California, the home to the entertainment industry in Hollywood, the tech giants of Apple and Google, and the trailblazing pop culture activity known as skateboarding. The state is home to roughly 40 million people (about the same as Iraq), making it a diverse and unique place. With its miles of pure pacific coastlines, to the breath-taking Sierra Nevada, to the dry Mojave desert, the size of California can be compared to that of Germany, Iraq, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Sweden, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe. According to the US census bureau in 2018, the population of California is 72% white, 39% Hispanic (any race) 15% Asian, and 6.5% African American. In California’s history, the land has been governed by Native Americans, the Spanish, and Mexico before being admitted to the union as the 31st state of the united states in 1850. Little do people know that in fact, California was independent of any controlling nation for a brief moment before the Mexican-American war in 1846. This was done by the job of John C Fremont and his leadership of rebelling the Mexican providence of Alta California before the war broke out. This independent attitude has not left the minds of everyday Californians, as some identify themselves more as a Californian than an American (and not just due to the context of today’s political climate). One individual who understands this is Sven Serrano, the man behind the idea of an all California team and possible federation.
California is no stranger to the beautiful game, being the hub of many great players like Landon Donovan and Megan Rapinoe, to hosting historical world cup moments like the final in 1994 between Italy and Brazil, to fielding successful professional teams like the LA Galaxy and San Jose Quakes. With that in mind, to Sven, it was a no-brainier to entertain the idea of a team just based on California natives. I came across his idea from Twitter from a retweet of a user who made an image of all the California teams under one pyramid. Seeing the bio of the @CalFootballFed, I thought to myself “I gotta see what this is all about!” Soon after I connected with Sven, who ran the account, and decided to have a chat with him and learn more about the California FA.
What’s your soccer story? Did you play or coach in your time?
I’m pretty much a fan I like to say, my (love for) soccer comes from Mexico. I grew up in San Diego in the 60s and 70s where I could watch a Mexcian TV channel, and my first World Cup was in 1970. Over the years I got to see a little bit of the NASL, San Diego jaws and in the 80s there wasn’t that much. I was living in San Francisco and in 1989 I moved to Japan and I got into the J league. In 1998 I went with friends to follow the USA team at the world cup in France, it was a wonderful experience because it was 300 of us and we lost all our matches and had a great time. After we lost to Yugoslavia 1-0, we all grabbed the last train to Paris and we drank the club car dry. In 2002, I got to see the USA versus Korea which was a tie, and lost was Poland but Portugal sent us through. We spent the whole day celebrating and I had to go back to work or else I could have seen the USA beat Mexico 2-0 which was icing on the cake. Since then I moved to Shanghai and got into Chinese football.
Why soccer over other sports? What made you choose soccer?
It was a lot to do with being on the border and expressing my “chicanoismo” I really like watching Mexican football when I was a kid, my favorite club was Cruz Azul. I did a bit of basketball and was a San Francisco Giants fan but now it’s all football. I get it, soccer isn’t really too entertaining, it’s a reflection of why life sucks and I’ll be honest about 75% of the matches I’ve seen have been nothing to write home about. You live for that 25% of the matches that are awesome where you come from 3 down and you win it or you win a Cup or it something like that.
How did you come up with this idea?
I’ve always been interested in the idea of an independent California dating from the early 1980s when I was working for the Sierra Club in San Francisco. There was a sci-fi novel by Ernest Callenbach called Ecotopia. It was about a California, Oregon, Washington state country that appeared in the 1970s, I even got to met the author. It was kind of far fetched but it was always in the back of my mind and in 2015 I discovered a California National Party had been formed, and it turns out that the California national party was started although it still hasn’t got that far. I always thought “wow we could have a great soccer team” because watching countries like Wales and Iceland punch above their weight but we are 40 million so I thought I sell some shirts for the World Cup. I learned about CONIFA (the Confederation of Independent Football Associations) so that was 2 in 2. I started reading those issues on twitter that minor league teams have with MLS and USSF and then I thought, well maybe we could have a Federation in California that could be kind of a fulcrum or a way that California teams could rally back against the USSF. So yeah, on a couple levels merchandising was first just for fun and team would be for fun and maybe a California Federation on a serious level. We have a long way to go but I’m kinda of the idea guy.
