MLS / Union

I am not a Union supporter, yet.

Glad I am getting to post this the same day Ryan posted his piece.  And like Ryan, I’m curious how other people feel about this, particularly people not native to the Philadelphia sports scene.

I am not a fan of Philadelphia sports.  There, I said it.  Let’s get it out there.  Growing up some 90 miles north of here in suburban New Jersey, I’ve never had much cause to root for any Philadelphia team. Soccer and hockey are the only two sports I follow with any regularity, and yes, I am a NJ Devils fan.  So not only do I not cheer for the Flyers, they are a hated rival.  When I follow American football, I am a Green Bay Packers fan (I am not sure how this happened, as my father is probably the biggest NY Jets fan on the planet).  So there is not that instant rivalry with the Eagles compared to if I were say, a NY Giants fan.  But I hate the Eagles.  I don’t even like baseball, but I’ve grown to hate the Phillies.  I have lived in Philadelphia for about 7 years at this point, and the teams have not grown on me. In fact, I’ve grown to hate them all more.

Why? It’s easy.  Philadelphia sports fans are assholes.  This is not an indictment of every fan, because I’ve met quite a few Philadelphians who are both passionate and intelligent when it comes to supporting their team. But for every one of those people, there are 5 others who are willing to kick your ass in the parking lot for wearing the wrong shirt or throw beer on you while you are sitting in your overpriced seat trying to watch the game.  I’ve seen a small child called “faggot” by Flyers fans for wearing Devils jerseys.  I’ve seen reports of Eagles fans bloodying women wearing Cowboys jerseys.  But this is a soccer blog, so the question here is what will Union fans be like?

I want to believe that Union fans will be the class of Philadelphia sports fans.  I really do.  And I do want to be a fan.  For all my ties to north Jersey and sports in that area, I am undoubtedly tied with Philadelphia when it comes to soccer.  It was here I met a lot of my good friends in the pick up games of West Philly.  It’s here where I am involved in organizing what I believe to be a fantastic soccer league.  It’s here where I can count on heading down to the 700 on the weekends to talk soccer with anyone that is there.  So when it was announced that we would finally be getting an MLS team, I was stoked.  Finally a team in this city I can cheer for.

But then I began to think about sports fans here.  And about all of things I have mentioned above.  How much of that Philadelphia sports machismo will be visible when the Union begin playing in a few months?  I already have a love/hate relationship with the Sons of Ben.  I love the passion.  The fact that supporters group existed before the team is a tribute to the enthusiasm that fans in the city have for soccer.  But have you been to an official Union function also attended by the Sons of Ben?  Occasionally they make you feel like you are in overgrown frat party.  A bunch of manic middle aged white men (sorry for the gross generalization) being the loudest, most visible group at any of these functions. It borders on obnoxious. And I know a number of friends with season tickets for the Union (two of the contributors to this blog) that went out of their way to sit on the other side of the stadium from the Sons of Ben when it came to choosing their seats.

So Union fans, I am calling you out.  Right now.  There is still a choice.  Do you want to be Phialdelphia fans in the sense that away supporters will fear for their safety when traveling here?  Or do you want to be something else?  Something better. Do you want to be know as a group that supports the hell out of your team, but also has the common sense to realize that people from other cites with different jerseys are not enemies? Are you willing to recognize your similarities with these people? We’re all fans when it comes down to it.  And it’s just a game. Can you be a better sports fan than your Philadelphia brethren?  I am willing to join in if you are.


  1. Ed Farnsworth says:

    You’ve let the genie out of the bottle. And I am totally with you. It amazes me how many American soccer “fans” seem fascinated by the ugliest and most obnoxious aspects of soccer culture, who think firms and ultras offer something to be admired, emulated, mimicked. I want nothing to do with drums, flares, smoke bombs, scripted songs, fratboy drunken group think, intimidation of fans, fighting, whatever.

    I want a good time.

    I want good soccer.

    • Ed,

      Lots of people choose to act out their passion the wrong way. I admire the passion and conviction of Ultras and Firms, but in no way agree with the ways they sometimes choose to embody it.

