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Peter Bridgwater | The Man Behind The San Jose Clash

While April 2 is cause for celebration, it will be difficult for many inside Avaya Stadium not to look up at the skies and wonder what a departed friend would make of all this.

Peter Bridgwater passed away in 2005, but his legacy is all around us.
This was the man who brought soccer to the Bay Area and ensured it survived some incredibly testing times.

The man who, after the North American Soccer League folded, took the step keeping the Earthquakes alive, ensuring that it could be resurrected along with the team.
The man who brought the 1994 World Cup to Stanford Stadium, ensuring people almost 500,000 people could watch and develop a passion for the global game.
And perhaps above all else, the man without whom none of what you see before you would be possible.

Born in Manchester, England, in 1935, Bridgwater wasted little time in spreading the gospel to North America when he crossed the Atlantic to become general manager of the Vancouver Whitecaps in 1979.

Five years later he moved to the Bay Area to become general manager of the San Jose Earthquakes and the love affair began, although the relationship got off to a rocky start. When NASL folded a short time later, things looked bleak but forward-thinking Bridgwater kept the Quakes alive and placed the team into a new venture that he founded, the Western Alliance Challenge Series, which he later turned into a league, the Western Soccer Alliance.

Despite later selling the club, Bridgwater would not give up on the beautiful game. His next step was to embark upon a colorful crusade, which saw him bring some of the top club and international sides in the world to the Bay Area for exhibition matches, including Real Madrid, Napoli with Diego Maradona and Bayern Munich.
His 1990 fixture between the US and USSR at Stanford drew 61,132 – then the largest crowd ever to see the national team play on these shores.

Perhaps Bridgwater’s finest hour – and there were many of those – came when he was appointed President and General Manager of the San Jose Clash when his dream of a permanent, professional soccer team in the Bay Area became reality.

The Quakes current General Manager, John Doyle, had a relationship with Bridgwater that stretched back as far as the mid 80s. The defender enlisted the help of his friend following the 1990 World Cup as he looked to move to England.

“A lot of people said I had the chance to play in England and Europe but nothing came so I called Peter,” Doyle said. 

"Two days later we were on our way to Derby County. They said they wanted to sign me but Peter told me he had an offer from Sweden so my wife and I went up there, they gave us a nice house and we stayed for 15 months.

“When MLS came to the US Peter told me he wanted me to be one of his two designated players and I was delighted to come back.”
Doyle remembers Bridgwater being a fierce negotiator but believes he may have been cut some slack.

“His significant other, Leilani, always said I was like a son to him. I was full of fire and did some dumb things, ‘I want a car, I want this, I want that’, like players do but he always said ‘let’s see what we can do and tried to help me’."

Doyle is in no doubt that if it weren’t for Bridgwater’s drive and determination, tonight’s game would not be taking place.

"Without him and his promotions of games, his love for the Bay Area, and just being as good as he was, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said. 

"I think Peter made it easier for MLS to say ‘San Jose is a good place for us’.

"We owe a lot to him.”

Doyle added that he often finds himself thinking about Bridgwater.

"One thing I reflect on – it would have been incredible for him to see all this,” he said. "He would have been proud and he would have got to enjoy it a little more without the pressure. He could have gone to games, sat in a suite and really relaxed and enjoyed himself."

Chris Dangerfield has one word to describe his fellow Englishman.

“Unbelievable,” the Quakes legend said. “He kept the Earthquakes name alive, kept the game alive here and refused to give up.”

Like Doyle, Dangerfield also had a close relationship with Bridgwater and his precise methods.

“You worked with Peter Bridgwater and you worked hard,” he said. “There were no second chances – everything had to be right, everything had to be perfect.”

Dangerfield, the current color analyst for Quakes matches, added that Bridgwater was an innovator.
“I think he was the first person to get permission for advertisement boards around the pitch. And he didn’t just put a game on – he put an event on. He was a professional.”

Not that he was unable to have fun.

“When the game kicked off and everything had gone according to plan he would relax,” Dangerfield added. “He had a tremendous sense of humor and loved to have fun – but only when the serious stuff was over.”

It is hard to wonder, on the 20th anniversary of that first game, what Bridgwater would make of how far the team that bears the name he safeguarded has come.
With 18,000 regularly flocking to games in one of the finest venues in MLS there is little doubt the former banker would smile, before reflecting on the best possible return for his investment.

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