"We share a love of soccer and camaraderie as well as going out for a drink on weekdays"
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Good morning everyone! I want to let everyone know before we go any further that due to Thanksgiving next week, the next interview with Washington Square FC will release on Tuesday. Now, back to the matter at hand. Get Better FC are a fascinating team out in San Francisco, and well, I don't want to spoil. Let's just say they do a lot to help people in the Bay Area through soccer. Check it out.
Lets start simple. Who you are, where you're from, and what your role is with Get Better FC?
I'm Tom Tran. I was born in Vietnam but I grew up in Southern California. I am the founder and vice captain of GBFC.
Almost all of the players on the team are transplants to San Francisco. And we share a love of soccer and camaraderie as well as getting out for a drink on weekdays. We have players from England, Belgium, Norway, and from all around the United States on the team. Some have played at a semi pro level in Europe but most are recreational level players.
We play in the IPLAY4SF league, which is a league run by Street Soccer USA which uses league fees to help low income and at risk individuals through soccer. It's a co-ed league and we play 8 a side, and there are 3 tiers of the league and we are currently in the third division.
How did Get Better FC come into being? And what's behind the name, Get Better?
We started in 2011 when I moved back up to the Bay Area from a 2 year stint in LA. We first joined the vaguely named SF Soccer league, which was played down in Pier 23 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. It was a great location until 2012 when the ground was demolished to make way for the America's Cup. Unfortunately for us and our fans, they used that land for an event space for the 2013 America's Cup. Paved paradise, to put up a parking lot, if you will
The name came from a saying my friends and I would use when addressing each other after making a mistake or folly. So for instance, if one of the guys would spill his beer at the bar, we would all look at him and say "get better". I guess we thought it was clever since none of us at the time were particularly good at soccer or had played in a long time. We were looking at it as a way to get better and hang out on Thursdays.
That's not a bad idea. I was on an indoor team that played Thursday nights for a couple of years, but if we had had a name, it would have been 'We Suck FC.' What exactly is the IPlay4SF League? I've heard of Street Soccer USA, but haven't talked to any of the teams in their leagues yet.
Yeah, absolutely. So the league raises awareness for a lot of the issues that you may be hearing about SF and the Bay Area in general as of late, such as homelessness, drug abuse, and alcoholism. The league has a designated team called Street Soccer where the team members are recovering from either addiction or homelessness and using soccer as a gateway to get back into the working world.
It's San Francisco's arm of Street Soccer USA, and they actually send players to the USA Homeless World Cup team in the past. You can find out more information here http://leagues.iplayforsf.org/ as well as our league table, schedules and results.
Appreciate the link. How did you and Get Better FC come to be involved with Street Soccer USA?
Well with the collapse of San Francisco Soccer due to their grounds being demolished, we had to find a new league to play in. We were tumbling around some random leagues for a while where we played in some dodgy locations against unbalanced league opponents until we found IPLAY4SF.
It's actually quite difficult to find a good soccer league in San Francisco, as space is quite limited here and until recently, there just wasn't the infrastructure for soccer in the city. There are dozens of softball, baseball, baseball, tennis and even bocce courts but soccer fields are few and far between.
We think soccer is a great way to get the message out in the community. We've played as a team in several charity events such as the Street Soccer USA Union Square Cup this past summer as well as other charities that some of the players on the team participate in through work such as the Bay Area Scores Corporate Cup
We're one of the old boys in the league as we've been playing since 2013. We see teams in our division and league come and go, many of whom are sponsored by their corporate partners or teams of scabs looking for a game every week, but there are a few teams that have managed to always come back season after season. We have a healthy rivalry with 2 of the other teams in our division, Swiss Tigers and Tiger Knees. We played Swiss Tigers in the cup final last season but lost in a close 2-0 match. And 3 seasons earlier we blanked Swiss Tigers 0-4 in the semis on our unexpected run towards the championship that season. So you can say we have had quite the number of epic bouts through the years.
Swiss Tigers and Tiger Knees? Those are some great names. You said you are currently playing in the third division. Is that the lowest division in the league, and if so, can you play your way to the top?
Yeah, not sure why there is a fascination with tigers in rec league soccer. Regarding the league structure, there are 3 divisions and you can play your way up. You can technically apply to just go up if you want to be up in a higher division, but the skill level on the top division is quite high. We're somewhere between the 2nd the 3rd division as far as ability at the moment. We're generally at the top of the table in the third division but would probably struggle for a playoff position in the 2nd division.
So kind of promotion and relegation, but more at your own pace?
What does the soccer scene in San Francisco look like? I know it's thriving in Southern California around LA and San Diego, but you don't hear too much about the northern part of the state. Normally you just hear tech news.
