During the preparation for the upcoming exhibit, We are the Rose City! A History of Soccer in Portland (which opens on July 24, 2020), the curators identified several objects to borrow and display. One of the lender’s websites caught my eye immediately. Although terribly unfamiliar with soccer (or is it football?), the website lured me in with its beautiful photography and attention to detail. I realized what was attracting me was a similarity to my own work at the Oregon Historical Society (OHS), documenting tangible history and making it publicly accessible. I thought it would be interesting to pick the brain of its creator.
Travis Diskin runs the Patch Patrol website, an impressive compendium of textile patches created for the love of local soccer. The site “exists to chronicle patch collecting and creation in and around the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns.” Diskin, along with digital archivist and webmaster Randy Kilwag, kindly agreed to answer some of my newbie questions.
Nicole Yasuhara: I am fascinated by your website and devotion to patch collecting in the name of the game. It reminds me so much of our work at OHS, preserving history and making it accessible. Can you talk about why patches and why soccer, and how they intersect?
Travis Diskin: First and foremost it was about soccer. For me it goes back to watching the early NASL [North American Soccer League] team as a child, then becoming a supporter when they reincarnated in the USL [United Soccer League]. Supporters are akin to fanatics and fanatics like to get creative with their support. That plays out in the Timbers in interesting gameday gear: shirts, scarves, buttons, and patches. Early on I understood that it would become an ever more difficult task to collect this info the further in time we move away from its creation, so I tried to start cataloging these things back in 2013. At that time there was no Patch Patrol, just some different individuals making this and that. Nothing organized.
NY: How did the website come to exist?
TD: In the early days I was just using Facebook albums to catalogue the photos and info on each patch, then a very basic website, but Randy came along with the skills to take on the task of creating this website.
Randy Kilwag: Travis had a very basic site up on one of those free website hosting companies. It was more of a collection of small galleries than an exhaustive resource. The publishing platform was underpowered and not conducive to searching, assigning taxonomies, or organizing, and it was cumbersome to maintain. I was a lurker in the group for a while. As I became more engaged in collecting and the community grew, it became difficult to keep track of everything. There was a very basic problem identifying some patches by name, especially for new people. It’s hard to trade if you aren’t all using the same terminology. I knew I could easily apply my experience [in web development] to create a more exhaustive and useful web catalog. I built it on my own and hosted it as part of a Timbers blog I had started. Truthfully, it was my intention to replace the existing site from the beginning, but I didn’t expect Travis to just hand over the keys. Once I ported it to PatchPatrol.com, I began to expand the capabilities for members to maintain collections and trade online. The experience keeps growing over time, based on feedback from the users. If I had known how much work it was going to be in advance, I’m not sure I would have undertaken it, but I do have pride in the code.
NY: The patches don’t all belong to you, right? How many patches are in your personal collection?
TD: Another part of what I wanted to do when cataloging this info was to create an archive of each patch ever made. This would be for future display in some place of historical reverence, and so the “Golden Binders” were born. Currently [we have] four giant binders that hold examples of nearly every Portland Timbers patch ever made. I consider that my collection as it’s more important to me than having anything in my personal stock.
NY: Tell me about one or two of the most meaningful to you, personally?
TD: For me, the first one I made and the reason I started the Facebook Group was Ros’ity Fhtagn. My brother, Brent Diskin, was doing all kinds of great graphic design related to Timbers imagery and old propaganda posters, and we have many shared, nerdly passions, one of which is H.P. Lovecraft, the horror author. He did a little badge image that I thought would be a great patch design, but I’d never made anything like that before. I didn’t want to make a bunch of them and have no one want them, so I started a Facebook page to crowd source the project. Another for me was made by two friends, Jason and William, called the Eye of Providence. It pushed the boundaries of how these patches can be art and set the bar very high for future designs like the recent Heart Chakra patch.
NY: Who makes the patches? How many patches relating to Portland soccer history do you estimate to exist?
RK: It’s mostly the supporters (fans) that are making them. We have quite a few cataloged that were made by the organization during various Timbers incarnations that date back to 1975, but the vast majority are made by individuals. The largest single entity making patches is the merchandizing arm of the Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters, known as No Pity Originals and Rose City Riveters, respectively. The website currently has about 1,150 patches chronicled, about 30 of which have not been distributed yet and so have not been published. We still find the occasional Timbers patch that was made in the 1970s or 1980s and was previously unknown to the group. There are counterfeits and bootlegs out there for sure, but there are ways to tell newer production methods.
NY: I love the statement that Patch Patrol “does not sell or trade the patches shown here.” I am sure you get that question a lot! So how does one procure patches?
TD: When people make new patches, they sell sets of them on the Facebook page and that’s how people start getting trade material. From there, it’s all about the art of the trade and making friends. People on the page are very generous, too; they will just send people patches to spread the love.
