Fan Culture / Featured / Union

When tempers flare at PPL Park

Yeah, it was hot at Saturday’s victory over Toronto—someone told me after the match that it was 102° inside the stadium.

Still, I didn’t think I’d have to break up a fight between Union fans and what appeared to be Toronto supporters. Sure enough, I did.

The atmosphere heated up in Section 117 after Toronto’s Dan Gargan, who hails from Philadelphia and graduated from Chestnut Hill Academy, put a throw-in in front of goal that was all-too-easily headed past Chris Seitz by Chad Barrett to erase the Union’s 1–0 lead in the 81st minute.

My section was silenced by the goal, except for several people sitting in the first or second row who stood up and began applauding.

Predictably, some of the Union supporters in the section were not pleased to see a Toronto goal celebrated, particularly when one of the celebrators was wearing a red Phillies t-shirt. Shouts along the lines of “What are you doing sitting here?” “Sit down!” and “How can you cheer for Toronto when you’re wearing a Phillies shirt?” erupted from the crowd.

When the guy wearing the Phillies t-shirt—who appeared to me to clearly be drunk— began to mock the crowd, the shouting and jeers turned angry, even more so when he and one of his companions, who was wearing a t-shirt that said something along the lines of “Phoenix Contracting,” walked up the steps that lead into the section and appeared to be looking for a fight.

Throughout this, the yellow-shirted security personnel on the field looked on, seemingly clueless to the very real possibility of a punch-up starting in a section littered with small children. When the crowd started shouting for the two provocative Toronto supporters to be removed, the security personnel either didn’t hear or seemed uncertain about what to do.

This became more of an issue when the “Phoenix” guy, having climbed the steps deep into the section, moved into a row nearby the more vocal Union supporters, clearly trying to provoke some kind of response. He finally moved back to his own seat when people began shouting that he was blocking the view of the children who were seated behind where he was standing.

Throughout the closing minutes of the match the Toronto supporters continued to look behind then into the stands, to my eyes, trying to identify those who had been jeering them. Not that I was giving them much attention—I was trying to watch the game, hopeful that the Union would find a way to not lose points yet again because of a defensive lapse late in a game.

When the match ended victoriously little more than ten minutes later thanks to Le Toux’s penalty kick in stoppage time, the crowd began to file out. Moving down the steps to the exit I noticed that the two Toronto supporters and several companions were lingering by the entrance to the the exit tunnel. This to me did not bode well. When Dan Gargan came up to the stands to greet them, it became clear that the “Toronto” supporters were actually friends of the Philly native and Chestnut Hill Academy grad and were probably at the match to support their friend rather than Toronto.

Not that it made any difference, considering what happened next.

Looking down from the steps into the exit tunnel, I could see the Phillies shirt guy standing next to our section’s usher, a very nice lady who I look forward to saying hello to before each game. Ahead of me, wearing a white Penn State t-shirt, was one of the more vocal critics from the earlier shouting incident. As he entered the tunnel, the Phillies shirt guy confronted him, saying something to the effect of “Not so tough now, what are you going to do now?”

I’ve worked in bars for more than 20 years and it was all too clear to me that a fight was about to start. And I was not wrong, as the Phillies shirt guy shoved the other guy—who was at least six inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter—into the usher and started swinging. Now the punches started flying in both directions.

I was holding a bag containing my supporters flag and so only had one hand completely free. But I did my best to get between the two fighters and pull the Phillies shirt guy away from the smaller guy—all the while thinking to myself, “Not in my stadium you idiots!”— while simultaneously trying to avoid getting punched myself. Others jumped in to help separate the two men and the Phillies shirt guy then began to flee the scene.

By now some of the light-blue shirted security personnel had arrived and all of us told them that the Phillies shirt guy had essentially jumped the smaller guy. Some of the security people then began to chase after him and I learned later that he was removed from the stadium.

All of this happened as families with children were trying to leave the section. One man with a small boy, who identified himself as a state trooper, actually escorted the guy who had been jumped, out of the exit tunnel. When a friend of mine said to one of the group of people who were with the Phillies shirt guy, “What is your friend thinking, there are kids around?”, the reply was “What are you, a parent?” Not a “Sorry,” or “My friend is drunk,” or “My friend is a total asshole,” but words that essentially said, “What’s your problem?”

