Gjøa keeps the ball rolling for over 100 years

This Norwegian sporting club engenders love of sport—and heritage—in members of all ages

Photo courtesy of Hedvig Simonsen Bourbon Lucas says that joining the club named for Amundsen’s ship made him more interested in his heritage and Norwegian exploration.

Photo courtesy of Hedvig Simonsen Bourbon
Lucas says that joining the club named for Amundsen’s ship made him more interested in his heritage and Norwegian exploration.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Sporting Club Gjøa was founded in 1911 as a branch of the Norwegian Seamen’s Association. According to an 1891 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, about 20,000 Scandinavian sailors came to the New York harbor annually. Of course, a transient population of this size had a variety of needs and perhaps even more temptations. The Norwegian Seamen’s Mission had begun work in the area decades earlier. But by this point the sailors wanted to create their own system of self-support, offering sports activities as a healthy alternative to other forms of recreation, minus the preaching and finger pointing.

1911 was an exciting time; it was the year of Norwegian explorer Amundsen’s expedition to the South Pole. His adventure must have evoked a sense of pride in the members, as they even named their club after Amundsen’s flagship boat Gjøa, which had been used on an earlier expedition where it navigated it through the Northwest Passage.

In its early days, Gjøa offered a variety of sports: ice skating, boxing, track and field, basketball, baseball, darts, and even mock whale boat hunting drills. But, in the early part of the 20th century, the big sport was tug-of-war and Gjøa competed in this sport at the old Madison Square Garden.

Today, Gjøa focuses on one main sport: soccer. (They do still have a darts team as well). Soccer did not become part of the club’s program until the 1920s, when it was brought in by a new wave of enthusiastic Norwegian emigrants. Nonetheless, Gjøa is one of the oldest private soccer clubs in the country. Its teams have toured and played in Europe. Amr Aly, a member of the U.S. National Youth Team, also played for Gjøa. I had the opportunity to interview a parent, Hedvig Simonsen Bourbon, and her 12-year-old son, Lucas Bourbon, who plays for Gjøa, to get a look at the team today.

Photo courtesy of Hedvig Simonsen Bourbon Lucas at the Fram Museum in his Gjøa jersey.

Photo courtesy of Hedvig Simonsen Bourbon
Lucas at the Fram Museum in his Gjøa jersey.

Victoria Hofmo: Hedvig, how did you find out about Gjøa?

Hedvig Simonsen Bourbon: I found out about Gjøa by talking with other families who were trying to find the best soccer clubs for their children in Brooklyn. We also had friends whose son is a member of the club and they were very happy and had only positive things to say about the club, coaches, team members, and organization.

VH: Why and when did you sign up Lucas?

HSB: We signed up Lucas in June 2014 because Gjøa has a great reputation and the coaching staff really seemed to be knowledgeable, youthful, and fun in their approach to coaching. If the kids are not having fun, no one is learning. It’s hard to balance the two, but the coaching staff at Gjøa seem to have that knowledge and passion.

VH: How has it helped your son?

HSB: My son has learned a lot from his current team. They have helped him stay focused, be a good team player, and improve his soccer skills.

VH: Any other thoughts?

HSB: Having been with Gjøa now for five months I know we have made the right choice for him. And as I am Norwegian I think it’s super fun to have found a Norwegian-rooted club for Lucas. When we were back in Norway this summer it was with a new interest that we went with Mormor to visit the Fram Museum at Bygdøy and learn about the Gjøa expedition and see the ship.

VH: That is interesting that this sport led you to an interest in history and exploration. Lucas, why do you enjoy playing soccer?

Lucas Bourbon: I like playing soccer because it’s a fun, friendly sport that doesn’t lead into violence, as it’s not a contact sport.

VH: What is special about soccer?

LB: It’s an easy sport to play wherever you are.

VH: Do you enjoy watching soccer?

LB: Yes, I like watching soccer, but unfortunately I Don’t have cable TV so I don’t do watch it that often.

VH: Which are your favorite teams?

LB: Barcelona and France as a National team.

VH: Who are your favorite players?

LB: Messi, Ronaldo, and Benzema.

VH: Do you think you will continue to play soccer when you become an adult?

LB: Possibly.

VH: Would you recommend playing soccer to other adolescents and teens?

LB: I would recommend it because it involves a lot of exercise but in a fun way.

VH: What has Gjøa taught you?

LB: They have taught me how to improve my skills and play as a team member.

VH: Any other thoughts?

LB: I love the fact that Gjøa has a Norwegian heritage being that my mom is Norwegian.

Gjøa has resided at different addresses throughout its long history. Somehow, the club has survived for 104 years. There were lean years, but through it all Gjøa has thrived. Gjøa’s success is only made possible through its stalwart group of volunteers. Perhaps its secret for success is best explained by Jim Hansen in Gjøa’s 1995 Anniversary Journal, The Gjøa Years: “Much of what the club has become in its desire to be the best was passed along from one generation to the next, it was a matter of exposure and friendliness… Whether we’re Italian or Irish or Indian or Scandinavian or Egyptian or African or Dutch or Brazilian, or Turk or Maltese or French or any of the scores of others, we’re all the same. It’s the Gjøa family and we love it! Everybody’s welcome.”

Food for thought!

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 30, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.