On February 19 the NPSL Stompers of the Golden Gate Conference announced their rebrand and relocation from Boxer Stadium in the City of San Francisco to Pioneer Stadium in Hayward, California of the East San Francisco Bay Area. With the relocation to Hayward came a new branding of East Bay FC Stompers, formerly the San Francisco Stompers.
The Stompers Brand is one of the oldest in Bay Area Soccer History. In 1978 for one season the NASL had a team located in Oakland, California named the Oakland Stompers. They played their home games at the Oakland Coliseum, the current home to both the Oakland A’s of Major League Baseball and the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League. This one-year of existence was while the old NASL was at its largest with 24 teams. The Oakland Stompers franchise was relocated from Connecticut and then relocated to Edmonton the following season.
The owner of the Stompers in 1978 was Milan Mandarić, a Yugoslavian-American businessman who has had his hand in many different soccer organizations both in the USA and abroad. Before owning the rights to the Oakland Stompers, Mandarić was an owner of the NASL San Jose Earthquakes. However, after the one unsuccessful season in Oakland, Mandarić sold his franchise rights to Edmonton and began to look elsewhere for soccer ownership.
Mandarić went on to own Belgian Club R. Charleroi SC followed by French Club OGC Nice, before turning his attentions to the rich soccer culture in the UK. The first team he was involved with in England was Portsmouth FC, which he took over in 1998 and helped get them successfully promoted to the Premier League. However, he would sell the club to Alexandre Gaydamak, the man who would be their undoing leading to multiple relegations and a fan takeover. Following his involvement with Portsmouth, Mandarić bought Leicester City, where he would go on to hire Nigel Pierson and almost oversee two successive promotions before he would again sell the club. This was followed by an ownership of Sheffield Wednesday who he’d sell off in 2014.
The NASL Oakland Stompers also featured a few very noteworthy players.
Shep Messing was the Stompers’ highest profile signing. At the time, Messing became the highest paid American player in the NASL with a $100,000 contract. This was following a year where he won the 1977 NASL Championship with Pelé and the New York Cosmos as their goal keeper. Not only was he known for being the best American on the best team he was also popular from all of his self-promotion. This included posing in the nude for Viva Magazine as well as making tobacco commercials, claiming it’s the only way to relax while goal keeping. He was just as popular off the field as on it. The Stompers also featured Franz Smuda who would go on to coach the co-hosts of the 2012 Euros, the Polish National team, from 2009-2012.
While the rebrand and relocation of the current NPSL Stompers does not see them land back in Oakland, it is relocation closer to the original home. The East Bay FC Stompers will play at Pioneer Stadium on the campus of Cal State University East Bay. Pioneer Stadium has a soccer history. First off, Cal State East Bay does not have a football team so this field will not feature any football lines, a big plus for many soccer advocates. As well, this stadium played host to the 2010 championship winning FC Gold Pride of the WPS Women’s League, before they folded the following year. This was arguably the best women’s club team of all time.
This is one of the next best places to play considering that it was likely they weren’t allowed to relocate to Oakland due to the territorial rights of CD Aguiluchos USA who play their home games at Raimondi Park in Oakland. Thus the Hayward move is the next best thing and probably led to the East Bay rebranding rather than Oakland branding. Any future USSF D3 or higher sanctioned team to come to the Bay Area will have to be in the East Bay, with the already existing teams covering the South Bay (San Jose Earthquakes), San Francisco (the incoming NASL Deltas), and Sacramento (Sacramento Republic). This gives the Stompers a foot in the door.
The rebrand also saw a tasteful color change for the team. The team went from primary colors of red and orange to blue and gold. The colors they switched too are now the colors that the NASL Oakland Stompers used to wear. This further ties their history to East Bay soccer. The NASL Oakland Clippers of 1968 also wore blue and yellow.
The color change also sees them create a contrast in colors to most SF teams. The highly successful PDL supporter owned club SF City is red and yellow and the incoming SF Deltas of the NASL are what looks to be red and black. But it doesn’t stop there: the SF Giants are orange, the SF 49ers are red and Stanford University is red. On the other side of the Bay, the teams have no red. The Golden State Warriors and the California Golden Bears share the same color scheme as the Stompers. 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 NPSL Stompers rebrand, a couple of concerns still remain. Does the move and rebrand come from being opportunistic in the soccer future of the region, or is it from being the odd man out in a city with too many teams? Were the Stompers essentially forced to move because of business fear with SF City joining PDL and the Deltas joining NASL in the same city? If they wanted to move to Hayward all along to take advantage of the region, why then would they supposedly try and block fan owned SF City from joining the NPSL less than a year ago and basically force them to join a different league? Wouldn’t the NPSL Golden Gate Conference want a 6th team in the region’s main city? Maybe this leaves room for a future NPSL SF team, maybe even the NASL Deltas creating a reserve team in the league like other NASL franchises have done.
Either way, the East Bay Stompers rebrand announcement should spark excitement for soccer lovers in the region who do not feel connected to the City of San Francisco itself. With soccer growing, residents of the East Bay can only hope that the next fully professional soccer team in the area will be Oakland/Berkeley/Hayward. Hopefully, the Stompers East Bay rebrand can help speed along this process.