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Captain Danny Kirkland on Saturday’s Bay City Derby

By Gabe Zitrin17342836_1596180350411900_8384359746983210971_n

To find the origin of one of the most identifiable players in San Francisco soccer, who has captained not one but two of its best-known teams, you might not think to look 5,000 miles East-Northeast of Negoesco Stadium. But that’s where the path to San Francisco soccer greatness began for San Francisco City FC captain and former University of San Francisco Dons captain Danny Kirkland, who reflected on the path that brought him to this point as he prepares to lead his current squad against his former one in the third Bay City Derby at Negoesco on Saturday.

“I come from a small town called Chesterfield, less than 10 miles outside of Sheffield,” Kirkland told me. “It’s a much smaller community where everybody knows everybody and it’s football-mad. Growing up, all kids want to do is become a professional footballer – it’s a lifestyle.”

The same was true of Kirkland, a central midfielder known for his powerful and accurate left foot and quick decision-making on the ball. He joined the youth system of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club in England’s second division, but took a different path as he reached his prime playing years. Wednesday’s Academy Director had played in the US, and suggested that university soccer in the States might be Kirkland’s best move — especially in one of the most beautiful cities in the US or anywhere else. “All I knew is that I wanted to play in California,” Kirkland says. “I signed my [National Letter of Intent] without even visiting San Francisco – I knew it was the place to be.”

And he’s never had cause to second-guess that decision. “Looking back now,” he says, “I was extremely lucky to be able to live and play in San Francisco. The experience of training day in, day out in a city as great as this one isn’t an opportunity that comes around all that often.” Not that the changeover went off without a hitch: “It took a while for me to adjust – to everything. The style of football was completely different to what I was used to, the culture, and also moving from a relatively small town to a vibrant city, it took time to settle in. It’s much faster pace here and obviously technologically more advanced.”

Technologically? “Uber isn’t a thing in Chesterfield!”

Ride-sharing services aside (he declined to say whether he considers Uber’s presence a good thing or a bad), there’s been no adjustment period needed for Kirkland to form a close bond with the fans of San Francisco. He’s been a clear fan favorite since first suiting up for the Iron and Gold, and the feeling is mutual. “The SF City fans and the Northsiders are incredible – passionate, dedicated, loyal people and some of the best fans I’ve ever played for. Soccer has grown immensely since I arrived here almost six years ago and I imagine it will continue to become more and more popular, especially considering the number of children in the City that are all involved in the sport.”

Trialing and then playing at SF City after his final year with the Dons, alongside fellow USF alum and current Los Angeles Galaxy defender Dave Romney, Kirkland instantly found that the club fit his vision of the game. “We were involved in the Open Cup run and I really believed in what the club was trying to do. There is such a community feel around the place, between the players, staff and fans.”

As he prepares to face the Dons on Saturday, perhaps no one else involved in the game has as deep a connection to SF City’s opponent or to the Bay City Derby as an institution. But the past is the past, and Kirkland knows where his loyalties lie. “I had four great years at USF and a lot of memories there so of course it will be nice to be back,” he says, “It’s crazy to think that the current seniors were just freshmen during my last season. But I’m an SF City player now, so naturally I want a win for us. If I was out injured, I’d be stood watching the game with the Northsiders!”