Art Through the Ages

No Thorns is no fun. As we sit in our houses, fascinated by Tiger King, or decoding official pronouncements, baking far too many pity cakes, and considering silly crafts – we need some Thorns football. But all we have are the past matches; such dry biscuits.  If we’re forced down memory lane, I thought, how about if we look back on beauty?

So here is every tifo the Riveters have displayed. Since day one, the Riveters have operated on the cheap, reusing material three and four times, scrounging paint supplies, asking people to work on elements on their own, etc. Some amazing stuff has been produced.

I have added some notes about each tifo and my personal ranking of the best five. Make your own rating in the comments. And if you have any anecdotes to add, please do.

2013 Home Opener – City of Thorns

The Riveters had just started, our name had barely been settled before the opening match. We had no idea what the environment would be like, how many people would show up, if the team would be any good. We knew nothing of the opponent and had no history as a guide. There was no money and no workspace. We did the painting in a Beaverton school gym “borrowed” by an art teacher for our use.

The front banner was beautifully detailed with Mexican Day of the Dead-style skulls amid thorns – I cannot find a photo that does it justice. The crowd display was a replica of the initial jersey with a white rectangle on a red field. Maybe not the most exciting theme, and the scale was small potatoes, but everything starts somewhere.

2013 Home Closer – Superheroes

By the end of the first season, the Riveters knew who we were and what the Thorns were. The 107IST organization stepped up with some backing and money so we could go all out on a very large scale “proper” tifo to thank the Thorns for that first season.

This panel took forever to make. Every superhero figure represented a player and was painted to resemble them individually. The detail needed was incredible and the panel was very large. A t-shirt was made of this image and it sold very well. From this point forward, all Riveters tifo was self-funded from merchandise sales, often with money left over for community donation.

2014 Home Opener – Storybook

Our first chance to brag about a trophy was the 2014 opener, with a story book open to the first NWSL trophy page. We learned that overhead displays like this should not have words on them – they’re too hard to read because the fabric moves around due to all the bouncing Riveters underneath.

2014 Pride – Pride of Portland

As far as I can recall, this was the first tifo honoring Pride week. It featured the three players who were “out” at the time. The three-dimensional effect of the charging Nadine Angerer was a notable feature. This tifo has many colors, including six shades of purple, which made it challenging to produce. Some people thought it was made photographically, but no – all hand-painted.

2104 Home Closer – Picasso

The first and, so far only, tifo not in English. The 2-sticks in the front row were player portraits, which were given to the players afterwards. Each was painted in a specific artistic style suiting the player. For example, Becca Moros’ showed her as a samurai, in Japanese woodblock style, because she came to Portland from a team in Kobe, Japan. I know she toted that large painting to each of her stops in her NWSL career and presumably has it still.

It took weeks to make all the paintings – each was assigned to a Riveter artist to produce at home – as some of them were very detailed. Here are some closeups.

The Picasso quote translates “Everything you can imagine is real”.

2015 Home Opener – Instagram

With the arrival of Vero Boquete and Jodie Taylor, this display was made to celebrate the global nature of the game and the Thorns. We also worked in a little brag about the Thorns’ world’s-best average attendance. But what most people commented on was the airport carpet background – this was the year that PDX began replacing the iconic flooring and the time that “airport shoe-selfies” became a big thing.

2015 Mid-season – Win Locally

I am unable to find or recall a pride display from 2015. Instead, there was this mid-season display to acknowledge the World Cup in Vancouver, BC, and to tell the “left-behind” Thorns that we supported them and still had high expectations. The twist on the well-known bumper sticker phrase was well received.

This was the famous match where goalkeeper Michelle Betos scored the equalizing goal on the last play of stoppage time, snatching two points away from Seattle.

2015 Home Closer – Belles of the Ball

The 2015 season was a disappointment and coach Paul Riley would leave shortly after this match. The Riveters decided to simply ignore the poor results and celebrate the entertainment of having the Thorns. So the motif was “heck with it, let’s dance”.

