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Bakersfield Barbarians debut

North America

After all the preparation and build up to the big day, the Bakersfield club, US Footy's latest side, made their match debut. Other "local" Californian clubs joined them for their big day. This report from San Diego's Mike Russell (who travelled out and played on the day) with extra reporting by Brett Northey.

Halloween 9-A-Side Tournament, Bakersfield, California, Sunday, October 30th, 2005

The sun was warm for this late in the year. After a quick three hour drive up from San Diego, I arrived at a well worn soccer field just off highway-99 in Bakersfield, CA, and parked my car under the shade trees. Two teams of Spanish speaking Mexican soccer players fought passionately across the ground, but I was here looking for a game called footy.

There were three long haired dudes setting up their drums and amps in the middle of the park. There was also a soft-spoken man with a salt and pepper goatee who turned out to be the fabled Leigh Hickling, coach of the Bakersfield Barbarians. After introducing myself and offering to help set up the fields, I suited up and took a run around the little park, just what you would expect in this central Californian farming metropolis of 250,000.

At noon the band heated up and rock music echoed throughout the park just as the Mojave Greens pulled up in their mini-van. The Greens were short handed, but the players they had were looking for a fight. A few minutes later I was all dressed in green myself, and sprinting accross the field to get under a well kicked footy. With a half dozen green clad men yelling for the ball we must have seemed like aliens to look at the faces of the surprised soccer players.

By 1:30 PM, the band (Burning Soul) was done playing and two other 9-a-side teams, the Inland Empire Fire, and the Orange County Bombers, had arrived and warmed up. They took to the field for the first match, a charging head-to-head game with some of the best American Footy players. Between the Inland Empire's tenacious Marty Curry (a Revo and perennial Best on Ground) and gentleman Donny Lucero (US Revolution Captain) of the Bombers, they treated the Barbarians to a unique spectacle. With these two quality players fighting for bragging rights, the scrappy game went back and forth, neither team able to take a decisive lead, and it ended before either team was satisfied. (40 min game, OC winning 50 to IE 42).

The second game was to be the very first for the Bakersfield Barbarians. They had been preparing all year for this moment, and against the Mojave Greens, they would be blooded. The Greens took four of the younger Barbarians into their brood to balance out the field. Against a team of professional U.S. Army soldiers the young Barbarians should have been intimidated, but they were not. The Greens came out strong, building up a quick lead in the beginning of the first half, and pounding Bakersfield boys into the ground whenever they could get their hands on them. Then a series of sloppy goal kicks allowed the Barbarians to come back, and at the half Bakersfield was up. The Mojave Greens fought hard till the end but couldn't force the Barbarians to lose confidence. Final score was Barbarians 11.0.66 to Greens 8.1.49.

For more than a few of the Barbarians this was their very first game, and at least half the team was comprised of teenagers. This first victory was a great confidence builder. Some of these young Barbarians will undoubtedly make their mark on US Footy over the next few years. Two of the stand-outs for the new club were Geoff Hales (a veteran of the West Australian Football League) and first-gamer Bennett Rawicki, who returned from college in Florida for the match and must be in the sites of the Florida Redbacks. It must also be said that the Greens fielded an inexperienced side, and the event was a great chance for them to learn the game too.

Leigh Hickling was very pleased with the day, and said "I am very grateful to the 3 teams who came along and supported us, and helped us feel like a part of the big picture in US footy". He felt all his players had contributed well and learned a lot about the sport including making new friends after the matches had ended. He was also keen to thank his family in the US and Australia for all their support. All these things were critical to getting the Barbarians officially on their way.

The final game on the day was a mixed team 10-a-side match between the combined IE/Greens and the OC/Barbarians. Players freely switched teams to get their hits in, and the score was lost in the clouds. Three fifteen minute periods were played before the sun set, and everyone except Marty Curry was finished. Then we all retired to the grill for some well earned chow. A great day for Footy in Southern California, and a really good show put on by the Barbarians. Can't wait until the Turkey Bowl, an all-comers game, November 27th, in Orange County!

More photos can be found on the 9-a-side website and here.

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