In November of 2013, former San Jose Earthquakes legend Paul Child was inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame. It seemed long overdue, primarily because soccer was the first professional team sport in San Jose and Child was the team’s original star forward, beginning with the very first team. As a local newspaper columnist who’d grown up with that first incarnation of the team, I wasted no time in jamming out a page in celebration of Child’s San Jose tenure, going back to when he first showed up in 1974.
“When I left England, I felt at the bottom of the barrel,” Child told me. “But then I get the opportunity to play against all those guys I’d grown up watching. It’s like being in a slump, but then you get out of that hole and you never quit. That’s what this is all about, it’s to tell the younger athletes that are coming along that you just don’t quit. You keep on going, and you’ll have your ups and downs, but at the end, if you just keep on trying as hard as you can, you’ll come out smelling like roses.”
Those words struck a chord with me. Never quit. Don’t give up.
You see, for years I’d always wanted to write a book about the history of the San Jose Earthquakes club, including all its births, deaths and reincarnations, right up until the current day. The story was chock-filled with ups and downs: Leagues collapsing. Owners abandoning ship. Goofy and embarrassing rebrandings. Ersatz sports executives, illiterate in authentic soccer culture, making all the wrong decisions. Fans rallying in the streets to save the team. What’s more, the universal struggle to be taken seriously, as a sport and as a city, was completely intertwined, although I didn’t have a grip on it yet. In any event, a book was dying to be written.
Only three other MLS clubs — Seattle, Vancouver and Portland — can claim the same type of 40-year history that San Jose can, so the story needed to be told somehow. But unfortunately, in November of 2013, the larger narrative was not yet complete. The timing wasn’t right. The muse of creativity wasn’t ready to reciprocate. However, Child’s words about his Hall of Fame induction stuck with me. Never quit. Don’t give up.
Those inspiring words dovetailed with multiple layers of reality. “Never Say Die” is the tagline of the current San Jose Earthquakes, primarily since their record-setting 2012 campaign, in which the team won numerous matches in the waning minutes of regulation or stoppage time. Even better, as 2014 came around, Lars Frederiksen of Rancid, who also grew up with the Quakes, wrote the team’s new theme song, “Never Say Die,” for his side band, the Old Firm Casuals. They performed it at the Quakes 40th anniversary party on Jan. 30, 2014–a day before my birthday, which was also Lunar New Year. The entire “never give up” attitude remained in my unconscious.
When Child and his former teammates returned in May of 2014, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first Earthquakes game, they inspired me to revisit the book idea. (Read: They bugged the crap out of me to finally get off my butt and write the blasted thing.)
Honestly, at that moment, I felt like I was in stoppage time with a minute left, and it was now or never. I was not going to let the idea die. With Avaya stadium opening a year later, in 2015, the timing was perfect. Forty years of history right up until now. As one era ends, another one begins. Birth, death, rebirth and the life-cycles of a soccer club. It was borderline-mystical.
A few literary agents had already dismissed the idea out of hand, but luckily, a 30-page proposal was good enough for The History Press and they responded the very next day. As a result, a book contract arrived in my mailbox a few weeks after I emailed the initial proposal. Never quit. Don’t give up.
Writing The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy felt like the most natural thing I ever did. The process unfolded in organic fashion. Many events that transpired throughout 2014 allowed the end of the book to essentially write itself. As hokey as this sounds, sometimes it felt like I was channeling the book from somewhere else.
Earlier in 2014, since my birthday was on Lunar New Year, a few old Chinese ladies told me an auspicious year was headed my way. I thought nothing of it until I finished the book at the beginning of November, realizing that I was a very grateful and fortunate person. I got to see George Best at the end of his career and see him score the best goal of his life at Spartan Stadium — one year before Landon Donovan was born — and then 20 years later, as a journalist, I got to watch Landon start his American career on the same field. In 2005, I wrote a 5000-word newspaper feature about a diehard group of fans that fought to save the team in ways no one had seen before. And I lived to write a book about it all.
I’m glad I never gave up.
A previous version of this article first appeared in Metro Silicon Valley.