Roses: The World's Game in Portland, Oregon

A photography exhibition by Rob Low made in partnership with The Toffee Club, opening October 20th 

The secret has been out for quite some time.

What was once a humble, quiet corner in the Pacific Northwest has become a hub for the beautiful game.

It's not only grown into one of the richest landscapes for soccer culture in America. The world has taken notice.

Portland, the city of roses, has attracted supporters and keen observers from every corner of the earth.

Over the course of nearly half a year, London-based photographer Rob Low has uncovered every layer of the game that lives in a city of just over 600,000.

In partnership with The Toffee Clubthe Portland Timbers, the Portland Thorns, and Where Is Football, Roses: The World's Game in Portland is a photography exhibition that will be on display at The Toffee Club (1006 SE Hawthorne Blvd) starting on the 20th of October.

Portland, long renowned as "Soccer City USA", revolves around the beautiful game like no other town on American shores. From the gargantuan tifos raised at Timbers matches to the pickup games that connect the Ethiopian community to the flocks of loyal fans who arise at the crack of dawn to watch the Premier League beamed from thousands of miles away, soccer is more than a sport, but a thread of commonality sewing a diverse city together as one.

In Rob's words, "MLS has been gaining a foothold in the UK in terms of reputation and coverage. One of the clubs at the center of this is the Portland Timbers and the women's team the  Portland Thorns. Every football-rich culture needs a focus and these two teams provide it in abundance. Unlike in other American cities with half a dozen professional sports teams, in Portland you have a passion that is so raw, focused, and ever-present. I wanted to open a window into that.

The peak of Portland football culture can be seen with the rivalry against Seattle, which resembles the rivalries of famous derbies and clásicos found around the world. But there are so many layers of the football culture that go beyond this rivalry.

"One of the other big reasons for choosing Portland as my subject for the project was how well Portland supports women's football and its participation rates. Turning up to Providence Park for a league game, with nearly 20,000 people in attendance, is something that I've never experienced in women's football. The Thorns are a unique collection of tremendously passionate supporters and world class athletes, and a few of their players — like Afghan refugee Nadia Nadim — have truly amazing stories.

Football in Portland is not just based around the teams and the fans, though. It’s about co-ed, women's and men's pickup, organized leagues, and the people that help facilitate those. I wanted to shed a light on the type of people playing the game just for fun, or assisting people in doing that. I was also hoping to find some special stories around people’s love of football, which I managed to uncover after arriving in Portland. 

Whether it was the tifos from the Timbers and Thorns to getting up at 7:00am on Saturday to watch English Premier League, I was hoping to find that Portland had its own take on football culture, and I was not disappointed."

This feature was compiled by Rob Low, Zack Goldman, and Eric Beard in partnership with The Toffee Club.

Come by to see the full exhibition, which opens on October 20.