In 2008, for the first time in Spanos’ history, 11,075 fans filled the stands, marking the first-ever men’s soccer sellout.
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That’s about 10 percent of Alex G. Spanos Stadium’s current total capacity.
And that’s how many fans attended the Cal Poly soccer team’s home match against UC Santa Barbara in 2006. Paul Holocher had just taken the reins as head coach, and the newly-renovated Spanos Stadium became the new home of Cal Poly football and soccer.
The Gauchos were victorious in that mid-October match, extending their win streak against Cal Poly to 11.
Though that 1,123 attendance mark was Cal Poly’s highest in 2006, Holocher wasn’t satisfied.
He came to Cal Poly with a vision.
He wanted the community of San Luis Obispo to connect with Cal Poly soccer. He wanted to create an exciting environment around the rivalry. And, importantly, he wanted to shatter the attendance records.
The Blue-Green Rivalry has existed since 1994, but it exploded in 2007.
On Oct. 17, Cal Poly held a “Break the Attendance” record night against UC Santa Barbara.
“The former attendance record for soccer was about 3,000 fans,” Holocher said. “That night we had over 7,000 people attend.”
7,143, to be exact. And for the first time in seven years, Cal Poly won.
Just 10 months after the Gauchos claimed their first-ever NCAA Division I Championship, Cal Poly came out on top with a 2-1 victory.
“2007 was my second year at Cal Poly, and it was just an amazing feeling to beat them,” Holocher said. “Ever since that first day, the games had been incredibly competitive. One-goal games. Overtime games. Rushing-the-field type games. There hasn’t been one of these games that haven’t been absolutely thrilling. There’s so much energy in the stands and so much adrenaline on the field.”
And the next year, that energy was at capacity. For the first time in Spanos’ history, 11,075 fans filled the stands, marking the first ever men’s soccer sellout.
One of those spectators was Mackenzie Pridham, now the Mustangs’ leading scorer in his fifth season at Cal Poly. That 2008 sellout was Pridham’s first taste of the Blue-Green Rivalry; as a senior in high school, his official visit to Cal Poly happened to fall on the same day.
“It seemed to be like another realm of European-type feel to it,” Pridham said. “The entire student body was going crazy. Constant chants and cheering for the team and the soccer was obviously so intense as well. When I came in as a freshman I was so excited for that game.”
Since that night, Pridham has become a fixture of Cal Poly soccer. Last year, the forward became the first player in program history to earn Big West Offensive Player of the Year honors.
He’s also seen his fair share of UC Santa Barbara. Pridham scored a game-winning goal against the Gauchos last year to give Cal Poly its first victory in Goleta since 1998.
“I think they have a lot more respect for us now than they did back then,” Holocher said. “We were just the standard kid on the block back then. Now they realize that when they come up to Cal Poly, they’re coming into the lion’s den in a way.”
In his Cal Poly career, Pridham has played in or been on the sidelines for nine Blue-Green Rivalry games, but there’s been no loss of intensity through the years.
“The only way it’s changed in my eyes, is I feel I’ve become more of a crucial player in the game,” Pridham said. “Being able to step on the field and be there, the only way I can explain it is, once you get out there, you get the chills up your body from excitement and adrenaline.”
Midfielder George Malki feels that sensation from the time he rests his head the night before game day. It takes Malki hours to fall asleep, and the time leading up to kickoff feels like an eternity.
“Once we get in that locker room, you don’t even need motivation; you have unlimited energy,” Malki said. “The atmosphere is so electric. The adrenaline takes over. You can’t really feel anything. If you have a knock, you don’t feel it. Energy is at an all time high. That day, I get goosebumps just thinking about it.”
But Malki’s favorite part of the Blue-Green Rivalry comes after the game, assuming Cal Poly is victorious.
For the past few years, the winning team’s fans poured onto the field to celebrate alongside the players.
“Never gets old,” Malki said. “In my four years here, it’s probably my favorite moment every year, getting that W against SB and all those fans rushing the field. It makes us as a team happy. We’re giving these fans what they deserve.”
Collegesoccernews.com ranked the Blue-Green Rivalry college soccer’s number one rivalry. With a game of that stature, it’s easy to get caught up in the noise.
“To be honest, on the field it’s hard to hear yourself,” Pridham said. “The stadium is just roaring, you can barely talk to your players that are just five yards away. It’s a little hard to get too distracted because of how much you need to focus. When a ball goes out of bounds — even when there’s a light break — walking away and looking at all the people, it’s pretty special.”
And at the end of the day, the UC Santa Barbara game is one of 10 Big West Conference games for the Mustangs.
Holocher acknowledges the significance and admires the tradition of the rivalry, but remains focused on the game. His players assume the same level-headedness as well, he says.
“As a coach, every game is equally important,” Holocher said. “You can’t deny that the game is special in its own right. I just enjoy the fact that this is a great memory for the students and for the community and for the players. We want to go out there and embrace the opportunity and embrace the passion that’s in the air.”
That passion will be in full force this Friday as the Blue-Green Rivalry’s next chapter is written.
Cal Poly has its first winning streak against UC Santa Barbara since the late 1990s, but the Gauchos are as strong as ever, posting a perfect 5-0 conference record and ranking at No. 3 in the NCAA Division I RPI poll.
“Every game has grown in excitement and attendance,” Holocher said. “And, quite honestly, in the level of play as well. You’re looking at future professionals on the field. But, more importantly, there’s two great schools that are really clinging the spirit of what college athletics are all about.”
Seven years ago, nearly 10,000 seats in Spanos Stadium were empty when UC Santa Barbara came to town.
This Friday, Cal Poly students and spectators alike will flood down South Perimeter Road into the depths of Spanos Stadium, filling it to the brim.
Fans will climb trees and scale fences, just to catch a glimpse of college soccer’s No. 1 rivalry.
“It’s grown into something even more than I originally envisioned,” Holocher said. “But not something I thought was impossible. I think now it’s truly an example at the national level of what college soccer can be as a spectator sport.”