For the Love Of Soccer: Part 1

For several weeks I’ve been writing and editing (and writing and editing and writing and…) a post about my love for soccer. And I’m realizing that the problem I have with the post is that it needs to be a series, because even with a gap in the 1990s, 30-ish years of loving a sport is a lot to cram into one blog post.

And over the weekend I was reminded that the story of my love for soccer—and, especially, the Portland Timbers—includes my friendship with Gisele and Paula Currier. Indeed, there really cannot be any discussion of the history of soccer in Portland that does not include Gisele and Paula. They are the history of soccer in Portland.

I met Paula and Gisele in the late 70s, soon after I began going to Timbers games and Boosters functions. I knew they were Ultras before Ultras was a Thing here in the States. When they weren’t supporting soccer, Paula worked in the laundry for the Sheraton Inn at the Portland Airport, a job that seemed particularly grueling and stressful, especially for someone who was in heart failure (I learned about Paula’s condition very early on in our friendship). Gisele did not have work outside of the home that I was aware of. Both sisters lived with their parents in Southeast Portland. I had been to their home a few times: it was a comfortable home, that I don’t think had changed much through Gisele’s and Paula’s lives. One of the more vivid memories I have was a lot of purple in Gisele’s room.

Over the years, through the NASL Timbers, and then following some of the Timbers players into their coaching careers (Clive Charles at University of Portland and Bernie Fagan at Warner Pacific College), and other former Timbers into the MISL—as well as following the Portland Winterhawks—I spent many hours on the road with Paula and Gisele. We traveled up and down I-5 dozens of times between Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Bellingham, and Vancouver (and Burnaby!). I logged a lot of hours in the back seat of Paula’s black Chevy Chevette (and occasionally their dad’s little blue Subaru station wagon, if snow was anywhere in the forecast), listening to a lot of Classic Stadium Rock and laughing my ass off. Gisele and Paula both had a wicked sense of humor (Paula, especially, seemed to have a pun locked and loaded for every occasion). We all had our favorite Timbers players, about whom we spent hours talking. Gisele liked Jimmy Kelly, and Paula adored Brian Gant: I was a John Bain fan all the way.

(An aside: I was surprised to read in one of the tributes to Gisele that she drove her dad on errands and to church. In all the time I spent with them, Paula always drove—and a couple of times I took over driving to give Paula a break. I just assumed that Gisele never got a license.)

We spent so much time at Civic Stadium during the summers, we knew the stadium as well as we knew the lines on our hands. And we haunted so many away matches and team/booster functions that the players would take note if one of us wasn’t spotted in attendance, and we would be questioned about our absence the next time the players saw us. We got up to just enough shenanigans to keep things interesting, but not enough to get us arrested—or deported (there was one trip through the Peace Arch, though, and I don’t think that Canadian border patrol officer was ever the same after he finally waved us through).

For reasons that I cannot even recall now, I parted company with the Curriers. I was in my early 20s, so maybe it was just me growing apart from them, or life—and school and work—taking up so much time and energy that there wasn’t much left for following college soccer teams, or the Winterhawks, around the Pacific Northwest. I don’t think there was any specific falling out: we just stopped hanging out together.

I eventually left Portland for the Bay Area, and I never saw or spoke to them again. I got curious one day and Googled them and was sad to learn of Paula’s passing. It was touching to see how much respect the sisters had earned from the Timbers organization and the soccer community: shortly after Paula’s death, the Timbers players filed into the stands before kickoff and placed roses on Paula’s vacant seat. (And thereafter, no one dared try to take that seat, next to Gisele, at the top of Section 107.)

Although the Timbers joined MLS in 2011, I didn’t really start following them closely until 2014. One evening I was trolling the archives on OregonLive and was stunned and heartbroken to see an article reporting that Gisele had died suddenly, on April 24, 2011, just after the the Timbers franchise began their MLS era.

But in my shock and heartbreak, I was also happy to see the loving tributes to Gisele. She really did grow into her role as the Matriarch of Portland Soccer. I felt so grateful that she got to know how loved she and Paula are in the soccer community (tributes even came in from rival fans).

I regret that I did not reach out to Gisele after I learned about Paula’s death (I foolishly thought I’d have more time to catch up). And I wish that Paula and Gisele would have been alive to see the Timbers win their first MLS Cup, but I know that their spirits were in Columbus, getting up to Tomfoolery and willing Portland to win.

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