Fan Culture / Local

Cheer up, a new soccer shop is in town!

Lately, it’s been tough being a soccer fan in America, what with the very real possibility of a MLS players strike as early as Monday.

With the strike threatening to overshadow and even prevent what is supposed to be the city’s triumphant return to the top flight of American professional soccer next Thursday when Philadelphia Union is scheduled to play the Seattle Sounders in the first game of the 2010 season, being a Philadelphia soccer fan has been even tougher.

Though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected by the possibility of a strike – truth be told, just thinking about literally makes me sick to my stomach – I have been trying to look for something  positive to think about. And I have.

Covent Garden on Head House Square

Covent Garden, a new soccer shop on Head House Square.

But before you head over to the shop for a new pair of cleats, keep in mind that Covent Garden isn’t a sporting goods store. It’s a gift shop for soccer fans.

John Shipley, the store’s owner, was born in Derby, England and is a life-long soccer fan who has lived in Philadelphia for ten years.

“I played for my school and also with my friends at lunch time and after school. I also played a bit in the Sunday leagues that they have across the UK.”

Given where he grew up, it’s natural that he supports Derby County, and he has many good memories of watching the Rams from the terraces at the Baseball Ground, their stadium before they moved to Pride Park. But, like many people, be they English or otherwise, he supported a certain other team for a time.

“I had a brief period of supporting Manchester United. A friend got me into them and we would take the train up to Old Trafford. This was before the stadiums were all-seater – it was a great atmosphere.”

Though he has returned to supporting Derby County, he says that now ” I am more of just a football fan. I love watching the English Premier league and the Champions League.”

The South Street area is a natural spot for a soccer store with an selection of bars such as the Dark Horse, O’Neals, the Irish Times and Brauhaus Schmitz nearby that show live matches. But with rents so high on South Street, Shipley found a tidy spot on Head House Square.

“The store’s concept is a fan’s gift shop rather than a sporting goods store that sells everything from jerseys to cleats. It’s only a small store. I do sell apparel though and plan on getting more. It is primarily a small gift store where most of the items are inexpensive.”

The gift shop description is very appropriate as store stocks select English, Scottish and Italian team apparel and supporters t-shirts. You can also find an assortment of branded hats, scarves, flags, bar paraphanalia and more, including some very fetching garden gnomes. It’s a great place to pick up a gift for that special soccer fan. Frankly, I don’t think Philadelphia has ever had a store quite like it.

What Shipley doesn’t yet have in his store is Philadelphia Union gear, though he is trying to get some. He’s been told various things by distributors: that he would have to get the entire MLS line in or that he would need to set up a minimum account of $50,000 with adidas. But he’s hopeful that he’ll be able to offer some Union gear soon.

Some members of the Covent Garden Gnome all XI squad

Shipley, who is a bulk truck driver for Philadelphia Coca-Cola by day, is impressed by the local soccer community with its large following of  the English and Scottish Premier Leagues and finds supporting the Union to be only natural.

While he isn’t too familiar with the Philadelphia Independence, he is excited about the Philadelphia Union, and says “I’m looking forward to be going to the first Union game next month.”

Aren’t we all? Please, may it happen.

And if anyone is curious, yes, I would like a garden gnome. Celtic, please.

Covent Garden, 412 S 2nd St, Philadelphia PA, 19147. Hours: Monday-Friday, 12 p.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 11 a.m.-7p.m.   Phone:  267.687.4543.

Photographs by Bryn Ashburn

8 Comments

  1. Tim Uhrich says:

    Love the story Ed. John sounds like a fun guy.

  2. Brion Shreffler says:

    Awesome. I'm there. Great job.

  3. Went this past Saturday. Great little shop. Good variety of fan supplies from popular teams. The owner is cool, easy to talk to. Will definitely go again next time I’m in town.

  4. larry Tompkins says:

    This place has absolutely nothing.No official jersies,no Union gear and the last two times I WENT THERE IT wasn’t even open..There are more teams than Man Utd,Celtic,West Ham,Rangers and Chelsea.No official merchandise…sucks.

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