Ulster fan Stephen Johnston spent last year in San Francisco as part of his year out for his Interactive Multimedia Design course. Having arrived home to sunny Ulster Stevie has bought us up to date on the thriving rugby scene he found under the Golden Gate!
“During my stay in San Francisco, I looked for some recreational exercise or hobby, to keep myself going through the year and also to socialise more in the city.
“After several failed attempts with amateur American Football and that hyped up game of rounders, Baseball, I decided to search for rugby clubs in the area. Luckily enough my search result landed on the San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby Club, established in 2001 following the merger of San Francisco RFC and the Golden Gate Rugby Club. Interestingly enough it is based on Treasure Island! Yes it’s a real place … G’arrrr, there be treasure matey’s!
“SFGG currently field three teams: Super league team , Division 1 A team and Division 1 B team.
“Naturally, after I attended the first training session of the season I was warmly welcomed into the Division 1 B team. But fair dues – these guys put the Irish right to shame with their level of fitness. They were all big boys and born in the gym and came from a fairly even mix of players who chose rugby as their natural game or ex gridiron players who drifted out of the game and found rugby more to their liking.
“Their own clubhouse, one of the very few clubs to actually have one, has been well decorated with signed jerseys, player pictures and various memorabilia and (hopefully) now with a Larne RFC shirt! And, of course, it comes with the prerequisite of any Rugby Club – a fine, thirst quenching, bar!
“I soon found out that SFGG have produced a fair few up and coming stars with two players currently contracted as professional overseas players, namely Chris Biller (formerly Bath and now at Northampton Saints) and Samu Manoa (hard hitting crowd favourite of Northampton Saints) and the club recognises their progress weekly. I also had the opportunity to be playing and training alongside, 32 times capped, US scrum-half, Mose Timoteo.
“Probably the funniest moment (and surprising), was warming up before the game and hearing a familiar accent. The guy talking during the warm up had a Northern Irish accent and queried if he was from Belfast or so. Turns out he was from Ballyclare and happens to be the brother of well known Larne Grammar PE Teacher, Johnny Lowe. Andrew lived in Las Vegas for over 6 years and then moved to Vallejo, North of San Francisco, playing his rugby at SFGG.
“One of the main highlights I will take with me from SFGG is the chance to play against a 7′s legend, the Fijian Wizard, Waisale Serevi, pictured tackling me during the match and in the after match photo with my Dad and myself. Quite a cheerful chap and a gentleman both during and after the game!
“Personally, I want to thank everyone at SFGG for the experience I gained, the new skills I’ve learnt as a player, training drills and much more. It was a shock to find that Rugby in California, has taken off to a flyer and is well supported in colleges, being played at young ages and at a higher standard than even I’m used to playing at!
“To all the players, coaches and people working with the club, it was a memorable club to join for the year and all the best for the upcoming seasons.”
Photo credit: NoReinsGirl Photography.