      And there is a huge difference between songs, smoke bombs, and flares and fighting, intimidation, and crime. There is a zero tolerance SOB code of conduct for illegal and questionable activity. I dont see the supporters section being all that different from the student section at a college game – same card stunts, tifo, and songs. Within the confines of the law, I am all for people passionately supporting their teams.

      And try to lighten up on the “drunken fratboy” cracks. Im a fraternity professional.

      • Ed Farnsworth says:


        I thought I saw smoke bombs in the one of the clips from the UNC match – perhaps I’m mistaken. (By the way, I think its Fantastic that SoB made the trip.)

        Fraternities have done many wonderful things. I will now say “drunken college boy” rather than “drunken fratboy.”

  2. You don’t live in Philly, you aren’t a “Philly Fan”, so why are you writing about us?
    You are doing what every media type, and don’t forget, you’re only a blogger, does to Philly. stereotypes us.

  3. Mike Servedio says:


    I do live in Philly, have for 7 years, I say so in the second paragraph. I did my best not to stereotype and most of the anecdotes I used were from my own personal experiences going to sporting events here.

  4. I think you will find that, in general, the ‘typical’ Joe 12-pack Philly sports fan you allude to (and stereotype) could care less about the Union, or go out of their way to predict their failure (they pop up in the comment section of nearly every post in the Philly online news articles).

    And if you are not into the concept of supporter groups, fair enough, there’s plenty of room elsewhere in the stadium to enjoy the match in your own way.

  5. Where do you get the idea that over 80% of fans here are violent? I’d expect the exaggerations went for other cities, too. Pretty sure you can find a vociferous sports fan in EVERY city, every game.

    I’m sure you don’t feel the same distain for the supporters group for the North Jersey team. I’m sure I’d call the Red Bulls fans obnoxious, simply on the fact I won’t be cheering for the same team as them.

    You’re basically saying that the group very much responsible for bringing the league to our city should change their behavior so people can possibly feel more welcome here, right?

    Welcome to Chester, here’s the Union, you’re welcome.

  6. I agree with you totally. Sure I want the Union to succeed, but I find the SOBs to be an annoying embarrassment.

    • love them or hate them, they are part of the reason MLS soccer is in Philadelphia. They were actively devoted to the idea of a team, before it actually existed.

    • Jay- I want the Union to succeed as well. Please expand on why you feel the SOBs are an annoying embarrassment.

  7. Mike Servedio says:

    I’m curious to see the crossover between typical Philly fans and who attends the Union games. I think playing in Chester, some of the more general Philly fans might not make the trek.

    I don’t want to make it seem like I am damning Sons of Ben or any supporters group. I think they are necessary and good to have. But I’m just hoping that we don’t end up with ‘ultras’ or anything resembling hooliganism. My sterotyping will seem like praise compared to what people from other cities will write if we do end up like that.

    I’m optimistic that Union fans will be a different type of Philly fan, I really am. But the jury is still out.

  8. Ed,

    You say: “I want nothing to do with drums, flares, smoke bombs, scripted songs, fratboy drunken group think, intimidation of fans, fighting, whatever.”

    Singing is not a “gateway drug” to fighting. If you don’t want to sing in the stadium, don’t sing. But acting like someone singing at a soccer game is a hooligan war about to happen is just silly.

    The Sons of Ben will be in the stadium supporting the team. Yes, we will be doing it loudly. No, we will not be staging rumbles with opposing fans in the parking lot after the game. Don’t buy into the American media stereotype that “loud soccer fan” equals “dangerous criminal.”

    • Mike Servedio says:

      “The Sons of Ben will be in the stadium supporting the team. Yes, we will be doing it loudly. No, we will not be staging rumbles with opposing fans in the parking lot after the game.”

      -Chapka, I love to see this. And I think that is what everyone is hoping for. And I hope the good, honest fans (SoB or not) are willing to step in and make sure that all the fans stay on their best behavior.

      And I hope that SoB and whoever else sings their hearts out. Soccer fans are the best fans in the world and have some of the funniest, cleverest songs. And I want to hear them.