This was the first, and so far only, display including animated elements. The tall dancers on either side were four panels attached to a central spindle what was spun (by hand) to create a cartoon dancing effect, like a rotating flipbook. It was mostly successful, but boy was it painful to spin that 30 pound construction for two minutes!

2016 Home Opener – Madness

The fourth season kickoff was a big deal. The NWSL was the first women’s pro league in North America to survive past three years. The Riveters celebrated with the ska-themed display playing on the cover art of Madness’ One Step Beyond album. The figures are likenesses of each player on the squad. The “One Goal Beyond” chant was inspired by this tifo.

Also, notice the checkerboards carrying through to the front capo-stage banner. This was the first time the front banner was coordinated with the main display – a feature that has become standard.

2016 Pride – Undefeated

This simple tifo and message was a very emotional one for the Riveters. This was displayed about a week after the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando. The message that we stand together in solidarity synched nicely with the fact that the Thorns were undefeated on the pitch at that time. Many tears were shed when this went up.

2016 Late-season – Breakfast

The 2016 schedule had a very long string of road games – nearly a month and a half. When the team finally came home and as the playoffs neared, the Riveters made an uncommon “extra” tifo. The opponent was the lowly Boston Breakers, may they rest in peace, and a win would put the Thorns in the driver’s seat for a home semi-final matchup.

The tifo’s theme is breakfast. There was a vague idea that we might make lunch and dinner to close out the season – it didn’t happen. There are many elements as you can see. The most notable to me are the newspaper article with a self-referencing photo of the tifo being flown at Providence Park; toast with a faint Boston Breaker crest; and Mark Parsons as Captain Crunch (“BOOM”). Coach Parsons noticed and was mightily amused. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still got a picture of it someplace.

2016 Home Closer – Little Prince

This panel featured a clean design following the art in the original books. It had a simple, powerful message that no effort in support of the team was too much. This was largest single piece that the Riveters had yet made, a whopping eighty feet tall!

2016 Semi-Final – Second Star

This was perhaps the most exciting match the Thorns have ever played. The winner would go on the final in Houston, heavily favored to win the league trophy. The quest for a second star was the theme of this tifo, drawing on a line from Peter Pan. This was the first three-panel display by the Riveters. It had skylines of Portland and Houston in the night sky. The entire project was conceived and produced in ten days. Unfortunately, 2016 was not to the year for the Thorns.

2017 Home Opener – Shield Maidens

If you were there, you remember this tifo! It was a triple-entendre referring to the Supporter’s Shield which the Thorns had won in 2016 and was presented on that day; the desire to protect the fortress that was Providence Park; and in reaction to the political events of late 2016 which threatened many Riveters.

The display had 154 unique elements, 150 of which were large cardboard shields painted with various sigils. The Riveters hosted a few shield-painting parties in which people came armed with ideas for things they wanted protected, or were just fun. These were turned into art and then painted in red, white and black on the cardboard discs. A family on vacation from New York City showed up one day to paint shields even though they would not be at the match to hold them up. They were the source of the Hello Kitty shield.

This tifo was named the 2017 Best Display in North America by the Independent Supporter’s Council, an organization of all the supporter groups from MLS, NWSL, and much of USL.

2017 Pride – Stronger

Resilience in the face of adversity was the theme of 2017, both on the pitch and off. This tifo captured that nicely, showing a rainbowed rose blooming from a bare stick. The rose in the third panel was later cut out and used as a traveling overhead banner to symbolize smoke after we scored a road goal.

2017 Home Closer – Multnomah Falls

The “Protect this Place” theme carried through to the end of the season, this time referring to the tragic Eagle Creek fire which was still burning at the time. This was the first time a tifo had combined a lift with an overhead section in one piece. The bridge element had technical difficulties, but you can see it if you look closely. Some people in the crowd were hit hard emotionally by this display, crying openly.

2017 Semi-Final – Shakespeare

Featuring a line from Hamlet, this was the biggest tifo from the Riveters to date. The winner of this match would go to Orlando to face North Carolina. This was the Thorns’ year, as they prevailed to add the second star.

