San Francisco has seen its share of soccer teams, amateur, semi-pro, and professional. Longtime fans will recall such teams as the San Francisco Gales, California Victory, San Francisco Bay Blackhawks and early incarnations of the Earthquakes. More recently the city has been represented by the San Francisco Stompers in the NPSL.
Enter San Francisco City Football Club, a not-exactly new club, but one with new goals. The team began competing in the San Francisco Soccer Football League (SFSFL) in 2002. The SFSFL, a men’s semi-professional and amateur soccer league, consisting of teams from San Francisco, bills itself as “the oldest American soccer league in continuous existence”. SF City FC started at the bottom tier of the SFSFL and through promotion reached the league’s highest level in 2012.
We chatted recently with Jacques Pelham, of SF City FC’s organizing team, about their latest plans. According to Jacques, higher-level ambitions have been part of the club’s plans from the beginning. Jonathan Wright, the man responsible for launching and managing SF City FC for the first 8 years in the SFSFL, originally looked at competing in the NPSL, but the idea never came to fruition.
A new plan began to take shape in 2014. Jacques says, I was introduced to some folks from the SF Football Supporters Association and the American Outlaws San Francisco Chapter. We were all really passionate about trying to build a high level soccer club in San Francisco and that idea sort of evolved.
All those involved were in vehement agreement about one thing in particular – that SF City FC would be supporter-owned.
Jacques continues, The Club has always been member-owned in the sense that players and parents have paid dues to keep it going over the years. We think supporter ownership formalizes the symbiotic relationship between the players on the field and the audience in the stands. One really can’t exist without the other and supporter ownership seems to be the healthiest way to foster that relationship. The supporters have a legitimate stake in Club operations and maintain the Club’s accountability to the community through voting and governance board representation.
To that aim, SF City FC launched a membership drive last September. Members could join on an annual basis or with a Founding Member Lifetime Membership. Interest has been brisk and just before the end of the year, members voted to confirm club’s inaugural Board of Directors.
The club had hoped to join NPSL in 2015, but interactions with the league and the US Adult Soccer Association (which sanctions NPSL) did not give them confidence the application could be concluded in a timely fashion. While the leadership feels sure the club will ultimately be admitted to the NPSL, they decided that this season, SF City FC will compete in the NorCal Premier League, a semi-pro competition with clubs based throughout Northern California.
These developments do not appear to have dampened Jacques enthusiasm, NorCal Premier provides more teams to compete against, a longer, more flexible season and administration under a staff and league system that is far and away superior compared to any other US league at both the youth and adult competitive levels.
SF City FC’s application apparently met some resistance from the established San Francisco NPSL team, the San Francisco Stompers, so we asked Jacques; can San Francisco support two NPSL teams?
We’re willing to take the risk to find out. We think it’s a little something like the restaurant industry. Choice and competition are extremely potent drivers for creating a vibrant and organic culture, whether it’s in food or football. San Franciscans are lucky to have tons of reasonably priced, amazing restaurants going all out to offer folks a satisfying experience It’s highly competitive to be sure, but in the end, people are free to take the risk in starting a restaurant and customers are free to choose where they want to eat and what kind of experience they want to have.
Back to soccer, we’ve been extremely happy to see that many people have already joined SF City FC as members, as well as a really positive response on our social media platforms. We think that response and support will grow exponentially as we move forward. If we’re wrong, so be it, but we’re willing to give it an earnest shot with the hopes of building the club for the long run on the foundation of the supporter ownership structure.
We also think it’s important to keep in mind, there are so many high level players in the area looking for opportunities. There are three NCAA schools (USF, SF State, and Academy of Art) playing soccer in San Francisco as well as CCSF at the junior college level. Nearby, there are another five to ten college soccer programs in the nearby area, as well thousands of high level youth players in the Bay Area, not to mention, the forty or so teams playing in the SFSFL.
Giving interested players and supporters, additional choices and opportunities for high-level soccer can only be a net positive for the development and growth of San Francisco soccer culture.
SF City FC has its first match of 2015, this Friday, January 16, 2015. The match, a US Open Cup qualifyer against Redwood City Juventus SC, takes place at Bechet Field in Redwood City, CA. Kickoff is 7:30PM and admission is free.
NorCal Premier League play begins in March and lasts through late Fall. Schedules will be announced soon.