Friday, February 22, 2008

Sons of Ben ready to welcome soccer to Philly


By Steven Lienert
The Phanatic Magazine

Major League Soccer has no idea what it has gotten itself into.

At last year's MLS Cup final between Houston and New England at Pizza Hut Park in Washington DC, emotions ran high between fans of the Dynamo and Revolution. But there was a group of fans that were causing particular problems for New Englanders, who were being constantly reminded of their prior failures in Cup finals.

Those fans wore light blue and yellow and called themselves the Sons of Ben.

Philadelphia soccer fans.

Somewhere across the pond, soccer hooligans are worried that they're about to lose their good name.

On February 28th, when the MLS announces that Philadelphia has been awarded a team that will play in Chester, there'll be a bunch of SoB's partying the news conference away.

The 700 level is reborn.

“We are so frickin' fired up,” Bryan James, President of the Sons of Ben, said. “We hope to have at least 100 guys there on Thursday. If you come, wear light blue.”

That day will end almost a two year process of getting an expansion team here in Philadelphia.

It all began on message boards when in 2006 – about the time it seemed like the Kansas City Wizards were going to be sold. When word got out that soccer might be coming, fans came out of the woodwork only to be disappointed in the end.

However, from that emerged an already galvanized group of fans. All they needed was a team to support.

“We were able to sustain the momentum through the creation of a supporters' club,” James said. “If you are new to soccer, supporters' clubs are basically the 700 level plus songs plus flags and put right next to the pitch, usually behind a goal so they can spend one whole half ruining the opponent's keeper.”

There was a reason the 700 level wasn't near the field, and these fans may just prove why.

Getting back to last year's MLS Cup final, in which the SoBs didn't have a rooting interest because, well, they didn't have a team yet, the Sons of Ben made their presence felt in true Philadelphia style.

“We ended up taking about 90 guys down in two buses,” James said. “We wore the colors of the Philadelphia flag and ended up having our seats surrounded by New England fans. For those not familiar with the league, the Revs have lost every final they have been in. They started throwing stuff st us when we reminded them of that.”

In case there's any doubt, you can check out the craziness on YouTube.

“We were the fourth largest group of fans there that day, behind the two teams playing and the home standing DC United.”

In September, 2006, Ethan Gomberg christened the supporters' club the Sons of Ben, James worked with artist Andrew Dillon on the logo before Dave Flagler and Dan Gorman helped cap off the design.

The result was the Liberty Bell-cracked skull of Ben Franklin, complete with glasses and hair, with lightning bolts on either side and key over his head (for the electricity thing) on top of a blue and gold kite (blue and gold are the colors on the city's flag). Behind Franklin's skull is a crossed oar and sickle. All in all, pretty cool. But it probably won't stay.

Still, on the site, more than 2,500 fans have signed up for the SoBs season ticket drive, meaning soccer is here to stay.

“It's the 89th minute and we have a one-goal lead,” James said.

On their Web site it says 'We got the fans. We got the City. All we need is a team.'

Their wait seems to be coming to an end.
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