Ground: Bremerton Memorial Stadium
Location: Bremerton, Washington, USA (Google Maps)
Capacity (seated): 6,000
Match: Kitsap Pumas vs. Vancouver Whitecaps Residency
Date: Saturday, July 16, 2011
League: United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (USL PDL), fourth-division
Only the second ground review here at Groundhopping Canada, and we’re already resorting to a ground outside of Canada!
The rain cancellation of a Vancouver Whitecaps’ Major League Soccer match last month presented us with the opportunity to follow the club’s Residency (academy team) down to a ground in Washington State.
Bremerton Memorial Stadium is home to Kitsap Pumas of the fourth-division (and short season) USL PDL. Bremerton lies directly west of Seattle, but salt water (the Puget Sound) separates the two. Bremerton is on the eastern part of the Olympic Peninsula, meaning that getting there from Seattle requires either a ferry ride (one hour), or driving south down to Tacoma and then driving north up the peninsula.
Unmistakably a navy town, the first thing a visitor sees when approaching Bremerton by either ferry or car is the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, which is part of large Naval Base Kitsap. Mothballed aircraft carriers lie scattered beside the docks that finger out into Puget Sound, and drydocked ships receive attention from a series of cranes, including a green hammerhead crane.
The shipyard is home to the Ship-Submarine Recycling Program, in which nuclear-powered ships (including attack submarines and ballistic missle submarines) are inactivated and recycled. Nuclear reactor compartments are sealed and shipped to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. (Insert joke about “spent fuel rods” here.)
According to Wikipedia, jazz legend Quincy Jones moved to Bremerton when he was 10 years old, and met Ray Charles at clubs in Seattle. Bill Gates Sr., the father of the Microsoft founder, was born in Bremerton, and ran a furniture store and ice cream parlour in the city’s downtown.
As for the ground: Bremerton Memorial Stadium is part of Bremerton High School, and was opened in 1947 as a gift from the student body. Over the years, subsequent student bodies have helped fundraise to open various new features around the ground.
Its main use is for the school’s “Knights of Bremerton” throwball team. However, since 2009, it has also played host to Kitsap Pumas, and features a grass pitch scrubbed completely free of throwball lines. A running track makes the venue less than perfect, but the 64-year-old venue’s character more than makes up for it.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the stadium is that the pitch is below grade (ground level), particularly when looking down from the steep, grassy hill on the west side of the pitch. This is makes Bremerton similar to Portland Timbers’ Jeld-Wen Field (formerly PGE Park), and particularly supporter-owned club Lewes FC’s Dripping Pan.
The quaint grandstand is rather quirky, in that the commentator area is located at the front (rather than the back), and hangs from the top roof. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in there when the next megathrust earthquake hits the Cascadia region!
Perhaps I’m strange, but the odd shape/look of the grandstand reminds me of the original Volkswagon Beetles.
As the players emerged from the high school’s changing rooms, sauntered across the large parking lot and descended onto the pitch, we noticed that one player was wearing a scrum cap (rugby-style helmet). Rather than being a goalkeeper, it was a Kitsap midfielder, who was also sporting a thick, “handle bar” mustache. Subsequent research explained the reason for the helmet: Johnson took a ball to the head from short range earlier in the season against Vancouver, and the concussion kept him out for several weeks.
Kitsap attract much larger gates than other PDL clubs in Washington, and several hundred were in attendance at this match. There were numerous pockets of vocal fans who preferred to keep to themselves (despite unassigned seating): the older Hellcats and younger Kitsap Pumas Elite seemed to be divided by age, more than anything else. It was also obvious that many people at the match also doubled as Seattle Sounders’ supporters, judging by the numerous examples of “rave green” found throughout the ground, and that they had completed the Puget Sound groundhopping double that day.
This was Vancouver’s most difficult fixture of the year, and as expected, they took a drubbing. After each of Kitsap’s goals, the theme tune for Match of the Day echoed out of the old tannoys.
As the match was Kitsap’s final league match of the season, and because Kitsap had already won their league division, the full-time whistle was greeted with a pitch invasion by a hundred fans.
After the match, the Kitsap Pumas Elite supporters came over for a chat, and marvelled that we had travelled to the match “all the way from Canada” (some 3.5 hours away). The youngsters had recently become lost when driving to an away match that was just 30 miles away, so perhaps distance is relative.
In all seriousness, though, it was fantastic to see so much dedicated support for a fourth-division North American club in Kitsap. No doubt the rest of Washington’s PDL teams are envious.
Having driven for the entire trip to Bremerton on our way to the ground, we opted to take the Puget Sound ferry back to Seattle on our return home. The ship featured several historical, back-and-white, framed photographs… including one of the “Grand Trunk Dock fire” of 1914. Always reassuring to see when you’re on a particular boat for the first time.
- The referee was Ronald Lagraff, who officiated the Portland-Seattle 2010 US Open Cup match (the final time the two clubs faced each other while in different divisions).
- One of the assistant referees appears to be the former Brown University computer science graduate student who was involved in an incident with police that raised a public debate about race relations and police brutality at the Ivy League school.