The Northsiders (El Lado Norte): Supporters Stories, Part Two: The Gang’s All Here!

In Part One of the interview with members of the The Northsiders—The Supporters Group for San Francisco City F.C.– I talked exclusively with one of the members, Joachim Steinberg, about how he came to become part of El Lado Norte and the drive that keeps him in as a supporter.    

This next segment transitioned from being in interview of one to four. Along with Joachim, Mike Gonos, Brendan Browne and Peter Bogdis entered the fray and interjected their involvement with the group and their thoughts about what makes them unique as a Supporters Group.

But first, I asked Joachim his thoughts about what match day in San Francisco is like. What’s the size of the group? Do they march to the stadium? What does it all mean to him?

Joachim Steinberg: Not sure about size; obviously it varies a bit. We have about 160 members in our Facebook group (which requires approval to join) but some of those folks have left San Francisco or can’t always make matches because of work. I would guess at the that end of this year there were 50-70 folks in the section at every match.

Ed: Of course. Sadly, life happens and people can’t make it to every match. Still that’s a pretty good amount of people to come.

SF City FC’s Northsiders.

J:  We do have a march in. We generally tailgate in the parking deck next to the stadium, which is cool itself; there are views across a good portion of the city down to the Bay.

E: Again, I’m jealous!

J: One of the guys who joined up this year is owner of Standard Deviant brewing, so he’s been bringing a pony keg to tailgates this year, which is pretty dope!

E: Nice!

J: We try to march in around 45 minutes to 30 minutes before kick-off.

E: I see a theme, when it comes to supporters groups, SGs and beer.

J: Remind me later and I can send you a picture of one of our old buttons. All it said was, ‘we like football and we like beer.’

E: Simple. And to the point!

J: After we march, there’s usually a little break; a couple of folks usually run to set up banners before the march, but there’s a bit of milling around and singing before the anthem. We’ve sung the national anthem a few times when the PA system at our old stadium (Kezar Stadium in San Francisco) conked out. We’ve had a few real musicians recently and people tend to listen to them.

When the whistle blows their Capo, Casey Proud, leads the section through the 90+ minutes in the match as the men take the pitch. (At this point of the interview he informs me of something about Casey that I’ll fill you in later). Joachim told me of a few of the traditions the group has including the official mascot of the group– pigeons.

J: …we use a pigeon as our SG symbol, and there’s a plastic pigeon mask that people wear (we more or less make newcomers put it on each match).

Peter Bogdis would later explain to me how the pigeon tradition came to be.

Peter: The pigeon came about as a joke. There’s a flock of pigeons that lives in Kezar Stadium. They were milling around, doing their thing on the pitch right in front of our section before our season opener. An opposing player walked over and kicked out at a bird on the flock. We immediately started improvising a song about those pigeons being ours, get your own pigeons, etc. Someone mentioned that it would be funny if we made that pigeon our mascot. Yeah. Okay. Simple. Done deal.

The beauty of supporters groups around the world is the organic moments which happen during the experience and become a part of a club or SG’s lore. In the case of the Northsiders… pigeons. Peter also told me how they came up with the groups name and how it stuck.

P: We loosely formed at the second game under the supporter owned model in fall 2015 with the original five members. During a Tifo painting party in prep for our U.S. Open Cup match vs. Cal F.C. the discussion came up about naming the group. We realized that at the first handful of games, we’d always stood on the north end of the pitch. Simple. Done deal.

Returning to Joachim, he mentioned an amazing way of getting folks to be a part of the group and obtaining a bit of pride for the work they do with and for the group.

J: We also have patches that we make each year; you can get a patch if you (a) attend an away game, (b) work on a Tifo, or (c) go to a community service event. So we put a pretty solid emphasis on the community aspect of the group.”

We shift the focus on the off season. At this writing, the club finished their season and the group is quiet  hoping for next season, but that doesn’t mean they do “quiet” well. It means the community is always active and there are things to be done.

J: We generally keep a pretty full social and volunteer calendar, some related to the club, some of it independent. We are a little slow on the community service events during the season, which is so short that we need focus on that, but generally the club (through the members’ board) will have at least one community service event every month, and Northsiders are usually the majority of volunteers, something we’re very proud of. A lot of us are also otherwise active in the soccer community, whether as supporters of other clubs or just volunteers, so we tend to run into each other quite a bit. One of our “leaders” (we don’t really have a formal structure) is in the leadership of Bay Area Gooners, for example, so I’ll hang out with him at Maggie’s (the local Arsenal pub). We’ll also try to get folks together for big matches like ‘El Clasico’.

