A night with the Sons of Ben

This “Living Louligan piece” comes to us from Mario Camere in Philadelphia.
I made my way into the stadium proudly wearing my Saint Louis FC shirt and with my Louligan scarf draped around my neck. It felt right making my way toward the supporters group’s section. The drums filled the air. The chants added to the drums, growing louder and louder. All around me, fans began lifting their scarves. And I joined in. “UNION! (Clap clap clap)”
There I was, standing in the River End, surrounded by the Sons of Ben, the supporters group of the Philadelphia Union. I had raised my Louligan scarf out of habit. I definitely got some weird looks, especially considering my scarf prominently displayed the color green at a game in which Philadelphia was hosting the Portland Timbers. I wanted to feel like I was back in section 8 with my St. Louligan family.


I forewent attending the Sons of Ben tailgate before the game. Prior to purchasing my gameday ticket, I discovered that outsiders were allowed to attend the tailgate but only upon payment. (Learn more) While I would have loved to tailgate, I did not see the added value in paying $20 for a walk-up ticket. There is something special about St. Louligans’ tailgates, an event everyone is free to join and part-take. There, the drinks and food that are financed through Louligans’ kindness and attendee donations. Most importantly, everyone is made to feel welcome at the St. Louligans’ tailgates, even supporters of the opposition. I later learned that the Sons of Ben will welcome walk-up Union supporters but will not tailgate with any opposing fans.


Inside the stadium, I had the experience I hoped for at the MLS level. There were tons of fans who bleed blue and gold (so much so that they proudly sing “Philly is Blue and Gold!”). The fans were loud and in full voice all game, quieting down only at halftime when fans made way to get more beers or to take a piss. Those around me were welcoming once they realized my green was in support of Saint Louis FC who was playing that night. We discussed domestic and international football while also engaging in some friendly banter. Those around me went out of their way to make sure I enjoyed myself.


One of the takeaways was the number of individuals who recognized the Saint Louis FC logo and acknowledged their interest in the USL. In fact, a young Villanova student named Ann made sure to speak to me about her being a Nerinx grad (and Chalupny fan) and following Saint Louis FC from Philadelphia. Other Union fans talked about their interest in following the USL and their hopes of a Union 2 team to further their team’s academy development. (Note: Philadelphia is the current MLS affiliate for Harrisburg but is planning to field its own USL team, which I hope is called U2, in 2016.) For those with whom I spoke, the USL is a promising league with good football.
Although it was not the same as being in Section 8, standing with the Sons of Ben was a fantastic experience. Despite not having any affiliation with the Union beyond living in Philadelphia, I felt like I fit right in. The drums were loud and played for the entire game. The chants were unique, catchy, and easy enough to both learn and sing. Much like the St. Louligans, the Sons of Ben were relentless, vicious, and devoted to their club. This made it much easier to join in.
On the field, the level of play was much better than most Union fans expected. Coming into the game, Philadelphia had been playing very poorly while Portland was the MLS’ hottest team. The Union did not balk at the chance to take it to the Timbers.  Though the play started off slowly for both sides, Philadelphia quickly grew into the game. The Sons of Ben followed suit. The crowd grew louder and louder as it sang chants such “I Just Can’t Get Enough” and “Only Assholes Wear Green To a Union Game” (guess that’s me) and as the drumline kept producing continuous, driving rhythms. In true Philly spirit, profanity-laced insults were hurled at the officials when several truly questionable calls were made; the rest of the stadium provided support through loud, powerful boos.

Eventually, the Union found the back of the net. The stadium erupted into cheers. The Sons of Ben erupted into celebration. Blue smoke filled the River End, Tifos unraveled, high-fives and hugs were exchanged, and “DOOP,” the song sung by the Sons of Ben after every goal, filled the air. A goal meant a party in the River End. But the Sons of Ben were not done quite there. A capo pulled out a toy chainsaw, held it up in celebration, and proceeded to cut a slice from a “log” of Bimbo sandwich bread. In true Philadelphia style, the Sons of Ben made a clever mockery of Portland’s best-known tradition. Video:


The Sons of Ben were there to support their club, have a great time, and ruffle feathers! This celebration happened three more times as the Union embarrassed and dismantled Portland.

With a 3-0 lead late into the game, those standing in the River End began celebrating what was a guaranteed victory. Many joined together to dedicate the Timbers Army lovely renditions of “You Came a Long Way Just to Lose” and a descriptive song in which the Timbers Army learned where they should stick their chainsaws. The celebrations would continue after the final whistle.
As I sang Portland home, one of the SoBs whom I stood next to and bantered with all the game pulled me aside. He thanked me for coming out to support the Union, for cheering and singing loudly like I had all game, and for electing to stand with the Sons of Ben. He proceeded to take his scarf off from around his next and drape it around mine. He told me that this was his original Sons of Ben scarf that he received when the group was founded. He told me he wanted me to have it because I was now one of them. I thanked him multiple times after the shock wore off. I told him I would proudly wear the scarf. Like so many St. Louligans do at Saint Louis FC games, this gentleman had made sure that I had a positive memory to take away from this experience; it definitely worked.
Supporters group culture is essential to the success of any team. Although it may not be for everyone, supporters groups help drive the passion and support for a football club. They provide a valuable outlet for the diehards while helping create an enjoyable atmosphere that spreads throughout a stadium and infects even those fans who are not yet ready to take the plunge. They make the games what they are. Standing with the Sons of Ben was a fantastic experience. Not only did it help quench the thirst I had for a football-filled evening as I experienced with the Louligans, it also served as a reminder to the impressive, meaningful growth the Beautiful Game continues to have in a nation that once dismissed it as an overnight fad.
I encourage everyone to experience a game with a supporters group at least once. The St. Louligans, the supporters group for Saint Louis FC, the St. Louis Lions, and Fire and Ice SC, were established in 2010. Join them at every Saint Louis FC home game. It may be silly but it is always a great time.

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