Guest Column

The Keystone Royals and the Wealdstone Raider

Photo: Daniel Studio

Editor’s note: Ian Conklin sent us this dispatch on an interesting connection between Philadelphia and English soccer fans.

To say the Philadelphia Union has slipped up since the 2011 playoff run is an understatement.

Yet the Sons of Ben still rally and support their club because that is at the heart of this game and this team. When I think of football, true football, I think of the chants, the cheers, the jeers, the songs, the scarfs, the fans. The Union wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fans and their grassroots efforts channeled through the Sons of Ben.

But we, as supporters of the Union, are at an impasse. We’re not getting the players or leadership we deserve. There is untapped potential to elevate the awareness of this football club and force the hand of this management group — to give us back the team we created.

The number of teams, the franchises and supporters’ clubs in the MLS has grown exponentially in this country, a reflection of how the love for the sport of soccer has grown. We’ve entered into this new era with more punch and a bit more financial backing than when the Union entered in 2010.

However, none of these new clubs can boast that they were created solely through a passionate supporters group like the Sons of Ben. For me, the role of the supporter, especially in MLS, is to not just help make an incredible atmosphere in and around the stadium, but also to be a living, breathing brand ambassador for the league and your club.

The story of Wealdstone FC

In late 2014, one man in England sparked the interest of over 8 million in his local football club in the UK. That man is Gordon Hill, and his club is Wealdstone FC, representing Ruislip in the London Borough of Hillingdone, Grosvenor Vale. Today he is known as the “Wealdstone Raider” (go ahead, Google it) thanks to the power of YouTube where he has become a footballing sensation and the face of non-league football.

This prompted me to think, what if I had the ability to spark that interest abroad for my club, Philadelphia Union? Could one supporter really have the power to ignite an interest in Philadelphia Union and the MLS as a whole in the country where the sport was born?

That’s why I’m writing today. In February 2015, the Keystone Royals became the official supporters group of Wealdstone FC in North America. The Keystone Royals were formed around the story and passion of that one supporter, Hill, the “Wealdstone Raider.” Hill and 300 Wealdstone fans were at an away match in Whitehawk, near Brighton. This is when his infamous 33-second video was shot by some opposing fans. Hill was captured as a fan, defending his team and himself. The video went viral on YouTube and caught the UK’s footballing culture’s attention.

I knew I needed to know more about Hill, as well as Wealdstone FC.

Hill put his London Borough on the international map by supporting his club, one that is more like family than just a football team. He also has shown Wealdstone FC’s dedication to supporting the community through his charity work thanks to his newfound celebrity. Hill’s Christmas charity single reached number 5 in the UK charts in 2014 which raised over £31,000. He devoted those proceeds to Great Ormond Street Hospital [GOSH] where he was treated as a youth for Toxoplasmosis, a disease related to Leukemia. His charity work extends to GOSH and to helping others with their health struggles.

You can draw a lot of comparisons with the charitable work that Hill and the Wealdstone Supporters do in their community with what the Sons of Ben do in ours. What really connected with me with Wealdstone was not only their history and that of the players like Vincent “Vinny” Jones and Stuart Pearce, but the passion and support of this truly hometown club. This same passion at The Vale is the same passion I witness from the River End every Union home game and at away matches.

This is why I reached out to Hill and Wealdstone FC.

Wealdstone and Philadelphia Union — supporters in it together

They now fly the Union colors in the UK, and the Keystone Royals fly Wealdstone in the USA with the idea to not only bring more exposure to Wealdstone FC and its supporters group here in America, but also to be that exposure conduit for the Philadelphia Union and MLS in England.

I coordinated this with the help and support of David Albert, the Chairman of Wealdstone Supporters Club, and Paul Rumens, the Chairman of Wealdstone Football Club. I told them because of Gordon’s YouTube fame, myself and other Philadelphia Union supporters wanted to create a supporters group based here in Philadelphia. We extended an open invitation to any of their supporters to come over for a visit, and to experience what it is like to be a part of the MLS. Members from Wealdstone flew over recently for the US Open Cup match against the Rochester Rhinos, and the MLS home game against the Seattle Sounders. They came away with a deep appreciation for the MLS, as well as a deeper bond for the Philadelphia Union, their newly adopted club.

Rumens and I want to position Wealdstone as an international voice for the Philadelphia Union, and bring more recognition to MLS as a whole. This relationship has significant potential to open product endorsements and sponsors from England for the Union and other stateside ventures. That type of visibility has the power to drive the international support, as well as push MLS clubs like Philadelphia Union forward.

MLS is growing, and that footprint is only getting bigger. A lot of this has to do with the passionate supporters groups who contribute so much to the enjoyment of the game. Without the involvement of supporters groups like the Sons of Ben, Philadelphians wouldn’t even have a club to support. You are a fan. You are an ambassador. You are a supporter. You are the foundation to the most popular game the world has ever seen and known. One man put this London borough on the international map through his devotion to his club. That right there is the true power behind football: You, the supporter.

To learn more about this opportunity and becoming a part of this partnership by joining through http://wfcsc.co.uk and by following us on Twitter @KeystoneRoyals. I can be reached at [email protected]

4 Comments

  1. … Been thinking on this article all day and have waited for one person to comment on it…which hasn’t happened and now feel compelled to do so.
    .
    I’ve watched the video three times and for the life of me can’t understand what Mr. Hill is saying or what the reference is to- that could just be my thick.headed.ness though.
    .
    I appreciate the coordination of the two clubs and joint support. Ultimately it is a good thing especially when in commiseration- ah yes commiseration. Commiseration: to commiserate (verb): to express or feel sympathy. The apt and perfect word.
    .
    All this to say….it is challenging for me to get too amped up about this as my concerns for the club are so local and so close to home that a modicum of casual ‘support’ abroad offers little in solving our very intimate problems. Maybe someday when the bigger picture with this club comes into relief I can be excited about Union colors flying in the UK.
    .
    Anyway….

    • This has had me perplexed as well. He seems like a tough little guy but when I watched it I didn’t understand what he was saying at all. “you don’t speak French?” I think he’s saying?! I guess it’s best I stay in Philly, but I’ll support Wealdstone. Why not! I want a friendly with them!!!!

  2. He says that they (whitehawk fc) are a shit club with no fans, when he asks the guy filming if he wants some, he’s talking about if he wants some of him, he’s, as they say in England offering him out( to fight)something English football has been struggling with for 50 years to remove from the game.
    A real ambassador for his club.

  3. Hill was actually being harassed by the Whitehawk fans all match picking on his small stature, and that he was a Wealdstone supporter. Those same fans filmed him “going off” hoping to humiliate him via YouTube. Hill was verbally defending himself as well as the club he supports. He stood up to the bullying and ended up becoming a YouTube “celebrity.”
    The article is more about how this non-league club in England (who travel with the most supporters to away matches) have become Union supporters because they see their same passion as supporters personified by the SoBs. The SoBs are well known to be the most bellicose and travel with the most supporters to away matches as well. Moreso, this is more about a community in London, who have taken to an MLS club [Union] not because of the players, but because of the Supporters [Sons of Ben] and how they help support their local community. All I see is that the Philadelphia Union now have a Londonbased Supporters group, who are helping spread the brand further. Finally, Wealdstone FC has extended an open invitation for any and all Union supporters, to come over to London and experience what Wealdstone FC is all about. They also have the means to arrange tickets for Premier League matches during the visit as well.

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