The display is a nod back to the very first tifo on opening day 2013. The “white rectangle on a field of red” card display was duplicated, but at the scale which the Riveters could command five years later. Comparing the two, I marvel at what we were able to pull off from a standing start in 2013 – and how far we have come since then.

The parchment-like background color on the panels was achieved by staining with tea. Brewed in large trash cans using 1,000 teabags and applied with mops, it delivered a nice color without the time, expense and weight of a coat of paint.

2018 Home Opener – Constellation

This tifo was inspired by Emily Menges who talked about “making a constellation” at the post-championship rally. While the Thorns have yet to run out of room for stars on the kit, it is a great aspiration.

The star chart depicted constellations of things which made 2017 special: a second trophy, Lindsay Horan’s MVP season, the Eisbars which motivated the team as Nadine Angerer so hilariously recounted at the rally.

2018 Pride – We Are Family

Using a psychedelic font, this display gets its inspiration from Sister Sledge’s 1979 hit song of the same name. It features all the various LGBTQ+ flag variants, trying to stem internal division in the face of external threats. The “tails” were a last-minute addition to give the display balance – it became a memorable feature.

2018 Home Closer – Bonfire

The last match of 2018 was versus the Reign – this inspired the bonfire tifo design to match the Build a Bonfire chant we’ve always sung for all things Seattle. The dramatic front net lift is a giant bonfire surrounded by Riveters. Almost lost to view was the rear lift, which shows a backdrop of Portland at night.

2018 Semi-Final – Smoke

Since the Thorns beat the Reign in the home closer, we faced them again the following weekend for the NWSL Semi-Final. This meant the Riveters had only one week to design, produce, test, and fly a tifo for the event. Maintaining the bonfire theme, this display reverses the axiom, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” referring to our red goal smoke.

These panels were each the size of the Little Prince display of 2016 – so really, really big (and heavy)! Special rigging was made in our painting space to dry one panel while painting another, since they were too large to be done in one session.

2018 Final – Match

Having beaten the Reign a second time, the Thorns hosted the Courage for the NWSL Final. Again, the Riveters had only one week to make a display. It features a gigantic lit match, its cast shadow on an overhead display behind, and its reflection in a pair of huge, ominous welder’s goggles.

As the finale of three tifos in three weeks, the home stretch of 2018 was a tribute to the many dozens of volunteer tracers and painters who showed up when crunch time came.

2019 Home Opener – Back to the Madness

The 2019 season kicked off with a retrospective to the fourth season Madness tifo. The season opened very late due to stadium construction, and the World Cup loomed. Madness seemed like a logical theme.

This time it was Alice in Wonderland with three playing cards in the Lewis Carroll style: The Queen of Diamonds with a rabbit (aka Ska Bunny) herald; the newly opened Providence Park; and gardeners painting roses. The checkerboard pattern in the lift tied back to the original Madness tifo. There’s also a Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat.

2019 Pride – Unbowed

A very simple display defiantly announced “Loud, Proud, Unbowed” as the resistance continued both to social matters and to the “Iron Front” showdown in MLS, which was also affecting the Riveters.

2019 Home Closer – A League of Our Own

While the Thorns did make the playoffs in 2019, it was clear that the team did not have the spark of the prior two years. Schedule compression meant that the final month and a half of the season was exhausting for players and fans alike. Soccer expectations were low, so the tifo theme addressed matters off the pitch. Namely, the front office applying MLS standards to NWSL matches.

My Top Five

There is no objective measure of “best tifo”. For me a potential “best” must be memorable, fitting to its occasion, physically well-made and deployed, artistically clear and pleasing, and well received by the team and fans. So here we go:

  1. Shield Maidens – awesome image and a community effort that people still remember fondly
  2. Madness – defining the Riveters still
  3. Superheroes – perfect message, perfect images
  4. Little Prince – just beautiful and a thought-provoking sentiment
  5. Pride of Portland – most dynamic image of them all

It pains me to leave Picasso off the list because those 2-sticks were the most amazing things. And Breakfast was just fun. But had I picked those, two of the others would be my regretted leftovers. Darn.