NY: How many people do you think are actively making or collecting these patches? I love the “Meritt Badge” idea! Who came up with it and tell us a bit about its history — how does it work, for us newbies?
RK: There are almost 2,000 people in the Facebook group but there are probably about 200 people at any given time who we would consider active. Members will occasionally disappear for months or even a year at a time and then see something at a match or online that draws them back in.
TD: The Merritt Badge (MB) program first came from Drew Picard (Merritt as in Paulson, our beloved team steward). He had the idea of making these hex shaped patches that fit together, and he made four patches based on Timbers chants. The idea then evolved in to a merit-based system. We did some for fundraisers to benefit Booked!, the Timbers Army library, and to help the CPR trainers and pay for AED units for the adult league teams. Then, we decided to use the badge as a reward for away game attendance, so now there is a MB given away for free for every team away match and some other achievements as well.
NY: In preparation for the exhibit, I came across several Hayao Miyazaki patches, of the Catbus (Nekobus) and Totoro. It was intriguing and I felt a connection to them, since I am a big fan. I was surprised — what do they have to do with Portland soccer?
RK: Any time you get a group of enthusiastic and creative people together you are going to see a lot of mixed influences. The community is very vibrant, and it inspires people to draw from their own passions. It’s not unusual for someone to join the group and become energized by the sheer amount of designs, some with niche appeal, and they can’t help but want to create something based on what they love. Sometimes it’s for their children or significant other. The community provides so much help that the barrier to entry is pretty low. The flipside is that there are also some talented designers in the group as well.
TD: Well put, Randy. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people who become fanatic supporters of the Portland Timbers would also be fanatic supporters of other cultural icons. A lot of patch culture has roots in biker, heavy metal, and punk cultures, and so you will see that influence in a lot of designs. Perhaps it was some of Brent’s designs that opened the doors to nerd culture synergy with Timbers culture.
NY: The beautiful images were one of the things that really struck me, when I first visited Patch Patrol. Then I discovered the documentation of each known patch. I think a lot of people don’t realize how tedious and rewarding it is to catalog individual items. Tell us about the amount and types of work you put in to this?
TD: This is 100% Randy’s world….
RK: I’m not sure how much I want to talk about this because it’s an embarrassing amount of time and effort. Newer releases are easier because if you’re paying attention in the group you know who released it, and it’s just a matter of asking them. We also have a form for collecting that information, so that’s been helpful when we can get people to fill them out. Some patches are a complete and utter mystery, they appear out thin air and are blindly mailed to people, discreetly stuck in their bags, or show up on eBay without any background. At least 75 percent of the patches archived have been photographed specifically for the website. Each photograph is cleaned up with background removed and resized to the same conventions so they can be presented as uniformly as possible. I probably log a half hour for each new release from the time I learn of its existence to the time the picture is published on the website. We’ve been averaging slightly over 200 patches [per year] for the past 3 years now. Compared to 2015, there were only 31 patches added to the online archive. On releases prior to that, we crowdsourced the release info. We’re still filling in the gaps on some of those.
NY: History is being made, in this moment. First the COVID-19 pandemic and the related “Stay Home” orders, which has postponed the Major League Soccer (MLS) and National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) seasons and the 2020 Olympics. Then the Black Lives Matter Movement protests. How does soccer fit in to all of this?
TD: Flatly put, for me soccer doesn’t fit into these times at all. I know there is a rich history of social protest playing out with European supporter groups but not so much in American sports culture. It seems irresponsible for this league to be doing anything but working with their local communities right now.
Community is something we haven’t talked about much, and I’ll tell you how this passion fits in these times: This group of collectors and fanatics is a real community that does good things. At the start of the lockdown we took donations of patches from the community and did a raffle to raise money for the Oregon Food Bank. Since we couldn’t meet, we did live video drawings and people would turn up on the feed for some auctions we were doing. It was fun and it was something for people to look forward to. In the end, our community raised over $15,000 for the Oregon Food Bank.
Last year, we released a special patch called RibbonZ for Pride Month in conjunction with Zarek Valentin (one of the players). We released five patches from community designers that formed a star and raised over $25,000 for Q Center and New Avenues for Youth. Most patches that get released have a charitable component, and we do other fundraisers throughout the year like at our PPPPP (Patch Patrol Pizza Party Patchapalooza). Channeling passion and energy into good things is possible when you have a community of great people no matter what that passion is centered on.
Travis Diskin is the Chief Archivist and Grand Poobah of the PTFC Patch Patrol. He started the organization in 2013 as a way to start trading patches and to crowdsource the creation of his first patch. Travis is a life-long lover of all things Oregon, including the Portland Timbers. Image courtesy of PTFC PATCH PATROL.
Randy Kilwag is Digital Archivist and webmaster of www.patchpatrol.com, the online archive of the PTFC Patch Patrol. He is a transplant from Illinois and a member in good standing of the Patch Patrol since 2015. Image courtesy of PTFC PATCH PATROL.
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