What ultimately defines a group are its collective experiences. Over time, the perceptions of those experiences become ingrained to create a cultural identity that instructs future behavior that is consistent with actions that preceded them. Expectations and allowable (or tolerable) behavior thus gets passed down from one generation to the next.
In almost every spectator sport in the US, organizers have a compulsion to provide ancillary entertainment to those in attendance. This comes in many forms including marching bands, alluring dancers in their reproductive prime, the playing of high energy anthems, kiss-cams, costumed freaks roaming the aisles, t-shirts being shot in your vicinity, and the cyclical prompting of various familiar refrains (De-Fense!, Charge!, etc). The organizers of these sports largely dictate the fan experience by orchestrating their compliant fans.
The world over, soccer is a wholly different beast. Supporter groups (and oftentimes an agglomeration of supporter groups) create the atmosphere at matches with minimal involvement by the organizers. In fact, many fans would view organizer involvement beyond providing concessions and bathrooms as an interference. The cheers, the tifos, traditions, and overall fan experience is created and nurtured by the fans themselves.
At UCSB, several moments illustrate our soccer culture which not-coincidentally reflect the culture of living a beachside existence with hedonistic and fun-loving vibes. The social scene of Isla Vista lends itself to highly social, creative, and mischievous behavior perpetrated by individuals with not fully formed frontal lobes.
The quintessential moment of UCSB soccer and its fans came in 2006 when the team won the NCAA title, and the fans carried the goal out of Harder Stadium and to the beach. But before we get to that event, there was a moment that preceded the march-to-the-sea, so we first need to discuss 2004.
In 2004, UCSB hosted the Elite 8 match versus Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) with the winner advancing to the College Cup at Home Depot Center in Carson. The attendance that night was 11,214, and the energy was electric, and we seemed destined to win. However, in the 4th minute, a pall swept over Harder Stadium. All-American freshman defender Andy Iro slipped at midfield which allowed speed demon Dominic Oduro to go one-on-one with Dan Kennedy, and the Ghanaian scored. The initial shock was replaced by a nail-biting tension. Being the competitive beast that he was, Iro redeemed himself with a goal from a corner kick to tie the match before halftime. But what iced the match and put the crowd into a frenzy was a goal in the 82nd minute by Andrew Proctor which I believe is the best goal ever scored by a UCSB player. Dude had to run at full speed to catch up to a long ball headed for the endline that was about 20 yards from the near goal post. The ball may have touched the line as he struck it with his right foot and the ball teasingly bended and sailed over the outstretched fingers of the keeper and went in at the far post. Score: 3-1. The crowd was going nuts. Then Iro scored again in the 85th minute and the party was officially on and raging.
When the final whistle blew, the fans stormed the field while I took in the celebrations and ole chants from the stands. Then I noticed the goal closest to the entrance begin to float. Like ants carrying a morsel back to the hive, the goal made its way out of the stadium, briefly pausing at the exit as the turnstiles had to be negotiated and overcome. Several minutes later, I exited Harder Stadium to see if I could find the goal and the celebrations it was sure to attract. I was dismayed, though, to find the goal resting in the street just shy of the corner of Stadium Road and El Colegio awash in flashing blue and red lights and guarded by a half dozen baton-wielding sheriff deputies looking fervently from side to side. You see, there exists a constant struggle between Isla Vistans who want to get their party on and the sheriff department who want to ruin the party. And at the start of the academic quarter, the IV Foot Patrol had announced a “Fall Offensive” (we were at war overseas, after all) and they would show zero tolerance for any unauthorized fun. I was bemused by the spectacle and lingered at the scene until a sheriff deputy lightly cross-checked me with her baton and ordered me to keep moving. The first attempt at liberating the goal from Harder Stadium was unceremoniously thwarted by The Man. Rumor had it that one of the individuals that carried the goal (and later scattered when confronted by the police) was UCSB club soccer player Nick Perera who would walk on to the team the following year and win the NCAA title in 2006 while being named Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the College Cup.
As we all know, UCSB won the NCAA title in 2006 in the aftermath of an ice storm in St. Louis. Since video exists of part of the goal’s pied piper journey from Harder Stadium, along the fringe of campus, down Del Playa, and to the beach, it’s best to simply share it here:
Of course, removing the goal represented much more than a silly, spontaneous reaction to a national title. It wasn’t an isolated or spontaneous reaction at all. In the video, there is commentary between three friends that recognize Isla Vista (IV) as a unique place with a unique culture.
Woman 1: Only in IV.
Woman 2: Only in IV [laughing].
Man: Look up on the roof. There’s some guy running… two guys running on the roof [laughing].
The celebration was also about being denied the national title in PKs in 2004 when many thousand Gaucho fans traveled to Carson only to come away proud but also disappointed. The celebration also represented the cat-and-mouse games Isla Vistans play with the IV Foot Patrol. The students may have been stymied in 2004, but they would prevail and not have their party shut down in 2006. The mouse won this round, and the goal ended up in the ocean.
Other events cement UCSB matches as a fan-inspired event that is consistent with and reinforces the culture of good-natured rebelliousness that permeates UCSB and IV. Pitch invaders are a soccer tradition. But it requires another level of commitment and preparation to strip off one’s clothes before making the mad dash across the field. Luckily, video exists of one such streak that occurred in November of 2008 versus Cal Poly:
There are several aspects that make this streak remarkable. First, there are actually two streakers. Second, one of the streakers interrupts his run to kick the ball into the net (representing the only goal of the match). And third, the streaker who is apprehended and arrested wrote very entertainingly about his experience to the Daily Nexus.
The streakers at the soccer match reflect UCSB’s culture. I recall as a student around 1992 an IV record store running a publicity promotion that offered free CDs to anyone who was nude during the transaction. So many students participated that the promotion was quickly ended. In 2003, the Daily Nexus wrote of streakers interrupting classes. UCSB students were also among the first to participate in Undie Runs.
I always find it interesting to see how outsiders perceive UCSB’s antics and traditions. I found this 2005 article by SD Union Tribune writer Mark Zeigler particularly entertaining when he wrote about the playoff match that we hosted versus San Diego State.
There are more stories that define the collective experience of the UCSB soccer fan but to present them all in this post simply isn’t practical. Unless you’ve attended UCSB and lived in IV, it is not a culture or experience others will fully grasp. As far as sports go, soccer is a great fit for UCSB as it appeals to IV’s counter-culture and libertarian ethos. I will recount more stories as opportunities present themselves that will provide a deeper understanding of our unorthodox traditions.
In the meantime, keep a package of tortillas handy.