Fans' View

Fans’ View: How to be a proper 12th man

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

It goes without saying that Philly sports fans are known for their…um, passion, and while the atmosphere at PPL Park can be very good, I think it can still be a lot better. There’s a reason why teams tend to win at home, especially in soccer, and it’s not just due to travel and home-cooking. It has a lot to do with the energy and confidence a supportive crowd can imbue a team with.

Unfortunately, we aren’t doing quite as well as we could be at home, and I believe that we, the fans, are partly responsible. Our home record is only marginally better than our road record. Compared to the same point during last year’s train wreck, we only have one more home win this season. The atmosphere inside PPL Park has become much more negative towards our own players than in years past. Perhaps last season damaged our collective psyches and now negatively impacts our contribution to our team’s performance. If we’re going to make the playoffs, we need to win our remaining home games, and we can do more to help our team.

Granted, the majority of PSP readers probably understand the following information already, but let’s make sure we are a shining example and encourage our fellow PPL-ites to up their game. Here are a few key points to being the best 12th man (or woman) we can:

1. Show up

Nothing kills the atmosphere more than being able to read “UNION” on the bridge side of the stadium during the game. Especially if you have season tickets, it is your duty to put a keister in your seat. If you can’t make it, find a replacement. The Union website has an excellent “Marketplace” that allows you to sell your tickets for specific games if needed. Use it. If you can’t afford season tickets, consider selling a kidney or signing up for lab experiments at UPenn. It’s worth it.

2. Bring a friend and buy them a beer

Again, the more people we pack into PPL Park, the better the energy. There’s no better way to sell a soccer newbie on the sport than to bring them to a game (and don’t forget the beer). Pick a match where a good crowd is expected. I brought a friend who is a big sports fan, but had never even watched soccer on TV, to the NY game, and he was instantly converted by the energy of both Pink Cow supporters and the Sons of Ben.

3. Remember: It’s not church

It’s OK to be loud and there aren’t prescribed times to sit or stand. That being said, you should stand for the National Anthem (“as is our tradition”) and you probably shouldn’t stand up and talk to your friend three rows back while the game is going on. Other than that, get up and cheer whenever you want. If no one else is with you the first time, they’ll be much more likely to join you the next.

4. Raise a scarf and sing “Four-Leaf Clover” with the SOBs

I get it: Forced traditions feel lame at first. But if everyone buys in, it can become more authentic. At the very least, pay the SOBs back for bringing MLS to Philadelphia by joining them in a song they feel is important to our city. Man up, throw away your inhibitions (or get some liquid courage), and let your voice be heard. It’s just good clean fun, and it’s ours.

5. Applaud good soccer

As much as players will say they don’t let the crowd affect them, they’re lying. In particular, young and inexperienced players feed off a crowd’s approval of their play. Unfortunately, this is one area where we are really weak. Too often I watch a beautiful build-up, excellent idea, or gritty effort that just falls short of the intended result, and instead of hearing a round of applause for the effort, I hear a groaning chorus of “He stinks!” around me. That gets into a player’s head. Stifle your inner Negative Nancy, remain positive and applaud good play regardless if it doesn’t result in a goal.

If you’re with me on this, do your part to bring up the level of support in your section. The good news is that positivity is like lice; it can spread quickly to those nearby. If you’re around folks that are new to soccer, don’t be afraid to tactfully explain some situations (i.e., Jack stopped his run because he was offside, not lazy). Be vocal about that subtle, smart-soccer play you just witnessed. Clap; it’s not that hard.

Soccer is a game where confidence can make a mediocre team great. When players feel that hard-nosed effort and brave ideas are recognized with a round of applause, they will try even harder to get that standing ovation. If we want our team to do well on the field, we need to do our best in the stands.

What do you think? Any other good advice you wish your fellow fans knew?


  1. WilkersonMcLaser says:

    A for effort. A fair start, but only just a start.

  2. If I have to applaud good Soccer can I boo bad Soccer?
    I have always hated 4 Leaf Clover. Half the Sobs don’t know the words, nobody knows when it goes to the quicker cadence and most importantly it takes me out of watching the game to do somethings that is completly forced. Before the game or Halftime sure why not, but during some arbitrary time in the first half that breaks me out of the rhythem of singing, chanting and most importantly watching the game to do something that has nothing to do with the game… it is a trainwreck.

    • There is a set time as to when it is sung 20:10 the first year of the Union. While i think people are forcing it too much I just wish people would stop bitching (not you in particular) and sing it. It could come to be something awesome and not over used like “We Love Ya” is league wide.

      • 4 leaf clover has been a train wreck since day one. time to stop forcing it.

      • Singing is the absolute best part of being at a match and, truly, being a supporter/12th Man. People can learn 4Leaf Clover quickly enough and, frankly, who cares if the cadence is off as long as your scarf is raised! Scott’s point is well taken, if the supporter goes enough they’ll learn the song. Singing, like yelling, is not too much multitasking to distract someone from watching the match. I was one of the guys that didn’t know all the words and blew 4 LeafClover the first time I tried to sing it….didn’t matter.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        4 Leaf Clover is easy to learn. Just look up at the midfield scoreboards and sing along with the words they are streaming. My wife and I have been singing it since game 1. I don’t hold up my scarf (although my wife has started doing that too). I’m afraid I’ll block the view of the person behind me.