So why am I writing about this?

I must admit that I was hesitant to do so for the simple reason that I suspect that there are many people who have been eagerly waiting for some incident to happen at PPL Park so they can go on about hooliganism and soccer, even though fights in the stands seem to happen without fail at every Phillies game I have ever been to. As I was trying to pull the Phillies shirt guy off of the smaller guy, I was actually shouting at him something along the lines of “What are you doing you moron, every soccer hater in Philly is dying for something like this to happen. You’ll ruin everything!”

The reason I am writing about this is because stadium security clearly seemed clueless and ineffective throughout this whole sorry event. (Frankly, they also seemed slow to react during the flare incident at the Celtic match, which happened a section or two away from where I sit.) I know and appreciate that all of the staff at PPL Park are still learning the ropes—after all, this was only the fourth game in the new stadium. But, I’ve seen security react more quickly to make sure that a ball that has been kicked into the stands is returned to the field than to what was happening in Section 117 after the Toronto goal. Some of these folks might be new at their jobs but you don’t need 20 years of experience to recognize a fight is in the making.

If security personnel did not think it was appropriate to remove the provocative “Toronto” supporters during the match, common sense would dictate that they should have increased their presence in the section and the section’s exits for the conclusion of the match. Like I said at the beginning of this piece, it was hot inside the stadium and tempers are slow to subside in such conditions, particularly when you throw alcohol into the mix. Surely our section’s usher can’t be expected to be able to act alone to intervene when some knucklehead thinks a fight is the way to respond to catcalls and jeers.

Should I have alerted our section’s usher to the potential for a fight that I saw brewing? Without a doubt—all of us have a responsibility to help ensure a safe environment at PPL Park. Being one of many shouting “Get these guys out of here!” was not enough.

We are going to have another two months of matches that will be played in very hot conditions at PPL Park before this glorious inaugural season ends. I hope the staff at PPL Park are better prepared when the inevitable result of alcohol and heat happens next time. I hope Union fans at PPL Park will always drink responsibly but I also hope they will drink intelligently in the heat of summer. And I hope visitors to PPL Park will also think about the potentially dangerous consequences of acting in a provocative manner when they sit outside of the visiting team’s supporters section. If you can’t take being jeered by the home team’s support you are, in the words of Union president Tom Veit, just another “drunken idiot,” looking for an excuse for a fight.

That said, Union supporters need to keep this in mind: Philadelphia is a soccer town that has always produced soccer players of real quality. There are plenty of players from the Philadelphia area who play for teams other than the Union. Their friends and family are likely to be at the game to support them. Don’t take it personally when the occasional drunken idiot takes his celebration too far.

Photo by Nicolae Stoian. Those pictured had absolutely nothing to do with the fight.

20 Comments

  1. They do have one of those numbers you can text if something is brewing – on Saturday I saw it on one of the TV screens at a concessions stand. But I’ve been to three games at PPL and that’s the only time I’ve seen it mentioned. They should create a little more awareness of it. (I understand that maybe they’re walking a fine line – you don’t want to advertise it so much that people get the impression PPL is like the wild wild west, which it’s not).

  2. Ed Farnsworth says:

    I felt like I was walking a fine line with even relating the story of what I saw because I don’t want to give the impression that the stadium is the Wild West either. I’ve been to every Union match this season and, outside of the flare incident, haven’t seen anything close to a fight before.

    As I said in the piece, I should have communicated my concerns with the usher. But what also troubles me is that all of this was going on in front of on-field stadium personnel whose job it is is to look in to the stand for exactly this sort of thing. If they had simply made their presence better known at the end of the match by placing a few security people around the tunnel entrance, they would have lessened the chance of a bunch of shouting turning into actual fisticuffs after the game.

    In the end, I was totally pissed off that anyone would put the reputation of the Union, its supporters or PPL Park in jeopardy by fighting, not too mention the ugly possibility of innocent bystanders, particularly kids, being injured by some idiots fighting. Instead of enjoying what should have been my victory buzz after the game, I was brooding about a couple of dickheads. It totally sucked.

