Fans' View

Fans’ View: Being a Union ball kid

Photo: Daniel Studio

15-year-old Philadelphia Union fan Megan Ling shares what it was like to be a ball kid for the Crystal Palace friendly.

My dad and I have had Philadelphia Union season tickets since 2010, and recently we were fortunate enough to win an auction so I could be a ball kid for the friendly against Crystal Palace.

At the stadium, I went into a locker room specifically for ball kids and player escorts, where I got my pink shirt with the other ball kids. After that, Joe, the guy in charge of the ball kids, took us out to the field, where we got to pick our spots. I took a spot right at the 50 yard line opposite the benches. We got to watch the players warm up from field level. After warm ups ended and the players went back into the locker rooms, Joe came around and gave us each a ball and instructions.

My specific area was from the 50 to the top of the 18 closest to the Sons of Ben. I had to follow the play, preferably being a step ahead of it so I would always be close to the players when they needed a ball. I wasn’t allowed to bounce or kick the ball, in case it accidentally went on the field or hit another fan. I wasn’t allowed to purposely withhold the ball from a player, and I wasn’t supposed to purposely throw it to the wrong team.

As I was trying to do my job, it was hard to move ahead of the ball and also watch and enjoy the game. I also had to remind myself not to chant and clap along with the Sons of Ben, who sounded more intimidating from field level.

Along with the SoB and Crystal Palace supporters being louder down at field level, there was also a change in how I saw the game. The players moved much faster than it looks from the stands or on TV, even if some of them don’t have a lot of speed. It’s also much harder to see space opening up on the field, which might be why players miss what seems to be an easy play when viewed from the stands or on TV.

I picked my spot knowing it’s typically a high activity area, and I was hoping to get a lot of action, but I ended up only getting two plays. The first was in the first half when Keegan Rosenberry wanted a new ball. He made eye contact and nodded at me, so I threw him my ball. Then he threw the other ball back and I caught it. My other play was in the second half when the ball rolled down the sideline after an out-of-bounds and a player looked at me and held his hand up for the ball.

It was a lot of work following the play up and down 32 yards for 90 minutes because I’m out of shape and was recovering from a very recent concussion. But, it was a great experience and I learned a lot about how fast paced and difficult soccer actually is.

11 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    Thanks for helping those of us in the stands appreciate your job down there. I hope you get to do it again. (I probably saw you since I was sitting right near the 50 yard line in the 3rd row.)

  2. Just Rob f/k/a Rob127 says:

    Hey Megan, I’m glad you enjoyed your role. I had a chance to sit at field level earlier this season and thought the same thing about the speed. I can understand you having a tough time keeping pace. I hope your concussion recovery goes well. Thanks for the insight into the ball kid job.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    Fantastic Megan.
    .
    So cool to see young kids writing…
    .
    And also don’t forget if you get the chance to do it again in a tight game Union is leading down the stretch…. la pausa with the ball when giving to other team… preferably with a coy grin.
    .
    Dark Arts Miss Ling …. Dark Arts.

    • UnitedPenn13 says:

      That’s the way they do it in NYCFC.

    • John Ling says:

      She’s wanted to be a writer for a while now. This was her first opportunity to write for something outside of school or personal enjoyment. Although in the last few months, thoughts of med school have crept into her mind as well, so we’ll see where life takes her.
      .
      /Proud Papa Bear

      • el Pachyderm says:

        As a creative writer myself I’m all in….. beauty oftoday’s life one can dip into both worlds.

  4. Nice job Megan. Hope to see more stuff from your point of view. The ball kid job is no joke! Cool to hear about your experience. I also hope your concussion recovery is a speedy one. Remember what Packy said…Dark arts!. Oh and John…fluff out the feathers!

  5. Zizouisgod says:

    Great stuff, Megan. It’s easy to forget how quickly the game moves when you’re at field level. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Buccistick says:

    Hi Megan,
    .
    I’m a founding member, too; and from my front row seat, I’ve gotten to see a lot of sideline action up close through the years. I agree: watching (and chasing!) the action from field level, the game moves MUCH faster. From that point of view, even Conor Casey used to seem quick.
    .
    Ha ha! Just kidding…. But from that close up, I too came to appreciate just how hard every pro athlete works — on AND off the ball. So you raise two excellent points, Megan: the way that broadcasts flatten the game make it seem slower, on the one hand; and on the other hand, TV also unlocks a lot of the passing and spacing puzzles that athletes try to solve at game speed.
    .
    When I was your age, the only professional team around played indoors. I went to their games, but they didn’t need anyone running the lines. The first time I got to be a ball “kid,” it was for my college, and I had already graduated. After one game, the coach made the mistake of asking me what I thought of the team. Then I made the next mistake: I opened my big mouth and said something about running an offside trap … and a few months later, got hired as an assistant!
    .
    Anyway, I’ve always wondered what it takes to be a ball kid at a professional match (and you got to see an EPL side in our back yard!), so I really enjoyed reading your essay. Thank you for telling us about this experience.
    .
    Three cheers for Megan!
    .
    … and four for PSP 🙂
    .
    P.S. Megan, I can see why your father would be proud. I guess this means that next, he has to take you to Selhurst Park 😉

  7. Great job, Megan!
    I’ve had a couple chances to sit at field level and you are totally right about the perspective being totally different from the cheap seats or on TV.
    Best wishes to you on your recovery, and keep up the good work!

  8. Goal Alberg! And that s the last kick of the match, 4-0 Union. Great performances all around from Philly.

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