At this point two things happen during this segment of the interview: 1. I was told that Casey wouldn’t be able to make it with the group to lend his thoughts jointly. This would not be a problem to me later because I would get a chance to…wait, “spoilers”.  2. The other folks from the Northsiders came into the conversation and livened it up a bit more as we went further.

E: Okay Brennan, tell me about yourself. How did you get involved with the supporters group?

Brennan: I heard about it from Casey and Clinton, who are president and vice president of the American Outlaws San Francisco group.

E: What was it that drew you in?

B: They told me about the supporter owned club from the SFSFL—San Francisco Soccer Football League— and I was all about it. And I naturally wanted to stand and sing for 90 minutes rather than sit, and so I joined the few people that were doing that. I wanted a competitive team from San Francisco to support, but didn’t want another SF Bay Seals, California Victory, etc. SF City FC had the supporter owned model and great brand and lots of great people in San Francisco behind it, so I joined up!

Mike Gonos: Sorry to be late folks!

By this time Mike Gonos and Peter Bogdis got with us to fill out the rest of the night full of discussion.

E: Mike, Peter, thanks for joining us. You got caught up with what we’ve discussed so far, tell us about your rolE in this group.

P: I’m a lifetime member, have a seat on the member’s board, and I am one of the founders of the Northsiders. Also pretty active with Panathinaikos Supporters Abroad, which helps raise funds for the amateur division of that club.

E: Isn’t that the club from Greece (Panathinaikos)?

P: Yes! The Pride of Athens!

E: I thought so. I watch their Ultras videos on YouTube and my God you talk about passion!!

M: As Jake Mentioned, I and Casey and some other folks started a group to get local footy fans together to see if we could get a club here. Jacques reached out to us and a few other folks about four plus years ago (time flies) and we talked it over and listened to Jacques’ ideas and offered a lot of our own. That got things started. We then started meeting regularly and formed kinda informal advisory committee that really worked together to build a lot of the foundation for the club. It’s really impossible to say one person did more than another throughout the process. I’ve never seen such a collaborative effort.

P: He’s full of shit. Mike Gonos is the heart and soul of this club. Truth.

M: As for who I am, I cut my supporter teeth with the San Jose Ultras. My family are old City (came here in 1912) and I was Quakes fan since I was a little kid. Oh, and Pete’s lying.”

E: I think what you shared about how the club formed is a great definition of the organic side of a sports club.  For the most part, many of you are either long time San Franciscans or are transplants, but bring soccer sense from their own experience.

M: Pete’s old city too. We’re Bay Area boys.

P: I’m a native, grew up watching the old Greek Americans in the SFSFL.

M: Yes! That is one of the startling things about this town. The rich football heritage it has.

B: I was born in San Francisco, moved 15 minutes north when I was seven years old.

E: And for new fans they may not know the fact of this rich history because all they have is recent interest in the sport.

M: The SFSFL goes back well over a century. It’s an amazing league.

P: It’s deep. That’s why I can’t support carpetbaggers that only see us as customers.

M: What Pete said… in spades!

B: I actually met Charles, who does the broadcasting for SF City FC and is a legend in general, at a SFSFL match between the SF Italian Athletic Club and the SF Irish wayyy back years ago.

E: It sounds like a contemporary of the Cosmopolitan League in New York City.

P: Very similar.

M: SFSFL teams have won the US Open Cup at least, what three times Pete?

E: Let me ask you how this season went for you this year?

P: I had a blast.

M: As a fan, it was awesome.

B: Great season on the pitch; team improved from last year.

M: We missed out on the playoffs by just a couple points. But yes, we did way better on the pitch than last year.

B: Also, better as a supporter from our new venue at USF. And we increased membership in both the club and supporters group.

E: Something to build on for next season.

M: I dare say last year everyone was a little star struck. ‘Hey, we’re in the PDL!’ but this year, we got down to business.

E: Which means what you are doing is helping to grow the club and group altogether.

P: Brick by brick.

B: Can’t help but to think the Northsiders played a large part in our recruiting improvement from last year. We got our rival’s #10 playing for us now.

E: Sauce for the goose.