    • i may suspect that the lack of security personnel in 117 was due in part because they were all (at least 7 or 8 of them anyhow) in our section 133…the quote unquote “visitors section.” while it was brewing with vulgarity, insults, sexual innuendo, and all-out vigorous support for each others respective sides…it never had the feel that a physical altercation would ensue. security was present…and that was why.

    • While I respect your opinion on the incident, from your account it sounds like Penn State guy was accosted in his home stadium by a visiting fan. Additionally, the visiting fan initiated physically. I’m not sure how you wanted Penn State guy to handle himself, but I’m sure if this happened to you the first thing on your mind would not be the reputation of the Union. It would be defending yourself.

      Yelling at opposing fans happens at every game in every stadium across the country. Turning the incident physical is the line that respectable individuals do not cross, especially when supporting a visiting team. Drunk assholes such as the visiting guy (and clearly his friends) don’t care about women, children or the elderly. I completely agree with the Union president, and would have had Penn State guy’s back the entire way.

      It’s unfortunate that you let opposing fans get under your skin and kill your buzz. You essentially gave yourself advice with your last paragraph, taking the incident personally because of a drunken idiot. I really don’t know how you can blame Penn State guy for taking it personally when getting shoved and having a fist flying at his face.

  3. Whitaker21 says:

    The same thing happened in my section (108). Not to the extent that it happened in yours. However, there was a group of girls and two of them seemed very intoxicated. They had on Gargan t-shirts and kept yelling his hame. Of course us Union fans didn’t apprectiate it. Every so often they would run up and down the stairs screaming his name or trying to “talk”(egg on) to other people that were trying to watch the game. During 88th min the one girl decided to pick a fight with a Union fan. All I heard was her call him an a-hole and then she ran away (like usual). However the guy got up to go pick something up from the other side of the railing. Apparently she threw his sunglasses before calling him an a-hole. They guy went to the yellowed shirt security guard about what had happened. The security guard radioed for a blue shirt security guard to do something about it. Once they saw where she was seated, securtiy went up to give her a warning for the incident. It was ridiculous. I undersand if maybe that was the first time she said or did anything but she was doing it the entire game. Plus, she messed with someone’s property. She was blatantly drunk, to the point that I was waiting for her to fall down the stairs. They should have removed her from her seat and escorted her out of the stands. I know that might be too harsh but it could have escalated to something more. I think security needs a little more training, especially on how to spot potential risks.

    • Hey there, I saw the same incident, as I was in section 108 on Saturday as well. Those girls were pretty ridiculous, and were blatantly drunk. While the guy shouted comments that were offensive, they also were in the blame as well. Her throwing the sunglasses was completely over the top, and the security giving her a warning was not enough (in my opinion). However there really was only minutes left in the match anyways, it still would have shown that the security does mean business.

  4. So two guys had a fight at a football match… and in front of childred. Oh my goodness.

    I don’t support football violence but this is not the significant incident it is made out to be. Neither were the flares…

    People will act like assholes and dickheads at football matches. It’ll be dealt with by securtiy stewards, cops, other supporters or some combination thereof. As far as PPL getting a bad rep… really, this is what we’re worried about?

    • A town that makes national news for a fan puking on a girl at a baseball game and a guy getting killed after a game should never worry about fans getting out of hand. For sure!

      One fight isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t seem like Ed said it is. I saw a chick in a Gargan jersey prancing up and down the stairs provoking people too (section 121?). I saw security go talk to her. The fight apparently happened later. We all recognize a new team has a learning curve. What could security have done differently or better? Maybe nothing, but that’s for them to figure out. Unlike other local teams, the Union have the chance to start from scratch and build the culture they want at the stadium.

  5. I am the man in the Penn State T-shirt who attended the Toronto Game Saturday. I would be more than happy to speak with the writer of this article to discuss the events that transpired, ultimately leading to this altercation, if he so pleases.

    I am not some a-hole who was looking to “throw down” nor did I have any intent on escalating the situation higher than the chants and mocking that took place. The Toronto supporter took it upon himself to instigate, get in my face, and provoke the fight.

    I apologize that the altercation escalated to what it was. However I will not apologize for my actions. I have every right to defend myself. I take great pride in my team and city. Any a-hole that taunts and mocks the home team should expect the same in return. There was no reason for him to turn banter into something physical.

