all the way to 3a in two years. It told a remarkable tale of courage and passion in the face of what appeared to be certain extinction for the team. I connected with that real passion for the team, and was moved by how hard the fans fought for the team’s very existence.”
As Rawson noted, the Asturian club had hit financial difficulties on top of their footballing demise.
She explains the pain of looking on from a distance and seeing a club you love in trouble:
“As I have been following Real Oviedo for the last year and a half or so, I was no stranger to their financial difficulties. In fact, many times in 2011 I was limited to listening to matches on the radio because the team’s finances were so dire that even local public television would not cover the matches. When the previous corrupt owner, Alberto Gonzalez, was charged with tax evasion and went into hiding, a responsible group of folks took over the finances and shared just how bad the situation was.”
Rawson began to think of novel ways of helping.
An opportunity arose when the cash strapped club resorted to a public share flotation.
The existing shareholders had not taken up a previous offer in sufficient numbers so the club resorted to asking their fans.
When the shares went on sale, she decided she could no longer be a concerned spectator and thought of something she could do to help.
Portland Timbers fans are already heavily involved in many charitable work such as Harper’s Playground and Operation Pitch Invasion, so Rawson had to think of a novel way to attract attention.
“When they announced the desperate need, as well as the ability to buy a share for only about $15, I really wanted to help out, but of course I am only one person. I knew that alone I could only do so much. I also knew that friends in the Timbers Army would also understand the passion the fans had for the team, and that there is something about being able to be an actual part owner that really appeals to die-hard footy fans (even if it is only a tiny fraction of the whole).”
This is where the story gets a little more ‘Portland’.
“I decided to issue a challenge to my Timbers Army friends: if you purchase at least 100 shares of Real Oviedo, I will get a Real Oviedo tattoo. As I already have ink to show my support for my first team, the Portland Timbers, this seemed a natural progression.”
Rawson knew Portland fans were passionate about the sport but had to admit to being slightly surprised about how enthusiastically they responded. With the large response to that, she went on to raffle a rare Timbers scarf and so the campaign began to rock and roll.
“Amazingly they came through, and then some. So I added another rare scarf to the raffle–and they passed 300 shares. As of this writing there are 135 Timbers Army shareholders holding 365 shares, and more are promised. People in Oviedo were moved by this outpouring of support from the Timbers Army and have mailed me two historic Oviedo kits, two scarves and two T-shirts to raffle as well.”
The Portland fans helping out have also began to take an increased interest in the football side of things and many saw their new heroes beat the mighty Real Madrid, well their third team, 1-0 in a Segunda B game at the Estadio Nuevo Carlos Tartiere.
“Timbers Army friends watched the match online this past weekend and are eager to purchase scarves and kits from the team in which they now share ownership. And a few of us are seriously talking about the possibility of traveling to Spain to see the team and the town in the future.”
Rawson kept herself busy with the campaign and her day job, remaining unaware of the increasing stir her efforts were creating in Spain until one day Spanish TV contacted her.
“I had no idea,” she said. “It has certainly been an interesting week. I was hoping that the interest of a group of fans from far away would get a bit of attention brought to Real Oviedo’s situation. I had no idea that it would grow as much as it has.
Over the last few days though, Spanish newspapers, radio stations and even the mainstream US media have taken an interest.
I was mentioned on the radio in Asturias by Sid Lowe, who covers Spanish football for the Guardian in the UK. I was interviewed about the Timbers Army support on Spain’s public television news, TVE, which has 7-9 million viewers. The Timbers Army was also mentioned on the front page of El Pais, Spain’s largest daily print news. And non-soccer media in the United States are starting to pay attention as well. I am not used to this kind of attention and it is a little unsettling, but if it brings more support to Real Oviedo, my “other” team, then I am certainly willing to do it,” Rawson concludes.
Details on how to purchase a share are here:
Rawson says that if you also want to participate in the Timbers Army raffle for more goodies, email the campaign here, and you will be added to the list of shareholders. The raffle ends on November 17. There are TA scarves and historic Real Oviedo kits, plus a couple of Real Oviedo scarves and T-shirts.