The Bay Area isn't quite on the level of Southern California quite yet as far as soccer. Most of the fans in the Bay Area would probably say their main club is a European one. There is a fair amount of Premier League followers up here as you'd expect with a city of transplants. Most of the big clubs have a local bar in San Francisco that they meet at for big matches. The Northstar Cafe, our main sponsor is a popular spot to go for big European and international matches and a great spot overall to watch sports.
Why is San Francisco further behind on that? Seems like it would be the perfect city for a thriving soccer scene.
I'm speaking more for the city itself than the whole Bay Area now, but it's probably a matter of density. There just aren't as many people in the Bay Area as there are in Southern California. Also, in the city, there aren't that many kids. It's all young professional adults so you don't get a grassroots level soccer program. It's mostly just adults playing in after work leagues or meeting up to support their favorite teams.
There seems to be a movement to change that with the 2 new local teams in the last few years, SFCFC and SF Deltas. Time will tell, I guess, on how this will change the soccer culture in the Bay Area.
For sure. What kind of opportunities, or doors are opened, for Get Better FC as a result of being involved with Street Soccer USA?
SSUSA are a great organization. They work really hard to help out the community through soccer and are always reaching out to us to see if we'd like to volunteer, mentor or even just practice and scrimmage with the Street Soccer team. We're also quite active on twitter as you can see and try to promote the league as much as possible, and I think the league and commissioner really appreciate that. We try to have fun with it and tweet out info for our games so our players and friends and family stay up to date. This year was a big year for us as we finally got our first custom shirt made with our shirt sponsor on it.
We hope to continue supporting SSUSA and get more involved with the people in the program to help them get back into the working world and find the support they need. We love soccer and seeing people who need help getting back on track, so combining the two are great. We always enjoy playing against them and they're lovely folks.
If someone were to come up to you and say, 'Tom, I'm thinking about starting a team and joining your league.' What would you tell them to make sure they're fully prepared?
Good question. I would say to make sure that you enjoy the game more than the results, to be honest. The league is an adult, co-ed recreational league. There are tiers, but we all still have jobs and play as an escape from the work day. Often times, you'll see people who are in it for the wrong reasons, whether it be they were used to playing a certain way growing up, or maybe they have a "have to win" mentality, and that won't go over well in this league. If you're after a hyper-competitive league where there are rough tackles, pushing and shoving, and smack talk, this definitely wouldn't be the league for you. Also, it'd be really helpful to be able to laugh at yourself often. There are a lot of things that go on that just make you scratch your head and laugh, both good and bad.
A lot of people like to take their sports way too seriously, even if they aren't getting paid to play. Now, I haven't actually interviewed anyone who is involved with a co-ed team before. How is that different from being an all women's or all men's team?
It's actually great. Our current squad has girls of all talent levels and backgrounds. Most of the girls played at some level in high school, and we've even had D1 college players come through our ranks. The league requires each time to field 3 girls at all times so having quality between both genders is huge. I think the thing that separates us from the other teams in the league are the quality of our girls. A lot of the other teams have guys who are really gifted technically and great players, but their squads are either unbalanced, or the players don't trust each other enough to pass to the girls, which really limit the play and passing. Our players are all really close and we trust each other enough to always pass to the open player and expect that they can make the right play.
Also, it doesn't hurt to have a few ladies join us when we meet at the pub afterwards instead of just 10 sweaty guys talking about sports.
That would help other people's opinions for sure. Is starting or playing for a co-ed team something you would really recommend?
Oh, no doubt. I often get head scratches or amazement when I tell people from more traditional soccer countries like Brazil, England or Argentina that I play on a team that has girl players too. I think as with everything in life, it's never bad to have more diversity or understanding so playing with the opposite sex is never going to make you a worse player. I understand it's not for everyone, but I think everyone who loves soccer should give it a shot before dismissing it.
For many of the players on our team, especially the ones who grew up in Europe or South America, this was their first time playing co-ed soccer, and I think they would all say they have enjoyed the experience and probably even prefer it at this point.
I'm sure the women on your team appreciate the chance to play too. Aren't near as many opportunities for women to form teams and play at the amateur level as there for men. Where are you hoping to see Get Better FC in, say, 5 years?
That's a good question. There are about 5-6 of us who have been with the club since we were founded in 2011. We are all getting a little longer in the tooth now and work and family commitments make it often difficult to devote 100% of ourselves to the team. We have added a lot of new blood into the squad with some new, younger players over the last 3 seasons. I think adding in players who are on the right side of 30 and still single are putting us in a better position to maintain our competitiveness and growth going into the next level.
Hopefully in 5 years we will be comfortable a mid to top level team in the middle or top division and adding a 5th, 6th and 7th or more stars onto our team crest.
