Featured / Union

What are the Sons of Ben now?

Photo credit: Paul Rudderow

To be clear, this article isn’t really about the Sons of Ben. But we’re going to talk about the Sons of Ben as a metaphor for the larger Union fanbase. Because while they are unquestionably the most organized and most vocal of the fans, they are exactly that- fans. So just as we look to the Sons of Ben to be the loudest and most demonstrative part of the stadium, we can also look at them to understand the fanbase as a whole.

In the well-known history of the Sons of Ben, they predated the team. But despite that, they avoided the unrealistic expectation of immediate and lasting dominance that’s been on display in FC Cincinnati, or even the way Atlanta United is handling its less than spectacular start of the 2019 season. As jubilant as people were about Sébastien Le Toux’s hat trick, they were realistic. The team was new, the team was exciting, but there was a long road ahead of them.

And for the past several years, fans have been walking that long road. Through ups and downs, and more downs, the mantra around The River End was that they were here for the team. They were here for the experience and to be part of the team’s story when success eventually came.

That attitude built the mythology of the Sons of Ben. As they wedged themselves into the already crowded Philadelphia sports landscape, they leaned on that reliability as a cornerstone of their identity. Good or bad, the Sons of Ben showed up. Away games, midweek games, US Open Cup games, games after season-ending collapses, the Sons of Ben were still in the stands, making noise, playing drums, and trying to make “Four Leaf Clover” a thing.

This year, the team seems to have passed a turn in that road. Even though the trophy case remains empty, and there’s 22 games left to play this season, the Union are top of the East (thanks to a healthy goal differential) and their 1.92 points per game is fourth best in the league. The team that will face Seattle on Sunday is a good team, and based on the tests of depth they’ve already faced there’s reason to be optimistic about the team’s prospects with the remainder of the season.

Yet, the population of The River End (and Talen Energy Stadium in general) is conspicuously thin. But that topic is already being discussed elsewhere. What we’re asking today is what does that say about the identity of the Sons of Ben? Sure, they still predate the team and nothing will change that. But they’re no longer the group that shows up, loud and in large numbers, regardless of the team’s fate. So who are they?

17 Comments

  1. Kevin1813 says:

    The Sons of Ben are a supporters group.
    .
    Like any group or demographic attending Union games, SoB numbers have dwindled as people move on to other things and are not replaced with additional people due to the lack of overall product.
    .
    But look around at an Open Cup match vs. a no name opponent and I think you’ll see that the River End has much less of a drop off compared to the rest of the stadium.
    .
    Come to an away game and most if not all are Sons of Ben.

  2. necklabel says:

    Not renewing my tix had little to do with the Sons of Ben and a lot to do with my tix rep. sadly, i gave up 4 river end tix that i had for 7 years because i got hardlined by an inexperienced salesmen.

    .

    i dont think the Union value SOB STH’s. at least thats the vibe i get when dealing with the reps.

    • SilverRey says:

      What exactly were you trying to get out of them?
      .
      Considering the trajectory under Tanner are you at least still coming out to the games this year? I’m the happiest I’ve ever been as a Union fan for 8yrs right now…

  3. In my section near the Ale Deck there are many, including myself, who used to sit for many years in the RE. So we did not move on to other things but wanted to sit comfortably for a change and did not want to sing all game. My buddy (with whom I had at one point 7 tickets in the RE) also became father and did not want to take the young child into the RE. So looks like many of those who relocated or moved on were not replaced.

    • NJUnionFan says:

      This is the same situation for me. I had a child and moved away from the RE so I can bring him games. Also, a jack@ss gave my wife sh*t for sitting down for a half while 5 months pregnant so she didn’t want to go back.

    • Kevin1813 says:

      And honestly that’s totally fine. There should be and is space for people who want to experience a match in different ways to do so.
      .
      As you mention, Union fans in general aren’t being replaced. Hopefully the team has a good season and pulls in some new blood, supporter or otherwise.

  4. i see it as lost numbers — naturally, like Guido’s story, or protest/beaten down — without active replenishment. growing numbers should be a thing but if you’re not engaging the thin numbers — and who are those numbers: families, young adults…? are they possible members? — showing up every week, then you’re not growing.

    i haven’t been a member the past few years, coinciding with my drop in attendance support.

    they’ve also had leadership change a few times so i don’t know if that’s a factor in engagement as an initiative. i’ve seen the email and social communication drop off.

  5. Meaningless

    Without purpose, focus, or leadership

    Unimaginative

    Joined them for a year, it was the year they stopped marching into the stadium or doing much of anything. Was glad we never stopped using our long held seats.

    The crude chants ruin the GDE for anyone with young kids (Y’know, the fans base the team really wants to grow). “Faux” bad ass = lame.

    The complaints that no one cheers with them because the REST of the fans are lame is laughable. If no one is following your lead, it’s because YOU aren’t inspiring enough to follow.

    Most of the people who were responsible for getting the team into MLS are no longer involved. What has this group done for the team lately, other than regularly break the code of fan conduct and pay less than everyone else doing it?

    Make the SOBs earn it or clean them out and provide the deep discounts for families with younger kids to sit there. (I would suggest the same thing with the West End)
    Create a playground area for young kids on the roof of the locker rooms behind the RE.

    I know this, the SOBs aren’t doing anything that makes people want to come back to the stadium.