      • apparently that isn’t true considering in my 4 years of attending union games i’ve yet to see even the sobs pull it off well let alone the entire crowd.

      • yep, and having the words scrolling on the screen is kind of embarrassing. agree that after 4 years, still being so far away (despite the lyrics on screen) is a bad sign.

    • You can boo “bad soccer” whenever you see it, but I suggest that you whistle. Whistling, properly executed, is louder than booing, and although most of the people in your section will not understand what you’re doing, because, America, if the player happens to hear you he’ll get the point.

  3. I’m with sieve! 20:10 always seems to fall at a time when something good is going on, and I want to watch, not sing 4LC. I chose not to sit in the SOB section so I could concentrate on the game, not chants and stuff.

    • You concentrate plenty in the supporters side.. Actually singing and chanting really heightens the experience in a lot of ways I find.

  4. It’s a two way street. The FO has to put attractive soccer on the field to encourage the fans to come. Then the fans have to attend the game and support the on-field product. I think Union fans are caught in the middle of the perfect storm right now. We have an FO you can’t trust, half of our team and people we grew attached to were shipped out last season, the coach refuses to switch up tactics and personel based on what is happening on the field, and the fans are just not in the mood to support that.

  5. I agree–Four Leaf Clover is a good idea on paper, but it takes too much time to sing and it REALLY distracts from watching the game. I even actually like the song, I just can’t bring myself to sing it because I am afraid that I’m going to miss something (and I have). Singing is different than chanting. I could do chants all day and still mentally attend to the match. Singing a song is too distracting. I appreciate the SOBs and what they’ve done for us more than anyone, but when I’m in the stands I’m there to watch football. I agree with everything else in the article, by the way. I can’t imagine the players getting ‘pumped up’ by hearing a long, slow rendition of an old song that people are singing instead of watching the game–totally different than chanting for them, too (I would guess).

  6. I’ll agree for the most part with you guys, as well as the author. 4LC has always felt forced, and in several years, has barely gained traction, resulting in the current push. That says something to me.
    On the other hand, I do kinda wish it would take off, because I love the effect of the mass chorus as seen with Bubbles or You Will Never Walk Alone. But, nothing forced is good for the atmosphere, and I definitely agree that trying to do it during the run of play is a mistake. Whether it’s 4LC or some other chants, it seems like a lot of chances to cheer on good soccer (totally agree with point #5) are missed or muddled out because people are focused on the second chorus of something.
    In any case, I usually cringe when reading either mass media or bloggers trying to tell people how to be fans (as if we’re all the same), but I think you did a really nice job here and pretty much agree with everything. Nothing worse than seeing the letters under the bridge.
    I think the spontaneous support is on the rise though. Every corner section seems to be getting up and getting louder with more frequency on Le Toux corners lately, and that’s when the stadium’s at its best.

    • The rest of the stadium get shit on a lot but I remember them getting on their feet and applauding good play plenty of times. I remember them applauding Carlos Valdes more than once.

    • Whether or not 4LC works at 20:10 is a slippery slope. That said, the Timbers Army have no issue belting out “You Are My Sunshine” at the 80th minute, or “Can’t Help Falling In Love” at the 85th minute (thank you Wikipedia), regardless of what’s happening on the field.
      The corner noise during corners is partly BECAUSE of Le Toux urging the fans to stand and cheer, especially on the club side of the stadium. It’s not just spontaneous.

  7. 6. Sing the anthem. I know, I get it, it’s not a tradition if you have to be told to do it. Doesn’t matter. It’s still the anthem. Loud is better than on key. Few people can sing on key, even fewer can sing our national anthem on key. Just be loud. And if someone, perhaps someone behind you, is singing too loud, and off key, please just stare straight ahead. No dirty looks, please, I get enough of those from my kids.

    • But remember it’s NOT A DIRGE!

    • that’s is a fine #6, sir.

    • Mumbling the anthem is a tradition held at just about every sporting event in the city. Just when Portland looked cool doing it and the Union said me too. Then it suddenly became a big deal.
      I don’t care if some Al Queda terrorist feels emboldened when I say this… Fuck singing the Anthem. Pay Lauren Hart she isn’t doing anything over the summer.

      • Wouldn’t it be more ‘Philly’ to have the fans doing God Bless America, instead of the anthem anyway?

      • I dunno Kate Smith is some sacred territory. Best leave that to the Flyers.

      • Buzzkill_Ed says:

        Nice try, but Union fans were singing it before Portland joined MLS.

      • Not beyond the standard mumble, and it became a thing only after Portland where it went from being a league tradition to our tradition according to the helpful announcer gu

      • I would hardly call what the Portland Fans do for the the anthem singing….more like screaming

    • One problem with singing the anthem at PPL is that the musical version that the Union play goes too fast in certain sections and it doesn’t match up with the natural rhythm of the song so the people singing either fall behind or just stop singing.

