Timbers, Sounders fans unite on ‘Iron Front’

MLS

Symbol dates back to an anti-Nazi paramilitary organization

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Fans on both sides found common ground Friday night when the Timbers hosted the Sounders in the 107th edition of this Cascadia Cup rivalry — which Seattle won, 2-1.

Many donned shirts featuring a particular symbol singled out by a new MLS policy prohibiting political signs.

The Timbers and Sounders have banned signs and flags with the “Iron Front” symbol, which they claim has become appropriated by some in the loosely structured antifa movement, at times in the context of violence.

The symbol of three arrows pointing downward and to the left dates back to an anti-Nazi paramilitary organization formed in Germany in the 1930s. Supporters’ groups maintain the symbol represents opposition to fascism and persecution — a human rights issue, not a political stance.

“With the recent rise in targeted attacks against so many groups — LBTGQ+, immigrants, women, religious groups, and more — and the presence of fascists in our stadiums, this symbol represents our firm stance of combating hatred in soccer, our communities, and our world,” the board of directors for Portland’s 107 Independent Supporters Trust said in a statement. The group represents fans of both the Timbers and the NWSL’s Thorns.

The league’s new fan code of conduct, implemented this season, prohibits “using (including on any sign or other visible representation) political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures, which includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior.”

When the clock hit 33:01, Timbers fans broke out into a chant based on “Bella Ciao,” an Italian protest song, and some fans for each team defiantly waved flags with the prohibited Iron Front logo.

MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said the league worked with all its teams to devise the policy.

But the new policy isn’t sitting well with many fans.

“They can’t have a rule that says ‘no political statements’ because what does that mean?” said Timbers fan Matthew Shields. “That’s absolutely in the eye of the beholder.”

Silence descended upon Providence Park following the national anthem at Friday’s match. It lasted until the 33rd minute when noise erupted from both sides in a nod to 1933 Nazi Germany. Fans on both sides donned shirts with the “Iron Front” symbol.

“The very first person to ban the symbol we’re all talking about is Hitler,” Danny, another Timbers fan, told KOIN 6 News. “So we can talk about what side of history we want to be on and this is the stand we’re trying to take.”

Timbers fans wear “Iron Front” shirts at a match despite a new MLS policy banning political symbols, Aug. 23, 2019. (KOIN)

Major League Soccer is the only professional league among the top five in the United States with a code of conduct that expressly bans political signage.

MLS is also the only league to specifically target racist, homophobic, xenophobic and sexist language or behavior, which was lauded by supporters’ groups.

The Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers, does not allow signs that are commercial, political or obscene.

The Game

Cristian Roldan and Raul Ruidiaz each scored and the Seattle Sounders defeated the Portland Timbers 2-1 Friday night to secure this season’s Cascadia Cup trophy amid a fan protest over Major League Soccer’s ban on political displays.

Jordan Morris assisted on both goals as the Seattle Sounders (12-8-7) moved into second place in the Western Conference.

The Timbers (11-11-4) have lost their last two games after falling last week 2-0 to reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United FC at home. The Timbers sit in seventh place, just above the playoff line.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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