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      Note that I said “scripted songs.” Nothing will thrill me more than when a song becomes associated with the Union, a song that spontaneously, organically comes out of the experience of watching the Union, not one that was decided upon months before the team even existed, let alone had a name.

      What makes you think I don’t like singing anyway? Heck, I spent 20 years of my life as a professional musician.

      And who said anything about a “gateway drug?” I plan on being high on the Union – I already am.

      • Ed, the songs that are “scripted” now only became a part of the canon because they were once spontaneous. We have had a lot of fun going to events and singing whatever occurs. Easy with 40-100 people. Not so easy with 2,000 or more.

      • Ed Farnsworth says:

        I hear you Bryan – organizing a group that has expanded as dramatically as the Sons of Ben has got to be a mountain of a task – I don’t think getting only 40-100 people on the same page is easy.

        “Four Leaf Clover,” though, that just makes me want to stick knitting needles in my ears.

        To each his own – it’s going to be a great year for all of us.

      • We have backed off 4LC considerably. It just doesn’t flow in a game situation. We may sing it once a match at a predefined point similar to West Ham or Liverpool singing seemingly unrelated songs with pride as a point of pride and history.

        You’re much more likely to hear Doop, Stickin’ to the Union, or songs about the opponent or ref.

  9. I am an ex-pat Brit who has lived in this area for almost 25 years (which is almost 1/2 my life).

    Part of my reason for staying here IS the passion of the sports fans. If you’ve ever been to a soccer game in Europe (which I doubt), you will know the passion – there is nothing like it in any American sport. So, say what you will about Eagles or Phillies or Flyers fans, they support their team and they live for the experience – it’s the American equivalent of the “fever pitch” of European or South American soccer. I’ve been chased on foot by dozens of opposing fans; I’ve had friends beaten up because of the colour of their scarf. I don’t condone it – it is part of the culture. Your soccer team IS your life.

    As for the Sons of Ben – thank goodness a bunch of people have stepped up and taken the lead in how you follow a soccer team – with passion and conviction. I’ve been to many events where the SoBs have been – they have brought an awareness to the team, which is why so many season tickets are already sold. And they are for real – not just people who will wear a team’s hat because the team won a trophy the night before.

    One more thing – the people watching the Union games will know the sport inside out – these are the grass roots people who have played and coached and wanted to watch the real thing for the longest time. Me? I’ve waited 25 years and cannot wait a minute longer.

    Junge aut Perite!

  10. Well said, Howard.

  11. Howard,

    By saying that beatings are just part of soccer culture, you are condoning it. That’s pretty much totally what condone means. I don’t care if a team is your life, you don’t have to fight about it. The teams play games, there is a clear winner and loser (unless it’s a draw), and you SUPPORT your side as strongly as you can. Hating on someone else has nothing to do with support. It doesn’t make your team better or make you a better fan.

    Philly fans are incredibly passionate about their teams, but they also have a reputation across the country for expressing their passion in the wrong way – the violence and hateful words Mike cites are examples of taking things too far.

    What Mike is saying is that the “fever pitch” isn’t the type of support the Union needs. The type of support that leads to fighting and violence isn’t something we should be aiming for as a fan base.

    As far as the SoB go, it’s an opinion. I think that if we go back and read Mike’s piece, he writes that he loves the passion the SoBs show. His piece is about whether or not he will support the Union, and he’s saying that the SoB type of support is not how he wants to do it. Frats are popular because a lot of people like them. The SoB are going to be a great part of the Philly Union experience, but that doesn’t mean everybody has to be on board.

    We can all coexist happily – it’s a big (and hopefully loud) stadium being built.

  12. Gee, I am sitting here wondering who cares whether you’re a Union fan?

    There’s a lot of fan “mystique” floating around out there. If you think any city has the corner on the occasional obnoxious fan, you haven’t traveled enough.
    It’s good of you to acknowledge that the “jury is still out.” The freakin’ season hasn’t even begun yet. And why would you expect any Eagles or Phillies fans to show up in Chester–because it’s a SPORT? That’s like the idiots who claimed that Sounders fans were frustrated Sonics fans looking for a new team to follow. Soccer fans are fans of soccer.