      It’s been that way from Day 1, I’ve complained to the Union, but on one has corrected it.

    • I thought that I was the only one getting the nasty eye when I sang it too loud, and not just from my kids. Hats off, gentlemen.

  8. Instead of at 20:10, which I agree is tough, it just takes a good pass during play (either side) to through the whole thing off..

    How bout when the players walk on before the start of the second half, just before tap… nothing going on, gets you pumped, signals people the half is about the begin, TV audience will hear it.. all good…

    02:10 as he half counts down…

    • I can get behind this but it is almost impossible to get people into their seats in time for the beginning of the game and the second half. It doesn’t seem like it fills in until 10 minutes in.

  9. The best thing that could happen is letting 4LC out to pasture. Listen, I love the idea but the song is not gonna cut it. Everyone I bring the the game thinks it is silly- even my British parents who sing along to everything else. I think instead of fighting a battle with the regulars I sit with, I would rather the SOBs spend the offseason ditching every chant that other teams sing and coming up with our own stuff! We are the only team in MLS that has a name evoking labor history and Civil War history. If we sang John Brown’s Body at 2010 I would go INSANE.

    • now this i can get behind

    • atomic spartan says:

      Solution 1: don’t sing FLC, chant it. Iit would be more in keeping with sob style. Solution 2: sing national anthem in its original rhythm and style – a drinking song. Hard to teach a whole stadium how to do that, but the sob’s could lead it, without the usual overblown orchestral accompaniment. Better yet, learn to sing the bellicose second or third stanzas. Solution 3: come up with a clean, intelligent, strategically timed chant as a replacement for YSA. It is entirely possible to dance around in the GK’s head as he approaches the ball, if you know how. Cannot agree more with purging the chants other clubs originated. “Philthy Philly” was once home to the likes of Whitman and Poe. With such as inspiration, we can chant above the fray.

  10. 7. If you are unhappy with the referee’s work, you have two options: you may invite him to suck on your balls during the match, or your may log on to PSP after the match to describe, in general or specific terms, how dreadful his performance was. Please do not boo him at the end of the match, as it sounds like you are booing your home team.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      I prefer to question where he’s from. For example, against the Fire I’ll yell out “North side or South side?” against the Galaxy “How was your flight from LA?” against Chivas…well let’s face it, the ref doesn’t really matter in that game, we’ve even beaten them despite 2 red cards against us.

  11. From what I’ve seen (I sit in section 121) is that “UNION” side of the stadium is usually fuller than the other side. Granted my viewpoint is looking at a side angle so I might not be able to see as well. The thing I dislike is when the River End isn’t full when the teams are being announced and the videos are playing. Its especially bad when there’s a visiting team’s SG in there and all you can hear is their chants throughout the stadium leading up to the anthem.

    As with 4LC, it is pretty forced and people are usually paying attention to action on the field when it comes up. I understand the reasoning behind 20:10, but half time or after the national anthem might be better.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      The bridge sidelines are probably fuller than the bench sidelines. In midfield, the seats are cheaper and the bench sidelines have access to the stadium club so they can go there during bad weather.

      • If I am not mistaken bridge sidelines are camera side. So it makes sense they want to fill those seats first to look good on camera.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        You’re right, bridge sidelines are camera side (and most games I can see my wife and me when I watch the tape 🙂

  12. a slam dunk is to play the mummers version for 4LC and have the crowd strut… the scarf raise doesn’t cut it…

  13. Personally, I wish ‘Roll The Union On’ would catch on. But I feel like I’m the only one outside the River End singing along to that one (my apologies to those below me in Section 125 when I do).

    • yea that is a good one.
      And we need more support for the “Oh philly you…
      You got what I neeeeeeed” because we need Biz Markie because nobody beats the Biz

  14. Southside Johnny says:

    I’m already too loud. I break glass with my whisles. I get red card level elbows from my wife and stone killer looks from my daughter. I wasnt allowed sit at midfield when the kids played and when i coached we had a lot of ugly incidents…But I only sing the anthem and Doop! like a madman because the songs suck. I sing in the car, the shower, on the mower, at concerts, with Barnie on TV and I really cut loose on “High Hopes” with old Harry at Phillies games but, I’m sorry, Union songs suck. The musical highlight for me is “Hell’s Bells”. Figure it out…if people aren’t responding and inspired to sing, well, what’s the likely reason?

  15. I’m a bit late to the party, having been out of town since last Wednesday. But for whatever they’re worth, here’s my thoughts.
    Fur Leaf Clover could have been a pretty cool thing. The problem is that the Union did a piss poor job of explaining why we were supposed to sing it until this year. Imagine if that video describing why the song was picked had been running pre-game since 2010. Obviously, we’ll never know – but I think things would be a lot different.
    Overall, this was solid. I refuse to pay $8-10 for a beer, though, so any friends or family I bring get soda or water (even though that’s also way overpriced).
    I would like to echo one point from above: be in your seat at the start of the match, especially if you’re in the supporter’s section. There are way too many times that the opposing supporters are louder than the rest of the stadium at the start of a game.

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