.The San Jose Earthquakes’ Big 5-0 Celebration Peaks This Week

I remember watching television with my parents and learning that Pele was in San Jose. Again.

At that point, after realizing we’d just missed Pele, again, my father then suggested we attend San Jose Earthquakes matches on a regular basis. My mom agreed. Tickets were about six dollars.

That was the mid-’70s.

As kids growing up in Cambrian Park surrounded by tract houses, beater Mustangs and lifelessly uniform subdivisions, we didn’t have very many choices. So we rode Schwinns and skateboards. Our parents drove us to Frontier Village, Oakridge Mall or Eastridge. In my case, my mom took me to bookstores and libraries all the time. I read books voraciously. There was absolutely nothing else to do.

At the time, we were lucky to have European football highlights on public television. Toby Charles on Soccer Made in Germany, for example, was my generation’s collective uncle. He introduced many of us kids to the game. Thanks to him, I could pronounce Düsseldorf and Borussia Mönchengladbach before I was even out of grade school. The English highlights were on a different program. I knew of West Bromwich Albion before I was even 10.

Decades later, when I traveled to Düsseldorf on business and felt a need to impress the locals, I’d rattle off German players from the ’70s. It worked. Same in Munich and Cologne. I have public television to thank for this.

That was just Germany. Anywhere I went in Europe or Mexico, if I mentioned that George Best, Pele, Maradona, Eusebio and Hugo Sanchez all made appearances at Spartan Stadium, people seemed stupefied. They couldn’t believe we saw Benfica, Manchester City and Real Madrid at Spartan, when tickets were rarely more than 15 bucks.

Yes, nostalgia is indeed creeping in here. This time I admit it. I was lucky to become a fan way back before the billionaires took over the sport and ruined everything.

At the least, many of us kids at the time could understand that soccer was the world’s game. It wasn’t a sport ridiculously owned and dominated by just one country. Everyone played it. You didn’t have to be a 300-pound behemoth to succeed. The greatest players in the world, people like George Best and Johan Cruyff, were skinny dudes like me, yet they excelled at every component of the sport and regularly embarrassed players twice their size. As a kid, that meant everything to me.

I can’t tell you how many times, decades later as an adult, that I’d travel in Europe and encounter someone intrinsically anti-American, only then to rectify the situation by talking soccer. It really is the universal language. Wars have both started and stopped because of this game.

Locally speaking, when the Quakes arrived, San Jose had no national sports identity of any sort. Nobody knew where San Jose was. Soon enough, we were in the standings with Vancouver, Chicago, New York, Dallas and Tampa Bay. This had never happened before. Previously, it didn’t seem like we had anything here to talk about except prunes, apricots and cans of fruit cocktail. In fact, some people are still talking about those things.

For me, I’m still talking about the Quakes not just because I wrote two books already, but because the history is now returning to the forefront. To celebrate the very beginning of this continuum in 1974, multiple layers of 50th anniversary celebrations have already unfolded. As you read this, the club is unveiling, day by day, one by one, the 50 best Quakes of all time, in alphabetical order. So far, it’s been one of their best promotions.

It all peaks next week when dozens of former players and alumni heroes come back into town for the official 50th anniversary events. There will be a public flag raising and VIP reception at City Hall on the evening of Thursday the 27th. The following night, a high-ticket banquet unfolds on the field at PayPal Park. Everyone will then participate in a halftime ceremony during the annual California Clasico match on June 29 at Stanford against the despised LA Galaxy.

Writing about history is fun because it teaches us where we came from. If some clown from Cambrian Park can do it, then you can too.

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.


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