So what are your top five?

Do you have stories about tifo? Did one make you emotional? Surprise you? Offend you? Post in the comments below or on the Riveting PDX Facebook page.

Please join me in hoping there will be a 2020 Home Opener to add to the collection.

Richard Hamje
Latest posts by Richard Hamje (see all)

8 thoughts on “Art Through the Ages

  1. Well…the only tifo I’ve ever worked on was the 2014 Pride display, so that will always be a fond memory for me. Plus the 3-D effect was executed brilliantly. I still love that tifo.

    I tend to agree that the Shield Maidens is the “best” in overall effect. Color, image, activity, theme…it’s got it all.

    I love the Superheroes tifo (I still have one of the tote bags that weremade from that canvas), and I think it resonated because there were so many beloved players on that 2013 squad.

    Funny…”Madness” was one of the “I’m too old for this tifo” tifos (of which the 107st has done more than once). I didn’t know the band, or the song, and so I didn’t “get” it. It’s become familiar through the chant, but that’s really all I get out of it. It’s not the tifo, it’s me.

    Interestingly, my other favorite is Shakespeare; just loved the design and I love the story of the trash bins full of tea. I had no idea!

    Fun memories. thanks, Richard!

    1. I agree about using new-ish pop culture references in tifo – you’re almost certain to go over the heads of a section of the viewers. Any time you have to explain a joke, you’ve missed something.

      For the designers, it’s a real challenge. Is “Game of Thrones” a safe reference? South Park? Letterkenny? Where does obscure start? Does it even matter? And sometimes, the message is more important than the medium (which was the case with Madness, I think).

      I had never heard of “Eastbound and Down”, so when the TA rolled out “Cupbound and Down” in 2015 it meant nothing to me. I got the sentiment, but not the joke.

      1. The funniest thing about “Eastbound and Down” was that I had NO idea that it was anything but the theme song from “Smokey and the Bandit”. So when the tifos went up (and IIRC there were at least two; the first was at the Double Post match against SKC and there was another for the FCD home leg – that one was the “We’ll ride that bull…” one) I looked everywhere for Burt and Sally and Jerry and Jackie. I mean…”Smokey and the Bandit”, right? Who the hell was this sunglasses-and-beard freak? HE wasn’t in the movie…

        So I totally got the WRONG joke. It wasn’t until years later when I was talking to someone about that season that he explained it to me.

        Duh.

  2. Wow, what a trip down memory lane. I knew we’d had lots of amazing tifos but I didn’t realize just how many. My two favorites are Superheroes, because it captured how we all feel about our team, and Shield Maidens, for all the reasons you listed.

    Richard, thanks for compiling this, and Riveters, thanks for making them!

      1. That’s Sarah Huffman, ex-spouse of Abby Wambach. She decided to finish her career in Portland, where they had bought a house. She still lives here.

  3. Seeing all these tifos makes me think about ephemeral art. Tifos take days, weeks, or even months to design and execute, but they’re on display for only a couple of minutes. They’re in sharp contrast to the art in museums, like 400-year-old works by Leonardo or 5000-year-old Liangzhu jade sculptures. Tifos are like fireworks that way, though more artistic IMO. Pieces by Christo/Jeanne-Claude might be a better analogy. Performance art, like Simon Weckert creating a virtual traffic jam in Berlin using cell phones, is similar too, except there’s nothing tangible like there is for tifos.

    1. Not only are tifo only displayed for two minutes, they are destroyed soon afterward for reuse or recycling. If you’re in the North End, sometimes you are looking at the back/underside and can make out the prior life of a piece. But that’s about it – there’s nothing left for the history books except contemporaneous photos.

      Also, unlike Christo, the artist and designer names are never publicized. Nobody adds tifo images to their personal portfolios. This is the specific ethos of the tifo crew – it’s only about the team and community.

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