Features & Columns

Kickin' It

A new exhibit at San Jose City Hall charts the storied history of soccer in San Jose
GLORY DAYS: Landon Donovan and the Earthquakes celebrate an overtime playoff victory against the Fusion.

NO OTHER municipal city hall in the United States of America has ever staged a soccer history exhibit. No other city in the country can boast a living collaboration between a professional sports club, its fans and a history museum.

From Oct. 19 through the end of February, "City of Champions: 2001, a San Jose Soccer Odyssey" will be on display in the concourse of the San Jose City Council Chambers and open to the public during regular business hours, Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm.

Although the show contains items dating all the way back to the late-'60s, the era that eventually led to the NASL version of the San Jose Earthquakes, the year 2001 is the main focus. That year, San Jose became the only city in United States history where the men's and women's pro teams of any sport both won championships.

Led by 19-year-old rookie Landon Donovan, the Earthquakes won the MLS title that year, while the Bay Area CyberRays, led by Brandi Chastain, won the WUSA championship. Both teams played their homes games at Spartan Stadium.

Jerseys worn by Donovan and Chastain will be on display in the exhibit, as will hundreds of other items—banners, cleats, posters, schedules, scarves, cushions, programs, media guides, newspaper articles, photos and much more.

In 1996, for example, Spartan Stadium was the site of the first-ever game in Major League Soccer (MLS) history, won by San Jose. The jersey worn by San Jose's Eric Wynalda while scoring the league's first-ever goal will be on display, as will the first ball ever kicked in that game.

Field manager Brian Holmes, whose job in 1996 included taking care of the game balls, intentionally marked the kickoff ball before the opening game, in order to identify it later. Following the match, he saved the ball for his own collection. Now, in 2011, he has donated the ball to this exhibit.

"I made a little mark on the ball to make sure we knew it was the one that started the game," Holmes recalled. "After the game, we made sure the referee got one of the balls, I sent one to the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame and one to MLS headquarters. And there were several left over, and one of them was the one with my little mark on it."

As a result, that ball—the first one ever kicked in an MLS match—now sits in one of many display cases lining the entire wall of the City Hall concourse. Ephemera from the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup will also be included, since some of those games were played at Spartan Stadium.

Plenty of fan contributions highlight the exhibit, which is unique in that the fans are the ones who initiated the entire project. For years now, fans have systematically donated thousands of items related to San Jose soccer to the archives at History San Jos–. No other city in the country can make this claim; that is, where the fans themselves have labored to preserve the history of a team by amassing an official city-sanctioned collection of artifacts.

Alida Bray, president and CEO of History San Jos–, says many fans who've donated soccer items weren't previously aware of the vast archive of historical ephemera already existing at the collection center. As a result, the process has elicited more interest in San Jose's history in general. "That happened with the Speed City exhibit also," she said. "It spurred people to donate more items."

But since decades of San Jose professional soccer history were absent from the collection, the time was right for a grand display such as this, especially since the Earthquakes are getting closer to acquiring a design permit for their stadium—a facility that should, by any literate designer's assessment, include permanent museum-style displays of these items.

As the exhibit adorns the curved walkway in the wing of City Hall, the whole shooting match ends with a giant banner created by the Earthquakes' supporters' group, in reference to the unbearable frustration of having to wait years for a stadium while the team plays in a dumpy third-rate minor-league facility. Hanging directly opposite the San Jose Mercury News office, the banner says, in big blue letters: BUILD IT NOW.

City of Champions

Opens Oct. 19

San Jose City Hall