A century of Gjøa

Venerable soccer club in Brooklyn, N.Y., honors 100 years this year

By Christy Olsen Field

Norwegian American Weekly

This is certainly a year for celebration: Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen is recognized this year for reaching the South Pole 100 years ago. But his initial fame came in 1906, when he and his crew became the first to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Northwest Passage, a goal that had eluded explorers for centuries. This feat was accomplished in a 69-foot cutter named Gjøa.

On Feb. 25, 1911, members of the Norwegian Seamen’s Association organized a sporting club in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, N.Y. Inspired by the spirit of that hardy band of explorers, the new club adopted the name of their ship.

In honor of its 100 years of history, Sporting Club Gjøa will celebrate its centennial with a weekend of events April 8 – 10.

This photo of Sporting Club Gjøa from 1926 shows the athletic achievement of its members.

This photo of Sporting Club Gjøa from 1926 shows the athletic achievement of its members.

The first major sport was tug-of-war, which was an immensely popular sport in the Norwegian-American community since the 1890s. Even the old Madison Square Garden arranging a huge tug-of-war competition with Norwegian-American championship way back in 1914 and repeated in 1916, 1917, 1918, and 1920. Outstanding among Gjøa’s strongmen were Ole K. Hansen, Carl Hansen, Sr., and Nils Nilsen, among many others. Through the decades the club has excelled on many fronts: speed skating, track and field, boxing, whaleboat racing, basketball, softball, darts, and even amateur theater! But the club’s primary course was set when soccer was introduced in 1921.

In 1931, the club won everything in sight and it was only fitting that a tour of Norway was arranged that summer. The tour, in retrospect, was unbelievably successful. Playing 29 games in 60 days against many of Norway’s top teams, the boys from Brooklyn won 16 games, lost six, and tied seven. Team manger was Harry Hansen, and among those who starred on the field were Wollert Nilsen, Henry Helliksen, Gustav Sommerstad, Carl and Eyde Refsland, Georg Jensen, William Enger, Scotty Nilsen, Hans Pedersen and Gunnar Endressen.

The National Soccer League started operations in 1936, with Gjøa hardly ever missing from the top listings at season’s end. Gjøa’s first junior team took the field in 1939, and excellent B-teams as well as C-teams had made their appearance by that time. Soccer was shelved in 1941 with the outbreak of World War II, but in 1946 the colorful Gjøa uniforms once again brightened local soccer fields. Veterans from the Viking team of the 99th Battalion, who had played in Germany and Norway in 1945, added strength to the team, and already in 1946 the Metropolitan Cup was won.

Photo courtesy of Sporting Club Gjøa.

Photo courtesy of Sporting Club Gjøa.

In the early 1960s, a team from Sporting Club Gjøa “three-peated” as National Soccer League champions.

A bulging trophy cabinet bears witness to the titles and cups won by this small club with an odd name. In whichever organization it found itself, Gjøa has been a prominent participant. From the Scandinavian-American Athletic League in the early years, to the Cosmopolitan and Cosmopolitan Junior Leagues today. Several Gjøa members have excelled individually as well: Amr Aly, a member of the U.S. Olympic team and T. Kain, both winners of the Hermann Trophy. Finn Gjertsen, who not only purchased one of the finest clubhouses in Brooklyn but also succeeded in burning the mortgage.

“Everyone has some association with Sporting Club Gjøa, even if they didn’t play. The club is a stalwart of the Norwegian-American community,” said Jimmy Svendsen, lifetime member of Sporting Club Gjøa and the current youth athletic director.

Sporting Club Gjøa sponsors many activities for its members. With 22 youth soccer teams, an over-30 men’s soccer team, dart teams, and an active ladies club, Sporting Club Gjøa is a vibrant organization. The club is active in the community as well, with members on the 17th of May Committee and the Bay Ridge Community Council.

Members of Sporting Club Gjøa at the 2009 Norwegian 17th of May Parade. Photo: Sporting Club Gjøa

Members of Sporting Club Gjøa at the 2009 Norwegian 17th of May Parade. Photo: Sporting Club Gjøa

To celebrate this centennial, the 100th Anniversary Committee has put together a weekend of events for Sporting Club Gjøa family and friends. On April 8, a cocktail hour with hors d’oeurves and open bar (8 – 11 p.m.) at the clubhouse. On April 9, a dinner dance will be held at the Rex Manor (located at 1100 60th Street, Brooklyn, NY).Cocktail hour will begin at 7 p.m. and will be followed by dinner with an open bar and dancing. There will be valet parking available. The 100th Anniversary celebration will continue back at the clubhouse with music and fun. On April 10, a family barbeque will be held at the clubhouse as well as a full day of soccer games at the carpeted dustbowl.

People can still RSVP for the weekend of events. For the entire weekend of events, admission is $150 per person. Admission is $100 for those who only wish to attend the dinner dance gala on Saturday evening. For tickets, contact Karen at (718) 921-6173 or Kathy at (718) 563-8833.

“We hope that every can join us somehow, and we look forward to a great weekend,” said Svendsen. For more information about Sporting Club Gjøa, visit www.scgjoa.com or www.gjoa.org.

This article was originally published in the March 18, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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