SF Vikings transformed soccer into an American pastime

San Francisco has always been a little bit different than the rest of the United States. While most of 20th century America was skeptical about soccer, the sport has deep roots in the city by the bay.

One club in particular, the San Francisco Vikings, played a key role in helping US soccer grow from a loosely connected group of clubs representing various immigrant groups into a mainstream sport.

“All those years soccer was being called a foreign sport, there was a vibrant soccer community in San Francisco,” said Dave Humphreys, the Vikings’ board chairman.


The Vikings recently celebrated their centennial anniversary. Over the years, their youth academies introduced the sport to thousands of boys and girls who might otherwise never have discovered the game. The players they developed also include seminal figures in the development of US soccer, such as Gus Donoghue, Steve Negoesco and Ernie Feibusch.

“To survive 100 years is amazing. Almost everybody who’s kicked a soccer ball in San Francisco played at some stage for the Vikings,” Humphreys said.

San Francisco’s soccer heritage spans nearly 150 years

In San Francisco, competitive soccer teams started forming around the 1880s or ’90s.

“Soccer was a way for ethnic groups to set up social clubs and out of the clubs would start sports teams,” explained Sean McGeever, a local soccer historian and former Viking player. McGeever has dedicated himself to documenting the history of soccer in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Soccer Football League was established in 1902 and became the top league in the city. Over the years, San Francisco amateur club teams such as the Greek-American AC, SF Italian Athletic Club, El Farolito and the San Francisco Glens would go on to win national competitions, including the US Open Cup and US National Amateur Championships.

The SF Vikings were started by a group of Danish immigrants in April 1922. One of the team’s first players was Arthur Andersen.

Arthur Andersen, the original goalkeeper for the SF Vikings, between the goalposts in 1925.

Courtesy SF Vikings

A native of Denmark, Andersen arrived in 1922 as an 18-year-old seaman aboard the five-masted sailing ship Kobenhavn, the largest sailing ship in the world at the time. The ship’s backup engine broke after passing through the Panama Canal and it eventually docked in San Francisco for repairs. Andersen quickly put down roots in San Francisco and decided to jump ship before it set sail.

He became the starting goalkeeper for the newly formed Vikings and helped the club claim the University and Club League championship — the second division of soccer in San Francisco at the time — in its second season.

Andersen’s choice to stay in San Francisco was fortuitous for him. Seven years later, the Kobenhaven vanished without a trace off the coast of South America, and its disappearance is still a mystery to this day.

The Vikings continued to have success, and their players were easily identifiable, thanks to their distinctive red and white striped shirts in honor of the Danish flag, which they still sport today.

The San Francisco Vikings team poses for a photograph before a game at Ewing Field in January 1924.

The San Francisco Vikings team poses for a photograph before a game at Ewing Field in January 1924.

Courtesy SF Vikings

In 1936, the Vikings won the California State Cup, and their roster included a player named Gus Donoghue. He had recently completed his college career at the University of San Francisco and was also a member of the US Soccer team that appeared in the 1936 Olympics.

Donoghue later became USF’s soccer coach in 1941. During his 15 years in charge, he led the Dons to a 121-12-14 record and numerous college championships.

A youth soccer powerhouse is born

Coach Ernst (Ernie) Feibusch, left, with an SF Vikings junior team in the 1950's.

Coach Ernst (Ernie) Feibusch, left, with an SF Vikings junior team in the 1950’s.

Courtesy SF Vikings

During this period, many amateur soccer clubs would come and go in the crowded San Francisco soccer community. McGeever said that, on average, clubs would last 30 to 35 years.

But the Vikings have survived, thanks to the foresight of former Dutch national team goalkeeper named Derk Zylker, who became the president of the Vikings in 1937. Two years later, the club’s youth program was born.

“The Vikings have been in the forefront of developing youth soccer more than any other club,” explained McGeever.

World War II put a hold on the Vikings’ youth soccer program, but when the war ended, the club developed a “golden generation” of soccer talent, dubbed the “Mighty Vikings” by the local press. One of the young soccer players the Vikings developed was Derk Zylker’s son, Hommo.

“This guy has been described as probably the finest soccer player to ever come out of San Francisco,” said McGeever, who has studied contemporary articles in the Chronicle sports section about Hommo and his teammates. Hommo just missed out on being selected to the US Olympic team in both 1948 and 1952.