  13. “a song that spontaneously, organically comes out of the experience of watching the Union”?

    Is that like speaking in tongues? I can hardly wait for this. Are you kidding? What’s wrong with writing songs for the team supporters?

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      No, its like knowing some history of soccer culture.

      There is nothing wrong with scripting songs and I truly look forward to hearing the Sons of Ben singing the Union onto the pitch. Scripted songs are just not for me.

  14. This is without a doubt the best thread we’ve had going here, and reading everyone’s responses has been fascinating.

    I have lived in Philadelphia my entire life, and I have witnessed both staggering beauty and appalling ugliness from our sports fanbase. I expect nothing but the former from our soccer contingent.

    We have a soccer base that astounds me with its knowledge of the game. We have possibly the lowest ratio of simpleton steakheads to serious fans of game anywhere in the world.

    Stand up. Be counted. Support your team. Love the game you love. Don’t give a shit about how much more of a fan you think you are than the other. We are all in this together. Cut out the hating.

  15. The premise of the article is kind of ridiculous. It’s like promising kids ice cream if they behave except this time, the ice cream is you being our friend/fan. If your fanhood is that fickle, you may not like the experience of attending a sporting event in Philadelphia. Because if you care, I mean really care, not like Arsenal fan from Philadelphia or a Packers fan from North Jersey, I mean there for every home game and some road games, especially derby matches versus DC and NY, odds are that you will look back at this article and laugh at yourself.

    When you care you don’t go to the stadium to create a Kum Bah Ya atmosphere. Do you refuse to cheer during a huddle or snap count for the opponent because it will make it hard for them to hear, and that’s just mean?

    Your ratio is backwards. There are at least 5 passionate and intelligent fans for every 1 alcohol fueled stupid ass that wants to fight everything in the wrong color.

    I would also like to apologize to Jay for starting Sons of Ben.

  16. check it out: from the S.O.B. page:

    Code of Conduct
    The Sons of Ben code of conduct consists of four simple, common sense rules members are expected to follow at Philadelphia Union games and other SoB events.


    We say some pretty uncomplimentary things about the other team and occasionally the referee. (Okay, usually the referee.) What we don’t do is base those comments on their skin color, their last name or the country they (or their parents or grandparents) were born in. Sons of Ben have a zero tolerance policy for racist chants, songs, or taunts. Start one and you’re out.

    2. DON’T BE A THUG

    Our goal is to intimidate the opposition, drown out their fans, and make Chester Stadium a miserable place to visit. But we will do it without throwing punches, or anything else, at players, referees, fans, or stadium staff. Starting a fight with opposing supporters or trying to physically injure a player or referee is off limits.


    Use your common sense. Sons of Ben are in the stadium to support the Union. If you’re here to support the team, you’re welcome in the Sons of Ben. If you’re here to make trouble for yourself or for the fans around you, you aren’t welcome. Disruptive, dangerous, or obnoxious behavior towards your fellow fans is not acceptable.


    The Sons of Ben do all we can to make sure our section, home or away, is the most exciting place to watch a game and the most intimidating thing the other team has ever seen. To ensure that we can keep doing so for many years to come, please follow stadium policies regarding prohibited items, obey local laws, know your limits with alcohol, and don’t do anything to get yourself or the SoBs kicked out of the stadium.
    If you violate this simple Code of Conduct, the Sons of Ben can and will revoke your membership without a refund, meaning you will no longer be permitted into the supporters’ section. Serious offenses, and all racist incidents, will also be reported to the team and may get you banned from the stadium entirely.

    p.s. I ‘ve heard that Don Garber had been looking to Philadelphia as an MLS city (2004 based on the Barca, Man U, Chelsea, Milan exhibition match ticket sales) well-before the inception of S.O.B. 2007 – so it’s laughable how much credit the S.O.B.’s often think they deserve for “bringing” the Union to Phila…..GO UNION!!!!

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