Soccer to Me
by Jim Provenzano
After an eight-year hiatus from competing in Gay Games, the San Francisco Spikes made up for lost time by sending two teams. Another Bay Area women's team also played soccer in Sydney.
It's certainly not that the Spikes haven't been playing strong all year, or for the years since their last Games. Gay World Cup tournaments took precedent during New York and Amsterdam's events. But last November two squads of Spikes kicked it up in Sydney. The new women's Olivia team got a bronze medal.
The Competitive Spikes Plum coach, Patrick Johnston, said that 26 men competed in soccer from Bay Area squads. His team placed fourth, narrowly defeated by a questionable call in one match.
"We started splendidly, beating Munich 3-0," said Johnston. They then lost to Los Angeles 1-0, "our long-time nemesis who always plays us tough." The Spikes played hard and only lost that goal via a penalty kick.
Playing against San Diego later that day, they earned a 3-1 win, then a 2-2 tie with Cologne. Next day they got a double does of Brits, with the Spikes winning 1-0 over the novice-filled London Lambda. A more experienced London Lions defeated the Spikes 4-0.
During the mid-week matches, Johnston said, "Both teams took the opportunity to rest key players, coyly feeling each other out for a possible future meeting later in the tournament, while avoiding injuries and getting some much-needed rest."
London won the men's final, beating Munich 3-0. Said Johnston, "They're now the measuring stick in gay men's soccer, having won the last three world championships in a row."
In previous seasons, the Spikes trained at MacAteer High School, but will soon return to their most recent spot at Beach Chalet fields, near the end of Golden Gate Park. Despite doubling their participant numbers, they still welcome new players.
In the year preceding Sydney, the Spikes played about 25 games in the Mayflower League, aka the Marin Soccer League, which includes teams sparring every Saturday from April to early October.
Tuesday evenings will continue at the Eureka Valley (Mark Bingham) Rec Center.
Raised in New York's Clifton Park, near Albany, Johnston played soccer at Tufts University. Gradate school brought him to San Francisco, where he played intramural soccer, then started playing with the Spikes. An outside defender for four years, Johnston will continue to practice with the team, and newcomers, who are welcome to enjoy the winter fun of indoor soccer.
How else does indoor soccer differ, aside from the obvious, response; "No cleats?"
"We play five to a side on the basketball court at Eureka Valley," Johnston explained. "Wall hits are considered in bounds. It changes the rules a bit. Sometimes it's useful to just blast it outdoors. Indoors is more about technique."
Olivia Cruises sponsored their T-shirts, and Sunset Soccer loaned jerseys. "We were well-kitted," said Mary Griggs, a longtime soccer player, since age six, actually.
As an army brat in Germany, she played in school, then Division III in college, and with the Golden Gate Soccer League after moving to San Francisco.
"Most of us play in the Golden Gate Soccer League on different teams," said Griggs. "We formed this team, and hope to go to the IGLSA (International Gay & Lesbian Soccer Association) tournament in Boston."
Finances and scheduling limited more women from going to Sydney, but hundreds play regularly in the Bay Area each week.
"Sydney was excellent," said Griggs. "Being able to play with teams from different styles, from around the world, and meeting people as interested in soccer; it was great."
SF's team played two Aussie squads, and others from New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom. San Francisco's Olivia Scores Team took the Bronze in Competitive women's level, the third best out of 28 teams.
"It was also our first tournament as a team," added Griggs with pride.
But that newly formed team brought years of experience. Golden Gate League has been around since the 1970s, and now includes 48 teams. And they're still growing.
"We're looking to expand to an over-40s division to get more interest there," Griggs said.
Ages of players at the Games ranged from 20somethings to 50 and up. Sydney, British and US teams took the top four slots.
The Amherst Aztecs from UK took gold, and New York Rising won silver. Olivia Scores played the London Lionesses for the bronze, and won by two points.
Post-victory celebrations were a family affair. Griggs traveled with her mom to Perth, while other teammates visited Melbourne and Tasmania.
Now that they're back, they'll be kicking it up on the Peninsula's playing fields. "There are lots of soccer opportunities here for women," Griggs said.
48 teams in the GGWSL, divided into 7 divisions, play at Golden Gate Park's Polo Fields and Beach Chalet, Marin's Indian Valley College, in Oakland, and at Hayward State.
Two seasons a year run from September to November, and March to June. There is an over-35 women's indoor group, but most play outdoor, full-field soccer.
Local soccer fans have for years enjoyed the classic Festival of Babes each Labor Day weekend.
Their site includes links to leagues in the area in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Marin.
BLUE MAN GROUP
The Spikes Blue team was made up of players who used to play with the Spikes. They placed eighth in their division. Jessup talked about the idea of forming a second team after the competitive squad's slots became limited.
"I thought about using the people we had who used to play," he said. Of the over two dozen guys he contacted, "A lot of people were excited about the idea."
With three months to go, he rounded up six veteran Spikes who had participated in tournaments, some as far back as 1982.
In his mid-40s, Jessup said of his mature teammates, "They're still talented, just not as fast. We had a great combination of veterans and new players."
One of their veteran players, Toby Rappolt, owns Sunset Soccer Shop. One of a few straight Spikers, he had coached the Spikes for years, along with his wife Libby, who played on the women's squad.
Recovering from a knee injury, Jessup volunteered to play goalie, a decision which he said "had mixed results."
"We finished eighth out of 14 teams. We did pretty well, considering we were combining groups of players who hadn't been on the field for months, or years."
Like others, Jessup is overcoming some injuries, but already planning for the upcoming season. They're hoping to do improve more in Boston, at the August 2003 International Gay Soccer League Championships.
When asked if June 2002's World Cup added more interest in soccer in the US after their rise to fourth place, Jessup agreed.
As to the homosocial rituals of trading jerseys, kissing on field and other joviality known to European and gay teams, he wasn't sure about that perception extending to all soccer teams.
"There is a general feeling of good will and sportsmanship," he said. "But the games do get rough. People do lose their temper, or get angry about a foul."
They also have to deal with questionable officiating, as happened at the Spikes final match, the battle for bronze with Cologne, Germany.
A few minutes into overtime, the referee made what coach Johnston called "a bizarre call," claiming that the Spikes goalie handled the ball outside of the goalie box as he was punting the ball downfield. This gave Cologne a free goal kick, which cost them the Bronze.
Said Johnston, "It was disheartening to lose a second straight game that we had controlled throughout, but we were proud to once again finish as the best American team for the fourth time in a row."
And as soccer fans know, that's what makes matches so exciting; swift action, quick change-overs, and last minute scores.
So, kick your balls around the gym with the Spikes, January 28th, February 11, 18, and 25 and possibly March 11, 18 and 25 - all Tuesday evenings from 7:30 until 9:30.
Said Johnston, "Winter is a great time for new players to come and see what we are about because it is right in the Castro, and our indoor format is particularly social."
For more information on the Spikes, CLICK HERE.