Powell: My Portland Pride
Withe And Others Honoured, Too
Barry Powell is among a sizeable group of former Wolves players waiting to learn whether their induction to a distant hall of fame is going to lead to another nostalgic reunion.
We have made several previous references on these pages to the success achieved 45 years ago by a Portland Timbers side packed with West Midlands talent.
Now, we draw attention to a new accolade won by the team, who contained a further four players with Molineux connections in Peter Withe, Jimmy Kelly, Don Gardner and Chris Dangerfield.
The Timbers blazed a glorious trail in their first year after formation by winning the Western Division of the NASL and reaching the final of Super Bowl.
Although that red-letter occasion ended in defeat by Tampa Bay Rowdies, the side have still been inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame four and a half decades on – the first football team to receive the honour.
“We had a good side and they were great days,” Powell said. “I loved it so much that I went back six years later but it was that 1975 season which really stands out.
“Our crowds started at well under 10,000 and climbed to 33,000 by the end. It was tremendous because the people there had never seen soccer of that level before.
“I had my green card and sometimes wondered how my life might have worked out if I had stayed in America. But I came back to Wolves and moved to Coventry soon afterwards.”
The Portland squad who greeted Powell contained plenty of familiar faces. As well as others who were on loan from Molineux, there was a large Villa influence.
That group provided the skipper in the shape of Brian Godfrey, plus Willie Anderson, Tony Betts, Barrie Lynch, Mick Hoban and the managerial duo of Vic Crowe and Leo Crowther. Ray Martin (Birmingham) was another well-known West Midlands face in a squad in which there were three Americans as well as other Football League campaigners.
Hoban didn’t graduate beyond the substitutes’ bench with Villa’s first team but is himself a hugely interesting character.
He was born in Tipton, educated at St Chad’s College in Wolverhampton and was an Albion-supporting England schoolboys captain.
He had already played for teams in Atlanta and Denver by the time he became the first recruit when plans were launched for a franchise on America’s west coast in what is known as Rose City.
Following a competition among supporters to come up with a name, the team were initially going to be called the Portland Pioneers as a nod to the Oregon Trail used by settlers moving west in the mid-19th century. But the prestigious local Lewis & Clark College already used that name for their teams, so ‘Timbers’ was used instead as a reference to the lumber industry which had dominated the state for about 100 years.
“We were up against sides from Los Angeles, Vancouver, San Jose and Seattle,” Powell added. “That was the Western Division. We also played teams from other divisions and probably squeezed three of those into a week or so to keep the travelling down. They were called road trips, although we obviously flew everywhere.
“We played 22 matches in less than three months and won it quite comfortably, although we started slowly.
“Withey got into his stride with something like 17 goals and we did well in overtime. They didn’t have draws in their game at that time and played extra-time to find a winner.”
Hoban recalls a team ‘without stars or posers’ and remembers Powell as just the sort needed to feed what were regarded by some as the best pair of wingers in the league, Anderson and Molineux youngster Kelly.
“Barry and Brian Godfrey were exceptional passers of the ball and could also score from distance and free-kicks,” he said. “Our strategy was to feed Willie and Jimmy, let them do their magic and then find Peter in the area.
“Barry was an outstanding younger player at Timbers and within the league. He was technically gifted and an excellent athlete. He thrived in the heat and humidity of the NASL.”
Powell contributed five goals of his own to a campaign that spilled over happily into the play-offs with a quarter-final win over Seattle Sounders and another odd-goal victory in the semi-final over a St Louis Stars side who had as their keeper Peter Bonetti, the Chelsea legend and mid-1990s Wolves goalkeeper coach who has died this week.
Dangerfield netted four and Kelly three but the Timbers couldn’t quite get the job done in the Super Bowl final in San Jose on August 24, the day after Wolves lost 1-0 at Middlesbrough early in their 1975-76 relegation season.
“With Jimmy Kelly on the left and Willie Anderson on the right, we were always really effective out wide but the San Jose pitch was tight and we didn’t have the space we normally had,” Powell added.
“I think we would have beaten them on a bigger pitch but we lost 2-0 – to a couple of goals from a Portuguese defender, if I remember right.”
Tampa included the Millwall and Chelsea forward Derek Smethurst, his former Stamford Bridge team-mate John Boyle, Watford’s Stewart Scullion and Bermudian-born West Ham favourite Clyde Best. The subsequent years were a story of Tampa Bay domination while Portland’s collection of heroes went their separate ways after living in close proximity in the same apartment complex.
Barry didn’t play again for McGarry’s Wolves, his return home being quickly followed by a £75,000 move to Coventry. So how did the beginning of the end for him at Molineux first time round come about?
“I hadn’t been playing too many first-team games and someone, possibly Jimmy Kelly, came into the dressing room one day and said he had been tapped up about going to Portland.
“Phil Parkes looked at me and said: ‘That would suit you and me, wouldn’t it, Baz?’ He had loved his trips there with Wolves and later had a great time in the league over there for several years.
“When I was approached, I went to see Bill McGarry in his office and he told me to f*** off! But I stayed behind one afternoon to practise some ballwork or do some weights and he said he had had second thoughts and believed it would help me grow up if I went over for a summer.
“It was a brilliant experience for me and I look back on it all really fondly. I got to face Pele when we played New York Cosmos in what was the first game to be televised over there.
“We trained in Central Park and the pitch at the stadium was so parched and bare that they had to paint it for the sake of the cameras. You still couldn’t slide on it as it was so hard but at least it dried in time and looked better!
“I had seen Pele on TV in his hey-day and he had lost his pace by the time I faced him. But he was still so strong. What a player!
“We were thrilled to beat them 2-1 at their place. I obviously tried to get his shirt afterwards but someone else beat me to it. I did the next best thing and got him to sign a little American flag which I still have in a cabinet at home.”
Hoban struck gold as a lad when he won a dressing-room draw and took home the shirt the world’s greatest player wore when playing in a friendly for Santos at Villa Park.
It’s quite fitting then that, in a wonderful career in coaching and leisure-related business, the Black Countryman had spells as a high-ranking employee at both Nike and Umbro and later had Jurgen Klinsmann as a partner in a sports marketing consultancy. He also won a single cap for the USA, in 1973.
Hoban and others who have remained in the States, including Anderson, were present at the dinner that marked the team’s induction to Oregon’s Hall of Fame. Film of the honouring ceremony appears at about 1hr 10min in the ‘2019 induction video’ at http://oregonsportshall.org
Powell and his wife Tina went back to Portland in 2000 for a club reunion and he said: “I am still in touch with a few of the lads and we wondered whether some kind of get-together might be planned when it is possible after all the problems. It is also ten years since the Timbers reformed, so we will see.”