In February, the San Francisco Stompers of the NPSL‘s Golden Gate Conference announced their rebrand and relocation from San Francisco to Hayward, California. The rebrand saw them change their name to East Bay FC Stompers, with the team now playing their matches at Hayward’s Pioneer Stadium.
STOMPERS’ VENERABLE BRAND
The Stompers brand is one of the oldest in Bay Area soccer history. In 1978, an NASL club, Oakland Stompers played one season in Oakland, playing their home games at the Oakland Coliseum, currently home to the Oakland A’s Major League Baseball team and the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League.
The Stompers one-year tenure was during the original NASL (1968–84) was at its height, with 24 teams. The franchise relocated from Connecticut and following their year in Oakland, relocated again to Edmonton, Canada.
The Stompers owner at this time, was Milan Mandarić, a Yugoslavian-American businessman who has had his hand in a number of soccer organizations, in the USA and abroad. Prior to owning the Stompers’ rights, Mandarić was an owner of the NASL’s San Jose Earthquakes. However, after the Stompers’ unsuccessful season in Oakland, Mandarić sold his franchise rights, and began to look elsewhere for soccer ownership.
Subsequently, Mandarić would own Belgian club R. Charleroi SC, followed by French club OGC Nice, before turning his attention to the rich soccer culture in the United Kingdom. He took over Portsmouth FC, located on England’s south coast, and saw them successfully promoted to the Premier League. After Portsmouth, Mandarić would own Leicester City FC, and then Sheffield Wednesday.
The NASL Stompers’ high-profile signing in 1978 was Shep Messing, who was the league’s highest-paid American player with a $100,000 contract. This followed a season where as a goalkeeper, he won the NASL Championship with a New York Cosmos side that featured Pelé.
The best American player on the league’s best team, Messing was as popular off the field as he was on it, in part because of his knack for self-promotion. He posed nude for Viva Magazine and made smokeless tobacco commercials, claiming it helped him relax in goal.
The Stompers also featured Franciszek “Franz” Smuda, a Polish defender who played for 4 different NASL clubs, and after a lengthy managerial career in Germany, Turkey and Poland, would manage the Polish national football team from 2009-2012, including the year Poland co-hosted the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament.
BACK TO THE FUTURE FOR THE STOMPERS
While the Stompers recent relocation does not land them back in Oakland, it places them closer geographically to their original home.
The East Bay FC Stompers will play at Pioneer Stadium on the campus of Cal State University East Bay, a venue with some soccer history. Pioneer was home to the FC Gold Pride of the Women’s Professional Soccer league, during their 2010 Championship season. Arguably, one of the best women’s club teams of all-time, the Pride featured Brazilian standout, Marta.
Also pleasing to soccer advocates, Cal State East Bay does not have a football team so the stadium’s field will not feature any football markings.
This could give them a foot in the door for any future expansion, because the next United States Soccer Federation Division 3 or higher team in the Bay Area will likely be in the East Bay, given the South Bay (SJ Earthquakes), San Francisco (the incoming SF Deltas), and Sacramento (Republic FC) territories are already taken.
The Stompers rebrand also saw a tasteful change in color for the team. The team discarded their red and orange color scheme to adopt blue and gold, colors tied to East Bay soccer history, as both the Oakland Stompers and the Oakland Clippers (NASL, 1968) wore similar colors.
The color change aligns the club to other East Bay teams (Golden State Warriors, California Golden Bears) and creates a stark contrast in colors to most San Francisco teams. Supporter-owned PDL side, SF City FC’s colors are red and yellow, the incoming NASL side, SF Deltas are red and black, and of course, the 49ers preeminent color is red.
Team color identity is vital both for personal identity and creating rivalries. The red vs. blue rivalry is one of the best in soccer and sports in general: Manchester United (red) vs. Manchester City (blue), Liverpool FC (red) vs. Everton FC (blue), Stanford (red) vs California (blue), just to name a few.
With all the positives in the Stompers rebrand, some concerns remain. Is the move simply opportunistic or the result of being the odd man out in a city with too many teams? Did fear of competing with SF City FC and the forthcoming SF Deltas drive them to move? If the plan was the East Bay all along, then why block City FC from joining the NSPL, as the Stompers are rumored to have done.
Regardless, the East Bay Stompers move will hopefully spark excitement for soccer lovers in the region, who do not feel connected to the San Francisco teams. As soccer continues its rapid growth in the U.S., East Bay residents can hope the next top division professional soccer team will be in their area. Perhaps, the Stompers East Bay relocation is the first step in this process.
An avid soccer fan, Tommy supports Everton FC, as well as the US mens and women’s teams. He covers soccer in the East Bay and is a staunch advocate for professional soccer’s return to that side of the bay. He also has allegiances to the LA Galaxy, FC Bayern Munich, Rapid Wien and Bury FC.
Follow him on Twitter at @Holdulbass