Whatever happens we will always still be Get Better. Our club is in a good position financially and interest wise so it's really up to our skipper to keep up the fan interest and getting more people to sponsor us or strategic partnerships in the community.
What kind of strategic partnerships has the team pursued currently? I feel like that's something a lot of teams in the lower levels need to do a better job of focusing on.
Well, outside of getting local bars to sponsor us, we are trying to get awareness out. Partnering with other rec league teams from around the country to promote our league and team.
We are also trying to get more sponsorship's via the companies that employ our players, but that's proved difficult this far.
Sponsorship always seems to be the tough part. There are a few tech companies who run sports league software out in the Bay Area. They might be willing to sponsor you guys. What are some lessons you've learned from being apart of Get Better FC, either about running a team or even about life? Two from failure, two from success.
I've learned a lot about sports, friendship, and life through being part of GBFC. I'd say the biggest lesson I've learned from our failures is that sometimes it's just not your day. Sometimes no matter how well you've prepared or performed, someone who didn't perform as well beats you; and you just have to tip your cap to them. I think it's a valuable lesson in life to be humbled, and I think there are a lot of people who could learn a lot by getting humbled more often. Another thing you learn through failure is how important the people you surround yourself with is.
We see it often with our opponents where they are only there for the soccer and not necessarily friends or people that would have each other's back if things went wrong. When results are going well, things are rosy, but you often see morale drop real quick when people turn on one another for mistakes or poor performance.
Possibly the best thing about the club is how we pick up for one another when one is not playing up to snuff, and when times are good, they're great, and when times are bad, they're still pretty damned good. The fact that we are all part of one another's lives off the field is a great bonus in addition to enjoyment we all get playing soccer together.
The thing I've learned from our success is to always celebrate and recognize greatness. Give credit where credit is due, and make sure people feel that they were valuable to the team. A postgame cheers to the MOTM for bagging a hat trick , or a shot of Fernet to our goalie, Dave, who kept a clean sheet; these things matter.
Nice. Where can people find out more about yourself and about the team?
We are hoping to get a website back up soon, but for now you can follow the team and its players on twitter via @GetBetter_FC
Alright. Let's do some shorter questions. What is your favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
Favorite team are the LA Galaxy since I'm loyal to my local team. As far as overall league you can't beat the theater that is the English Premier League.
Favorite players, one past, one present.
Past has to be Jose Luis Chilavert from Paraguay. I have a soft spot for outspoken goalkeepers like him, Jorge Campos and Gianluca Pagliuca from my childhood. And the fact that he was his team's designated penalty and free kick taker made him a big part of me enjoying soccer as a kid.
Current, I would say my favorite player is Alexis Alejandro Sanchez Sanchez. He always plays like his life is on the line if he loses, and he has duplicates of both his first and last names. Incredible.
I thought that was a typo at first on his name. Do you have books, soccer related or otherwise, that you would recommend to people?
For movies I highly recommend the Goal! series. Goal! 2, in particular was my favorite of the 3 where Santiago Munez goes to Real Madrid. Books, I really enjoyed Soccernomics and Fever Pitch. Soccernomics is especially cool if you're interested in international soccer and how player transfers work.
Fever Pitch, is the original book from Nick Hornby that the US movie is based off of about the 1989 Arsenal season.
Would you rather: Go to the Euros, AFC Asian Cup, or World Cup?
Oh World Cup by far. The US can't even make the Euros! And plus you're missing out on 2 of the 5 best soccer countries in the world for any tournament without Brazil and Argentina.
Good point. What would you like to say to the people reading this about why it's important to get out there and be a part of lower level soccer in the States?
I'd say whatever your skill level is, it's never too late to play and get better. We have players on our team who've never put on soccer cleats, and are now a big part of our team. Just get out there, play, get better and get the word out on your team and create a good environment for soccer to grow. The more people that play and talk about soccer, the better the product and knowledge of the sport will be in the US. If everyone cared about soccer half as much as their fantasy football team, America would be a top 5 soccer country in the world.
That's a fair assessment. Maybe if we can get fantasy soccer figure out, we'll get there. What do you think?
I don't know if fantasy soccer will ever catch on. Americans love stats. That's why baseball and football are popular for fantasy. Stats just don't really work in soccer. At least they aren't as easily tracked and translated from game to game the way football and baseball stats work.
Very true. Tom, thanks for taking the time to do this. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can click here to Follow AP on Twitter, or here to Like AP on Facebook. The easiest way to make sure you never miss an interview, and get to read interviews before everyone, click here and sign up for the Newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road. Make sure to spread the word by sharing these interviews, telling friends about the blog, those kind of things. AP can't accomplish the goal of maximum exposure for all levels of the American Soccer Pyramid without YOU. Until next time, Stay Loyal, Support Local.