Can you explain the visuals and symbolism behind the kit and FA icon/crest?
That was the most fun to do. I found designers from fiverr, I played around with some ideas, I wanted the bear and map. I looked at some CONCACAF logos, some are pretty lame and some are cool. We played around with the same designs and came with 3 Jerseys, I wanted it to be bilingual with English and Spanish on logos and names. We have 2 Spanish language shirts and scarves, I thought the nickname “Osos” would be a clever name for the bears.
How much has the idea correspond with the political movement of an independent California? Did you use their momentum?
The movement is tiny at the moment, we really haven’t caught on in the public imagination but what we always refer to is that reuters article, which was a poll in California right after the Trump election, asking if we could be an independent country and one third of people said yes so we’d like to think that weight and support is there. I just joke most Californians don’t want to do the heavy lifting on the political part. Californians may look in the mirror and see themselves as a nationality and not as Americans anymore, it can happen.
Can you explain CONIFA? Why choose that organization compared to just starting an amateur team in a local or national league?
It’s an alternative World Cup that does these tournaments with really small little regions like Abkhazia, Northern Cyprus, Panjab, Tuvalu that aren’t recognized. It would give us instant recognition, put us on the map and while we didn’t get it this year because there was a misunderstanding with the people in Cascadia and they voted against us. There’s a team in Hawaii that’s organizing and they were a Kingdom, so a friendly with them played in Bakersfield is our dream. Rather than just having a team on our own this gives us some backing. We will get in as an associate team and play in a alternate World Cup. Look, whole thing is in the application we’re supposed to pick a national anthem and a few years ago someone on YouTube made a California anthem that’s really kind of cool so we might have some songs and we already have a flag. That’s the plan; to get in CONIFA and organized a national team. We have our shirts already. I refer to a saying from the movie field of dreams “build it and they will come.”
How much has the idea accomplished so far? Has it met any goals? What are some goals not yet met?
Ok well we have not yet met all of our goals of course. Our fund raising it is zero at the moment due to the COVID situation although I did put some of my personal funds into it. Of course (one of the goals) is to get into CONIFA and that requires us to get voted in at their next annual convention which of course will also be delayed due to COVID. We need volunteers, we need to get into CONIFA and then we can start really talking about recruiting a team and getting prospects, looking into places like the Central Valley, Inland Empire, the least looked at areas of California and try to look to recruit players there that would get passed over by the national team tryouts, so here’s a national team you can try out an international experience with.
What’s the why for this idea? Whats the purpose of it? Would you be ok if the idea died or not?
Of course, this links to the idea of a California nation so I don’t think that’s going to die or go away. When people talk nationalism, it usually has a negative tone of being with “the greatest” and it looks like Trump but there’s a good kind of nationalism. It is when you’re building a country for the first time and there’s all sorts of things that you can use to make it happen, a sports team is one. Let me give you another example, up in Wales and that part of Great Britain, the Welsh language was dying and they demanded some Welsh content on BBC. The BBC said ok, we will give you a show like who’s gonna watch old Welsh on television? Well the Welsh people did, they came up with the children’s show called SuperTed. It was a teddy bear talking and the kids were watching the TV show and learning the Welsh language and boom it gave them a big up so there’s all sorts of things that can jump start your little nationalist movement. So it could be a TV show or a novel or a sports team so really need to have faith that is why it won’t go away. Of course, I’d be terribly disappointed if it did but again I think there’s Californians who would come out and see this team. We could just play friendlies but if it doesn’t get big than its fine, its suppose to be fun.
How can players, coaches or other interested parties join the project or learn more about it? Can California natives not living in the state be a part of the idea?
Don’t have to be not living in California to be a part of the idea. Yes, of course if you’re born in California that satisfies the requirement. Ideally, if you have lived in California a few years, maybe 4-5 and you ‘identify’ as a Californian, then you qualify. If you’re a Californian in any part of the world and you wanna be part of this, even in just name or endorsing it, or if you’re on board to really wanna do the nuts and bolts of the team, I’m asking them to talk to Roberto who was our interim coach. He is still advising and he’s gonna put together a job description and help us find a new volunteer coach.
If you like to learn about the idea or want to be apart of it, you can email Roberto Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website https://californiafootballfederation.bigcartel.com/
Other Sites; http://www.conifa.org