B: And now I think none of the USF—University of San Francisco– players play for Burlingame (Burlingame Dragons, a hated rival of City FC) anymore, but I could be wrong. All of them want to play for us.

M: Indeed, we have been an important part for the players, both in terms of recruiting and staying.

P: For sure. The players want to play for us, they want songs about them, they want to put the mask on!

M: There was a time when it wasn’t a done deal that we were going to be in the PDL. It could have been another season in the NorCal, and there were options open for players, but they stayed with us, because they believe in the ethos of the club and the supporters.

SF City FC’s Northsiders.

E: So a true family connection from the stands, to the pitch and the front office.

P: absolutely! Community first!

E: Commentators talk about the spine on the field, but I think the spine you described is the true spine of a good club.

J: Yeah, definitely. We’ve had players invite us to their NCAA matches and we’ve had players come out to community service events.

B: Nick Littleton’s dad comes to our community service events from Oakland and Nick doesn’t even play for the team anymore. That says a lot!

E: To those who came in just a bit ago what is match day like to you and what makes it special?

B: The best day of the week!

M: First, it feels great because there are some people that I don’t always get to see except on match days or when the group gets together. Second, it’s not like just going to a normal ball game. We’re participants in this event.

B: For me it’s a ritual. I either walk to take the bus to the match. I stop at Target to grab canned food for the food drive. I meet my friends in the parking lot for some beer and laughs. Then we go wild for 90 minutes and I lose my voice. Then, more beer.

E: Don’t want to jinx the process. 

J: ‘Then more beer’ is going on a Northsiders button or sticker, so help me God!

M: It really is an experience of ‘we’re all in this together’–players and supporters. We’re all going to battle, so to speak.

E: One thing Brendan, you said food drive. Do you do this every match?

M: Yep! That is an old tradition of the club (if a club that has been in the PDL for two years can have an old tradition.).

B: Yeah, we surpassed our food drive goal for the year. Bins are right by the gate at every match.”

E: Just so you all know, I belong to the Gem City Squadron supporting the Dayton Dynamo FC and one of the things we’re talking about is doing a food drive during the off season.

P: Mine starts early. I drive up from the peninsula with our photographer, capo, two other members, all the flags, banners, smoke bombs, a bunch of beers, canned food… I’m on a fucking mission on match days. I take it really seriously, but have shit tons of fun doing it!

M: Bear in mind also, Pete actually creates a lot of those banners and flags in his spare time, so match day is really a culmination of a lot of labor.

Me: So when I hear how important the food drive is, and bringing cans to a match, it drives home how important it is to help the community we’re in so I applaud what you have been doing.

B: We don’t really view the community as a choice, it’s an obligation.

M: Absolutely! Partnering up with existing organizations that are doing good in one’s home is the name of the game. Like I’ve always said, if it’s just about the football you can turn on the TV.

P: Community first!

M: We have a team so we can bring people together to make our town a better place.

E: Can we frame that phrase because that should be the purpose of every SG in the nation.

B: That was me. Credit due!

M: It also has been a great bonding experience. Honestly, I have become closer friends with some people doing volunteer work than at matches, because there we have time to talk, make fun of each other, etc.

P: For sure.

“We have a team so we can bring people together to make our town a better place.”

This should be framed and part of the heart and soul of every supporters’ group in the nation. To have this mindset will do more to grow the name of not just the SGs in the nation but with the club as a whole.

We’ll stop there, but as I spoke with each of these guys it is truly evident of their passion they have their club, their city and the sport. They may have a short history as a group, but they got stories and legend that makes their journey with SFCFC memorable.

In the final part of this three part interview, we’ll meet up with one Casey Proud. He may not have made it the night of this group discussion, but listen to how these men feel about Casey.

E: Just to let everyone know I am going to talk to Casey in a day or two to get his thoughts as well too. I have a feeling he’s an amazing person and a Capo for the ages.

J: He is.

P: He’s a legend.

M: That guy is a hero.

B: Everyone knows and loves Casey. He’s a legend!

For someone who couldn’t make it to a group interview to get such high praise must have an incredible story. I would soon find out the day after this interview just how right I would be. Part three: Casey Proud next time.

Correction: In the first installment, made the statement to “fuck Ann Arbor”. He wanted me to make it clear he meant that to be about the NPSL club AFC Ann Arbor and not the entire city and its people. Detroit City FC bitter rivals is AFC Ann Arbor and that’s usually the chant they go by when they face them or their supporters.

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