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      Shawn –
      I’m the guy who was getting in between you and the moron in the Phillies shirt, trying to pull him away from you, I’m the guy who asked you if you were ok and I’m the guy who told security that you had been jumped. I’m also the guy who wrote the article.

      I absolutely understand your right to defend yourself, particularly from a much bigger drunken thug. (Truth be told, you were doing a pretty good job against a much bigger guy, but that’s not the issue here.) I’m not sure how much more clearer I could have made the fact that you did nothing to deserve being jumped by this idiot – as you say, he had no justification for turning banter into a fight.

      But I didn’t write about the incident to talk about your right to defend yourself. I wrote it primarily to highlight what I saw as ineffective security: if it was obvious to me (and others) that the possibility of a fight breaking out was very real, why wasn’t it obvious to security? A little security presence after the match in the exit tunnel would have prevented you from being shoved into the usher, you having to fight, me and others having to get involved, and others, particularly little kids, getting stuck in the middle of it all.
      It isn’t your right to defend yourself that is the question. The question is why should you be in the position of having to defend yourself in the first place?

      I’d be happy to talk to you. You can send me an email at farnsworth@phillysoccerpage.com or info@phillysoccerpage.com. (Send a message to both, just to be safe – we just added the personal email accounts.) If you’re a season ticket holder like myself, we can talk before kickoff of the next game, have a beer and shoot the shit – my seats are just a few rows behind where you were sitting.

      • Much respect to you and the other Union fans who rallied behind me on Saturday. It all happened so fast, so I appologize for not specificly remembering you. I’ll shoot you an email and we can continue this conversation there. A round of beers at the next match is a must. Talk to you soon

      • Ed Farnsworth says:

        Right on Shawn – I look forward to seeing you and talking. Maybe we’ll run into one another at Man U. Be well.

      • Ed Farnsworth says:

        Shawn – I just realized I made a mistake with my PSP email address. The correct address is efarnsworth@phillysoccerpage.com. Sorry about that!

  6. Brion Shreffler says:

    Perhaps if people were a bit calmer and more attentive to the actual game than maybe there wouldn’t be a concern of minor incidents getting out of control. Not to point at any individual mentioned in the article, but I’ve noticed too many people in my section- the supporters section- who suffer from a dual problem: drunkenness and a poor understanding of the game. Many people seem to be there just to stupidly yell out “She fell over” at every perceived light fall to ground or to call the referee an asshole, while, yes, there are many kids surrounding them. Case, in point: two people behind me lost it when our captain was given a yellow for his take down of a Toronto attacker. A foul resulting from a grab from behind can only be perceived unjustified if you are ignorant of the rules of the game or if you’re drunk out of your mind. And please, can we lose the tickle/tingle finger waving chant that ends with “fuck-off asshole”?! It only makes you look stupid if you’re saying it, while serving to shit on the rest of us through being associated with you. Again, there are children at the matches, along with women, along with people who don’t need to hear inane chants, especially those peppered with expletives.
    That being said, I don’t see people drinking as fans do at Phillies games. Just too many who compliment their poor grasp of soccer with too many drinks. It’s that willingness to add a misguided voice that has the potential to spill over. Just enjoy the game. It’s beautiful, so lose the angry chants and behavior.

    • It’s you suck a$$hole for visiting team goal kicks. Not that it makes it that much better but a bit less harsh.

      Hey, IMO, I’ve been to numbers USMNT games and that and the ‘she fell over’ is part of the banter and banter is part of the game. We all make our own choices and even though I’ve my 10- and 6-yr-old sons w/me @ each game and we partake in the banter and songs, I’ve explained to them that some of the cheers are good, some are not but that it’s part of the game and not something you go around talking about outside the stadium.

      Not sure if it’s right/wrong, but it’s what I chose to do with my boys and if they learn a bit about appropriateness and what fans do for their teams, great. If they turn into pottymouths who get in trouble with peers and @ school, bad. It’s all about perspective… Hopefully we can all figure out our own choices and how the matches are or are not for each of us.

      Lastly, the good thing about the U is they provide diff’t types of seating (supporters, midfield, other side from supporters, etc) so that everyone has their own experience in the stadium and is not forced to sit with (as many) ‘different’ types of fans.

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