    • Kevin1813 says:

      How do you think the SoB’s could be improved? There’s plenty of criticism but it’s not at all clear what you feel the supporters should be striving to be.
      .
      There’s more than enough room for all types of fans. If people want to stand and sing of if they want to sit and have a day out with their kids the stadium and team can and easily do accommodate both.

  6. Richie_the_Limey says:

    SoB need to change the motto to “ADAPT or die”.

    Just like a business you have to change the modality of the organization as the years go on. The first three or four years it was in start up mode with people truly happy to just have a team. It was different, and being in a supporters section at a pro soccer game was brand new for 96% of the people in tRE. What folk don’t realize is that ‘die hard’ fandom can’t be created just like that, otherwise it is just as easy to dwindle and die ‘just like that’.

    Too much of the SoB culture was forced / manufactured with edicts coming down from a cabal of ‘elders’ who prized their own egos over the good of the group – see Four Leaf Clover and how it has died a natural death as a perfect example. When I was taken to Maine Rd. (look it up, neophytes!) to see Man City as a kid in the 1970s they did not sing Blue Moon. Liverpool didn’t start singing YNWA until the mid 1960s – the club was founded in 1892. You can’t force a tradition. You cannot simply say “this is our anthem and everybody has to sing it” because what if that anthem choice is a mistake? Similarly you can’t dictate some sort of fiat that states “you cannot wear any other team’s shirt / colors in tRE”. Fair enough if it is the team we are playing that day, but in every ground I have ever been to in England to watch soccer (not counting but it must be over 30 or 40) you see folk in other team’s shirts – what’s the big deal? This kind of top down management only breeds discontent and even worse, apathy.

    It is okay to say “we made mistakes, let’s try something different” – in fact it is the mark of good leadership. ADAPT OR DIE !

    • el Pachyderm says:

      phew now that was a truth bomb…
      .
      It is my opinion, “Hey ref, suck on my balls.” catapulted tRE into a parallel universe of which it has been stuck since the reality of ‘ordinary, apathetic and mid table agendas’ scared away 9/10th of the people who sang along mindlessly actually thinking it was 1. funny 2 germaine 3 appropriate I could go on…. that a supporters group would ever target the adjudicator of a game is just dumb.
      — chiding for a bad call? sure.
      persistently going to the chant again and again and again… inane.
      .
      all I remember is having quite a few children with me asking daddy, “why are they saying suck on my balls,” as I thought- you fucking stooges over there need to jump in the river behind you.
      .
      Karma.IS.a.Bitch

      • +1 to RtL, EP, and Harland
        .
        I have my own thoughts on this but it would take WAY too long and it’s just not worth it.

    • Kevin1813 says:

      So your proposed adaptions are allow people to wear other colors in the River End and not sing Four Leaf Clover and people will suddenly flood into the stadium and sit in the River End?
      .
      And all this time I thought lack of attendance was a decade of poor on field performance and a stadium 12 miles away from the city center in an industrial park… turns out it was dress code and song choice all along!
      .
      I mean there are plenty of ways the River End and SoB can improve and evolve but you’re providing very little actionable criticism.
      .
      I’ll also point out that Bedoya dropped a super loud F Bomb on the field about a month ago and the children in the stadium all survived somehow. It’s not impossible to explain to kids that people are saying something inappropriate and that those words should not be repeated.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        no no…. quite likely you’re correct on this one. apologies. My POV is probably stilted towards being a middle age parent of young kids.
        .
        a player curses versus 2,000 people chanting for the referee to deep throat their ‘collective cocks.’
        .
        I uh…yup, clearly …ummm I redact the comment.

      • The question was “What are the SOBs now?”, not “How do WE fix them?”

        And Bedoya dropping the f-bomb doesn’t anyway justify someone else doing it (much less an entire section. I realize that’s pretty much standard thinking in the 21st century, but I would beg to differ.
        .
        Guess I was raised a proper gentleman. I don’t curse in front of kids, ladies, or in shopping lines, etc. Maybe on the golf course (under my breath) or when I bang my thumb with a hammer…

      • UnionGoal says:

        I agree with El Pachy on the chant. One thing to yell fuck in moment of anguish or like Utley, utter joy.
        Totally different to chant over and over Suck my balls with sole intention to offend people, namely refs including one female AR. Tasteless, crude and not enjoyable.
        That being said, I like suggestion of a deck for kids games– kids get bored sitting 45 minutes at a time unless it is a video game and even then…
        My son loved the foosball table by ale deck and it attracted nice group of kids at pregame and half for the opener. Then we went back shortly after half and a couple of drunk guys were playing, lost the ball and almost trashed the game. So yeah have a kid section with a couple of staff.
        No reason union can’t cater to an sob section of young adults and also families on other end, with activities for both.
        And kids do like the drums, the chants, the smoke, etc. from SOB section__adds to GDE as we now call it.
        Other issue–union in first but so are Phillies. Last home game union attendance announced at 15,000 but looked far far less on TV. Same time, Phils sold out, 43,000 I believe they said as I flipped back and forth and they looked sold out.
        Wonder what this weekend looks like. Again El Pachy may be correct–bad timing for union to finally click. At least sixers out of playoffs or else there would be even less eyes.
        UnionGoal

  7. I never attended a sporting event because of the fans. I really feel that just like the rest of the stadium the SOBswill rebound with the product on the field.

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