Bridgwater, Gavric honored for growing the game

Peter Bridgwater and Momcilo “Gabbo” Gavric, iconic figures in Earthquakes and Northern California soccer history, will be inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame at halftime of Saturday’s game against the Portland Timbers.

Gavric and Bridgwater will join five others in the Hall of Fame: general manager John Doyle, Ronald Cerritos, Troy Dayak, Milan Mandaric (Builder) and Paul Child.

Bridgwater, an English transplant, brought the Earthquakes into MLS (as the San Jose Clash) in 1996 and also worked with the Bay Area venues of the 1994 World Cup and 1999 Women's World Cup. He was hailed as a master promoter of international games and a great ambassador of the sport. Bridgwater died in 2005 in Roseville.

“Peter was a fabulous event organizer and a shrewd business operator," said former San Francisco Bay Blackhawks general manager Terry Fisher, who is CEO of Washington Youth Soccer. “Under that gruff, tough guy veneer was a big softie. He single-handedly kept the Quakes alive, bringing them back from flat line many times. There was no quit in that old bobbie!”

In fact, Soccer America credits Bridgwater as being one of the men most responsible for keeping pro socceralive in the United States after the North American Soccer League folded in 1985.

An original Earthquakes player, Gavric had an immediate impact after coming over from his native Yugoslavia in 1967. He won championships with the Oakland Clippers and Dallas Tornado before playing for the Earthquakes. The hard-nosed defender set the standard for future Quakes iron-willed defenders such as Dayak and current center back Victor Bernardez. Gavric earned co-MVP honors of the first NASL indoor championship in 1975 and later coached the Earthquakes to their best NASL season in 1976, after retiring as a player. 

In 1969, Gavric was a placekicker for the San Francisco 49ers, becoming the oldest rookie in NFL history. He died in 2010 at age 71 of Parkinson’s. Gavric's 1976 Quakes squad had a terrific international cast, featuring Yugoslavian defender Miro Pavlovic and midfielder Antonio Simoes, who played for Benfica and Portugal from 1962-73. Hungarian Julie Veee, Scotsman Davie Kemp, Child and Yugoslavians Ilija Mitic and Mark Liveric bolstered the squad. Future San Jose coach Laurie Calloway was a defender. Somehow, Gavric held it all together. Kemp liked his coaching style and thinks he deserved more recognition than he received.

“He demanded 100 percent effort from everybody,” Kemp recalled recently. “He was just a really, really hard, tough guy. There were no prisoners with Gabbo. His motto was: ‘There’s no room on the bench for prisoners. Put them away. He didn’t believe in injuries. Unless it was broken, really there was nothing wrong with you.”

Now retired, Kemp is thrilled about Gavric’s induction into the Quakes Hall of Fame.

“It’s a great thing. Here’s a guy that literally was handed a team, no coaching experience, and said run with it. He took that team, in 2 ½ years he took it to be one of the most successful teams in the country. Climax of that was beating New York twice with their all-star team, Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, all these guys. We should have won the league that year, but a last-minute goal by George Best down in Los Angeles put us out.”

Doyle gives high marks to both Gavric, one of his favorite players when he attended games growing up at Spartan Stadium, and Bridgwater, Doyle’s former agent and mentor.

“He was like a father figure," Doyle said of Bridgwater. “He was very instrumental in me going to Europe to play after the 1990 World Cup.”

Doyle signed with Örgryte IS in Sweden, with Bridwater’s assistance. “That got me off on the right foot in life,” Doyle said. “It enabled me to buy a house. I owe him a lot.”

Bridgwater was one of a kind a tough-minded, detail-oriented innovator, and a soccer salesman to the core. He was assisted by his longtime companion Lelani Serrecchia.

After leaving England, where he worked in law enforcement and banking and was a part-time soccer player and coach, Bridgwater became general manager of the Vancouver Whitecaps of the NASLin 1979. Bridgwater became the Earthquakes GM in 1984.

After the NASL folded, he bought the Quakes name and team and founded the Western Soccer Alliance, helping keep the sport alive in the Bay Area. He also promoted numerous international soccer matches in San Jose and the Bay Area, including matches that featured Real Madrid, Napoli and Bayern Munich. In his career, he promoted over 200 international matches. After helping San Jose secure one of MLS’s original teams in 1995, with help from former Blackhawks team president and soccer visionary Dan Van Voorhis, Bridgwater presented the MLS Inaugural Match at Spartan Stadium on April 6, 1996. It was a wildly successful event. The Clash defeated D.C. United 1-0 in front of a then-record crowd for a sports event in San Jose, 31,683. Bridgwater was the San Jose club president from 1996-98. He continued promoting international matches and serving as a consultant to the Earthquakes in 2005.

About a year before he died, Bridgwater promoted a game between Mexican rivals Chivas and Club America in San Francisco.

"The cancer hasn't really slowed me down over the years. It's been a feature of my life, and quite a fight, but I'm still here, still functioning,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. “I've been pretty fortunate to have a brain that wants to work and be active, and my body just tags along."

Bridgwater always wanted to give fans an entertaining experience from the moment they arrived at the stadium until the time they left. His halftime shows were often zany and legendary. Former business partner Brian Holmes said Bridgwater liked Spartan Stadium because it had grass fields nearby; perfect for barbequing and tailgating. Plus, Bridgwater instructed Holmes to try new things. They had jazz and mariachi bands entertaining fans, a penalty kick contest, model airplane competitions, Frisbees, creative cash giveaways, and team cheerleader Krazy George doing all kinds of stunts.

It was all in the name of promotion and for the love of soccer.

- Richter Media

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