Gisele Currier died on April 24th, 2011. She was just 55 years old.
I didn't know Gisele. But it was impossible not to know her vicariously through the smile that leapt across the face of anyone who knew Gisele when you asked about her.
Gisele was a super fan, with a super heart. She sat in a seat at the old entrance to the Timbers Army, between sections 106 and 107. Throughout the Portland Timbers’ many incarnations, revivals and falls, Gisele was there with her sister Paula, who sat next to her.
The story goes, Gisele and fellow supporters designed the famous "No Pity" Timbers Army scarves, and she sold them out of her backpack in the lean years. She was an outsize figure, for her generosity, enthusiasm, and relentless presence in the organization.
When Paula died of congestive heart failure in 2003, Gisele kept up her loyal support and kept the seat next to her empty.
She was the soul of the Army. Many members knew her by name, knew her by a glimpse of that vivacious grin and long red hair. Win, lose or draw, she'd be there, between 106 and 107. When she died, tributes poured in from Merritt Paulson to the Seattle Sounders fans she crossed paths with.
Gisele was there in the Timbers' heyday in 1970's, when the New York Cosmos swept the country up in a short-lived soccer fever, and she was there when the team returned to a revamped PGE Park in 2001.
Currier went to Colorado to see Portland's first MLS game, and she got to see the first weekend of action at Jeld-Wen Field. It was pure magic for her. Her team had made it.
And there's just a lingering feeling that Gisele pushed the Timbers over the finish line and into the bright lights and huge popularity of MLS. People like Gisele are the reason Portland is Soccer City, USA, and I couldn't help thinking of her Sunday night, as Portland and Seattle squared off at Jeld-Wen.
I thought, for a person who talked more about experiences than score-lines, she would have loved seeing her Army so full and brimming with excitement, it backed up against the walls of the North End of Jeld-Wen Field, spreading from her seat between 106 and 107 all the way from 201 and 211 and elements around the whole stadium.
For a woman who chatted with Clive Charles and Pele, I don't think she would have been impressed with Clint Dempsey.
Timber Jim was there too, the old Lumberjack mascot, surpassed in recognition by Timber Joey, but never surpassed in the hearts of Timbers fans. Jim Serrill gets to watch the games these days, instead of handling the chainsaw. He's in the front of 107, and he must be so happy, so thankful, every time he hears You Are My Sunshine belted out in the 80th minute.
Even on Sunday, with the game tight and tensions unbearably high, the Army sung You Are My Sunshine, as an everlasting tribute to their mascot and leader who, holding a granddaughter orphaned by the death of Jim's daughter in a tragic car accident, broke into the song with tears in his eyes in his first game back in 2004.
In the middle of the song, the Timbers scored the goal that won the A-League Championship. The Sunshine Goal was instant legend. The power of love.
Absolutely, the Timbers Army has had their fair share of poor moments. It can get rowdy. At times, there's been an anti-establishment angle to the group. But the organization has come a long way. It's safe, it's pleasant, it's organized, and I've never once seen a shred of violence or heard a slur of any kind in the Army. This is an incredibly welcoming group that does charitable work and has united with the Portland community.
I can feel the influence of Gisele, a woman who donated countless hours to her church, in all of that.
When she died, the Army’s tribute was moving and classy.
Portland’s soccer team has come so far. The Timbers are unrecognizable from the old bunch Gisele and Paula saw play. This team is on the grandest of stages, on national television weekly, plowing the roads for a sport that is taking off in the US in a big way.
These Timbers have a cult following stemming from the support those old Army members helped foster. They have fans in West Virginia, and Ohio, and in Sweden and Denmark.
The TA's tifo on Sunday was perfect because while it hammered Seattle's glitz and glam, it hammered home what is perfect about the Timbers: Authenticity, loyalty and true passion. This is a family.
Money can't buy me love. People like Gisele could do what money couldn’t.
If Gisele looked down from the heavens Sunday night, she would have seen her scarves engulfing an entire stadium.
She would have been so proud.