It's quite a way to elevate banter between rivals. Last weekend, the Seattle Sounders arrived at JELD-WEN Field to play their Cascadia rivals the Portland Timbers. The game itself finished in a 2-1 victory for the Timbers and a sending off for each team - fairly typical, robust, derby fare in other words. Atypically, the most memorable image of the day came before a ball had been kicked in anger, as the latest episode in an ongoing battle of creative oneupmanship took place in the stands.
As the pre-match rituals took place, Timbers fans hoisted a 20,000 square foot, 1500lb banner that had taken the work of 66 riggers and which honored the club's past with the phrase: "Legends are born when the previous are surpassed." The giant tifo display showed the flags of Portland and Cascadia, flanking both the Portland skyline and an image of Clive Charles, the former West Ham and Timbers player who after his playing career went on to transform the University of Portland soccer program into a national powerhouse - shaping the early careers of the likes of Kasey Keller and Steve Cherundolo in the process. When he died in 2003, his shirt number 3 was retired by the club - and Sunday's banner was a mark of respect from the fans for one of the most significant figures in Timbers folklore.
.As Garett Dittfurth, a Timbers Army rep who has been involved in most of the recent big Timbers tifos, put it:
Clive is in the Ring of Honor here - not so much for what he did on the field, though he had a good NASL career, but for his connection to the people here and what he did for the infrastructure of the game, not just in Oregon but nationally, with the young players he developed. We're still looking for a player in the MLS era who can step up to have that sort of connection with the people here. This was our way of celebrating and inspiring.
The tifo was also, however, the latest installment in what for the neutral is turning into a very entertaining rivalry between Portland and Seattle fans, conducted via the medium of these large scale displays. Seattle may not have been mentioned explicitly in the latest banner, but make no mistake about it, it was no coincidence that they were the guests at this latest unveiling and the "Legends" message was no accident either, as it has been a charged word in the exchanges between the rival fans.
Here's the story so far (in the MLS era at least)...
March 2009: "Tonight our history becomes Legend"
For the Sounders opening home game in MLS, the Emerald City Supporters start with a display that is modest by their own later standards, but that put down a marker for their arrival in the league. As the teams are announced, the fans hoist a large banner displaying the Space Needle and the phrase "Tonight our history becomes Legend" - as the former NASL team name is revived for the MLS era.
July 2009: US Open Cup
With the Timbers still in Division 2 of the US soccer pyramid, they are drawn against Seattle in the Open Cup, and take the opportunity to offer a riposte to the Seattle iconography, with a display of their own long-time mascot, Timber Jim (predecessor to the current Timber Joey) chainsawing down the Space Needle.
They also take a pot shot at the Sounders banner from a few months earlier, with one of their own reading, "Tonight your legend becomes history..."
March 2011: It takes an Army...
The Timbers arrive in MLS with what at the time was the largest tifo display to be seen in the league - an image celebrating the city and the fans with the phrase, "It takes an Army to Raise a Club" (the game is also notable for the national anthem being sung not by a guest singer, but by the entire Timbers Army). At an away game, Seattle fans later respond with a banner of their own, claiming that "It takes a Sounder to raise a trophy" - a nod to their contemporary Open Cup successes.
May 2011: The Sounders welcome the Timbers to MLS