In past articles, I examined and talked about the incredible atmosphere and stories behind the growing soccer culture in the U.S. and particularly Philadelphia. While the bars and pubs, and the various soccer hotspots of Philadelphia are a wonderful experience, PPL Park, the home of the Philadelphia Union, is the true soccer hub of Philadelphia. I drove up to the city of Chester to witness the Union battle it out with Toronto FC and witness the soccer experience at PPL Park in person. Upon entering the gate, behind you is the Commodore Barry Bridge and the Delaware River.
Ahead, the location where 17,859 pairs of eyes will be fixated on.
I went and sat with the most passionate and committed fans of the Philadelphia Union, in the supporters section of the stadium, also known as, The River End, and witnessed at first hand how much the Union fans love their team and the sport. Fans in the supporters section are required to remain standing and partake in the chants. Newbies such as myself are no exception.
When the match begins, the game is the only thing that matters. The fans are focusing in on the pitch, and the round sacred relic that is the football.
At the 20:10 mark, all fans standing at The River End chant along to the tune of “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover” a tradition adopted by the official supporters group of the Philadelphia Union, the Sons of Ben. The time the chant is sung symbolizes the founding year of the Philadelphia Union, 2010.
The volume of the songs and chants dialed down only at half-time where I stumbled upon Bob, a Sons of Ben member who explained to me why the Sons of Ben connect with the team on a deeper level than what may be presumed.
The Sons of Ben group was formed in 2007, way before the Union’s formation and inaugural season. Upon hearing that the MLS was negotiating with investors regarding a potential team in Philadelphia, the soccer fans of Philadelphia formed a supporters group with the goal of reaching 100 members by the end of the year. They exceeded expectations when 1,500 fans joined the group by the end of the year, thus paving the way for the formation of a professional soccer team in Philadelphia. This incredible story has been made into a film which will premiere on June 10.
With half-time over, the fans returned to their seats and continued to support their team. However, with the Union behind the score by a goal, the discontent of the fans became vocal. And what better target than the referee and his decisions.
While disappointment among the fans when their team is losing is expected, the atmosphere remained excellent throughout the entirety of the match. Even Union newbie, Demetri Giannakaris, who attended the match with me, admitted that the experience was captivating. He said, “It’s easy to see why the fans keep coming. The sense of comradery and the ties the fans have with the club is worth admiring even for a non-soccer enthusiast such as myself.”