The beautiful game, according to historians, wasn’t always so beautiful. Using an inflated animal bladder as a ball, participants gained ground by shoving, punching, and wrestling their opponents and by throwing, kicking, and running with this circular object. There was no set time and the playing pitch could include all of its immediate surroundings. Indeed, pre-industrial authorities viewed this folk game as a threat to life and property and tried to ban it on numerous occasions. But it persisted, found a home in England’s public schools during the nineteenth century and in 1863 the game had a clear set of rules. Now called “Football,” it moved throughout Europe through commerce and empire across the globe. This foreign import quickly became ingrained within the culture, politics, and practices of its new communities. Wherever it landed, in short, it took on a local flair, including anti-colonial politics throughout Africa and the Americas.
In 2018, as the world prepared for the World Cup and Fresno welcomed its first professional team, professor Romeo Guzmán, Joseph Orbock, and his undergraduate students launched “The Other Football: Tracing the Beautiful Games’ Roots and Routes in the Central Valley.” We arrived to the game as fans and players, some of us from Visalia, Dinuba, and Kerman. From 2018 to 2018, students in Dr. Guzmán’s classes located old newspaper articles, dug through college and high school yearbooks, interviewed old and current futbolistas, and even formed a soccer team “Joaquin Murrieta’s All Stars.” Throughout this process, we hosted conferences and talks at Fresno State and Tioga Sequoia Brewery, a tournament and fundraiser for Central American Refugees at Mel’s Futsal court, and passed out thousands of trading cards at Fresno FC games.
In 2020, Dr. Guzmán accepted a job at Claremont Graduate University. This digital archive is housed through CGU and was built by his CGU graduate students, Fresno State alumni, and volunteers at the official launch party on December 9th and 10th of 2022 in Fresno and Visalia, respectively.
Collectively, we've learned that there is no single starting point to the history of soccer in Fresno. Instead, it is useful to think of the game’s arrival and development in the area as a series of waves arriving at disparate moments, but all touching the same shore. In the 1940s, foreign exchange students from Germany, Russia, Ecuador, and India formed the Cosmopolitan Club at Fresno State. Four decades later, under coach José Elgorriaga and with the Nigerian goal scorer Femi Olukanni, Fresno state became a powerhouse and reached the coveted Final Four. Over at Fresno Pacific, Jaime Ramirez, the formerly undocumented son of seasonal farmworkers not only transformed the men’s program, but created a pathway to college for many working-class players from the Central Valley. While women’s college soccer experienced a slow start, Fresno City founded a team in 1987. At the youth level, we can point to the founding of the Fresno Junior Soccer League in 1967-68 by English-born Harold S. Young. As Mexican farmworkers transitioned from seasonal to more permanent labor and settlement in 1960s and 1970s, they formed competitive teams and adult leagues throughout the Central Valley.
The founding of the Premier Development League (PDL) team Fresno Fuego in 2002 provided a point of convergence, a team to unite Fresno and the Valley’s many soccer communities. At the heart of this effort was the pioneering labor of Francisco and Tony Alvarez. After a successful stint at Fresno Pacific University, Francisco headed south to defend the goalpost of La Liga Mx’s Toros Neza. Family obligations and a love for home pulled Francisco back to Fresno, but he never lost the desire to compete at the highest level. Back in Fresno, the Alvarez brothers sold soccer cleats, balls, and jerseys at swap meets until they were able to open up brick-and-mortar stores. As a result of their hustle, they were able to place $40,000 in a shoebox and head to San Luis Obispo with the dream of purchasing the Central Coast Roadrunners and moving it to Fresno. They succeeded. Fresno Fuego’s first roster included players from the San Joaquin Valley Adult League, namely the powerhouse Club Mexico, as well as players from Fresno Pacific and Fresno State. Under coach Jaime Ramirez they reached the 4th round of the prestigious Open Cup and faced Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy and battled against former US National stars Alexi Lalas and Coby Jones. They lost a hard-fought battle, but would later see success against the MLS’s squad Chivas USA. Fresno Fuego’s players, coaches, and even fan clubs point to its central place in the history of soccer in Central Valley. While space does not permit to name even the most essential players and coaches, it might suffice to note that it was their collective effort that laid the foundation for Fresno Football Club (2018), which formed part of the United Soccer League and is the second tier of professional soccer in the United States.
Space also does not permit to go provide an overview of the archive. However, in these pages you’ll find photographs, newspaper articles, yearbooks, oral histories related to the history of the game in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley. We’ve organized the archival items into collections to facilitate browsing: youth soccer, high school, amateur, college, and professional. In exhibits, you’ll find essays by CGU and Fresno State students that use the archive to tell a narrative. We’ve only uploaded about 10% of the entire archive, so please do come back.
Lastly, this archive and public history project is only possible because countless community members took time to share stories and photographs with Fresno State students and faculty. As we get more organized we will properly list and thank them all here. In the meantime, a big thanks to everyone who made this happen, including our many partners, artists, CGU librarians, and grassroots organizers.
**If you'd like to learn more about The Other Football, please see Romeo Guzmán, "Imaginemos Cosas Chingonas: Building The Other Football Public History Project," in Teaching Public History, (UNC Press, 2023). To contribute to the archive, please email Guzmán at firstname.lastname@example.org