It’s called the Doug Flag because of the Douglas fir on its front, and it’s become an almost mandatory feature of any Cascadia Cup match. Fans in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver all fly its blue, white and green stripes as a symbol of the Pacific Northwest.
It’s a surprising show of unity – or at least shared identity – in a rivalry that is arguably the fiercest Major League Soccer. It is also strange that Cascadia Cup supporters co-opted a flag that was originally, and remains to this day, a symbol of the Cascadian independence movement, a separatist group that imagines a republic stretching as far as Northern California to the Alaskan panhandle.
“I wear a Cascadia patch on my ‘Caps jersey,” said Brenton Walters, Director of External Communications for the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Southsiders supporters group. “I can’t really put into words why I do.”
There’s certainly a contradiction. Despite a general leftward trend in the political landscape of Vancouver, Portland and Seattle, the Southsiders, as well as the Timbers Army and Emerald City Supporters – who represent the Timbers and Sounders, respectively – are apolitical organizations.
On the other hand, the Douglas fir on the flag is described as a symbol of defiance and resilience, and even beyond its association with the Republic of Cascadia, the Doug can be seen flying at Occupy Portland rallies.
The Southsiders, TA and ECS are by no means opposed to demonstration – all three groups made headlines earlier this season by “Showing Racism the Red Card,” where fans held up red cards at matches to show their opposition to racism and homophobia in soccer. But there is a line the supporters try not to cross.
“We don’t support militarism, but a few years ago, somebody wanted to have a ‘Timbers Army against the War’ thing,” TA member Abram Goldman-Armstrong said. “We said ‘Eh, I don’t know if we’ll tackle that issue.’”
The skittishness towards political demonstration is unsurprising for organizations whose main focus is soccer. And when it comes to the Doug flag, politics seem to be almost a moot point: They aren’t relevant in the context of the Cascadia Cup.
The Doug is an acknowledgement that the Pacific Northwest is distinct. But the distinction is cultural. There is a sense that people in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver have similar values that are not shared outside the region.
“For all the differences that Seattle and Portland have – and Vancouver, too – we’re generally the same type of people,” said Garrett Dittfurth, TA member and the Chair of the 107ist’s Communications Commitee. “If you take away who people support, people would generally get along. When we were down [in LA last year] for MLS Cup, we were hanging out with supporters from all over the country. I’m not saying we didn’t get along with people from Houston, but they carry themselves differently. Same with people from LA… It’s not bad, it’s just noticeably different.”
There is a tremendous amount of regional pride associated with these differences. And when it comes to soccer, that pride is only increased.
"It's an entirely different feel of the fans standing and cheering and dancing and singing [than at other stadiums],” Walters said of matches in the Northwest. “Whether it's the Tetris [in Portland], or the Boom Boom Clap [in Seattle], or some of the smaller chants that we do in Vancouver that we get half the stadium going, it's a real electric atmosphere. When you go down to the other cities, every bar is covered in Portland and Seattle gear.”
Much of the passion associated with the Cascadia Cup stems from the more than three decades worth of history that the clubs have compiled against each other. All three have their roots in the old NASL, giving the rivalry a sense of tradition that is missing throughout much of the rest of the league.
It’s this shared history, as well as the shared regional culture, that has led fans to genuinely embrace the rivalry. It’s organic. And organic movements allow fans to create new traditions – and redefine them.
“I think that supporters always look to find imagery – whether it’s your city, your region, your state, or a congregation of a region like Cascadia – to supplement imagery and tifo and flag,” ECS co-president Greg Mockos said. “It’s a sense that this rivalry’s bringing it to another level, and this is a symbol of that.”
It’s yet another new layer of meaning to what started out as a political symbol. The supporters in Cascadia have co-opted the Doug flag for their own ends, redefining it so that the contradictions that might crop up can be ignored.
And in the case of the Republic of Cascadia, politics are even easier to overlook. Most fans know that the chances the Northwest will become an autonomous reason are essentially nil.
“I definitely would love to see Cascadia become its own country,” Goldman-Armstrong said. “I don’t know if it’s ever going to become a political reality,”
“Politically it's a non-starter, as far as I'm concerned,” Walters, whose day job is political consulting, said. “We do have supporters [in Vancouver] who like the idea, but I don't think that it's even close to an even split.”