A 1961 SF News-Call Bulletin article about the growth of youth soccer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A 1961 SF News-Call Bulletin article about the growth of youth soccer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Courtesy SF Vikings

Hommo also followed his father as president of the Vikings, was an alternate on the 1956 US Olympic team and founded the West Coast Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association.

Other notable Viking players of the era included Marty Krumm, who was a member of the 1952 US Olympic soccer team, and Victor Ottoboni, who played for the US Men’s National Team as a goalkeeper in 1959 and 1960 US Olympic team.

“This whole generation, from the mid-’50s to mid-’60s, were really a lost generation because they were very skillful players with nowhere to go,” lamented McGeever, noting the lack of a high-quality professional league in the United States at the time.

The 1950 San Francisco Vikings first team at Boxer Stadium in Balboa Park.

The 1950 San Francisco Vikings first team at Boxer Stadium in Balboa Park.

Courtesy SF Vikings

Other Vikings alumni took what they learned from their development program and were instrumental in growing the game throughout the Bay Area. Ernst (Ernie) Feibusch played with the Vikings senior side in the 1950s, coached in the club’s youth program, and developed the first youth soccer league in Northern California. He also became a teacher and coach at Lowell High School, where he won 20 championships. He eventually became the secretary of the United States Soccer Federation and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1984.

Another legendary soccer coach, Steve Negoesco, was a player and a coach for the Vikings in 1961-62 before taking over the reins at USF. Negoesco led the Dons to 544 victories and four NCAA titles.

Other graduates of the Vikings youth program included Bob DiGrazia, who was a men’s soccer coach at Cal for 27 years, and Art Bridgeman, who was in charge of the San Francisco State University soccer team from 1951 to 1976.

Even into the late 1960s, the Vikings’ youth programs continued to turn out talent. Hommo’s son, Jim Zylker, played in the North American Soccer League for the San Jose Earthquakes and was a member of the 1972 US Olympic soccer team. Otey Cannon, a prolific goal-scorer, was the first African American to play in the North American Soccer League in 1972.

However, by the 1970s and 1980s, the Vikings’ senior team suffered because many of its most talented youth academy players chose to play for other SFSFL clubs, including the San Francisco Glens.

By 1981, the San Francisco Vikings relied on many recent Irish immigrants to fill out the roster of their senior team side.

By 1981, the San Francisco Vikings relied on many recent Irish immigrants to fill out the roster of their senior team side.

Courtesy SF Vikings

Although many important soccer figures were part of the Vikings’ academy, some found success in other endeavors far from the field. For example, comedian Robin Williams attended a Vikings summer soccer camp in 1969, according to McGeever.

In the 1970s, the Vikings were one of the first soccer clubs nationwide to offer development programs for girls soccer. One notable graduate of the Vikings program is Celeste Boureille, who currently plays for AC Milan in Italy.

Celeste Boureille during a friendly match of US Women's under-23 side in Spain in 2017. Boureille started out playing in the SF Vikings youth soccer leagues.

Celeste Boureille during a friendly match of US Women’s under-23 side in Spain in 2017. Boureille started out playing in the SF Vikings youth soccer leagues.

Jose Breton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

“For Vikings, being the first soccer team I joined ever, it was a really special time for me,” Boureille noted in a video posted on the Vikings’ social media congratulating the club’s 100th anniversary. “Looking back on my career I am just really appreciative and thankful for everyone at the club, because they contributed to my success today and really pushed me to achieve my dreams.”

The San Francisco Nighthawks, the Bay Area’s most prominent women’s amateur team, grew out of a club started by the SF Vikings.

Today, the Vikings have more than 800 kids in their development program, providing a critical opportunity for them even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had to stand in the box and wave at each other, but five days a week we were out there,” Humphreys explained.

The club’s senior team has also rebounded and currently sits top of the table in the SFSFL.

100-year celebration

The Vikings recently held a weekend reunion to celebrate the club’s indelible impact on the Bay Area.

On June 3, the team held a Hall of Fame induction and auction. The guest of honor was Joyce Andersen Gregory, the 88-year-old daughter of the Vikings’ first goalkeeper.

“This program is a fundraiser for kids who can’t pay to play, which is a massive problem with the US Soccer community,” Humphreys said.

At the event, a proclamation from San Francisco Mayor London Breed was read, naming June 4, 2022, the “Vikings Soccer Club Day.”

On that day, the club held alumni games at the Beach Chalet. The Vikings plan to make these games into an annual event as the club enters its second century in San Francisco.

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