Philly's most passionate sports fans are nuts about a team that doesn't yet exist.
As a D.C. United fan website put it, the SOB "banded together to twist the Field of Dreams mantra from 'Build it and they will come' to 'They're already here, just build it.'"
Their method: they kinda made it up as they went along.
Bryan James is a round faced, bespectacled, balding 34-year-old business analyst from Wilmington. He's an unlikely rabble-rouser. Put a pint in his hand and surround him with fellow fanatics, and he's loud and as funny as hell. Stick a mike in his face and shine a light on him, and he becomes measured, quiet and shy.
When he walks onto a stage packed with luminaries and dignitaries--including Mayor Nutter, Gov. Rendell and Philly-born soccer legend Walter Bahr (the player who assisted the winning goal in the U.S. team's glorious 1-0 giant-killing of mighty England in the 1950 World Cup)--James suddenly looks less like the leader of an already notorious bunch of hardcore soccer ultras and more like a startled 9-year-old playing a shepherd in his first nativity play.
He mumbles a few semirehearsed words and hands out specially made scarves ("Philadelphia 2010" on one side, "Kick Start Chester" on the other) to the owners of the new franchise. You can see the thought bubble over his head. It reads, "Pinch me."
"The first thing going through my head was not to say anything that would start the rest of the Sons of Ben into a song," says James. "And second was to avoid saying 'um.'"
He does okay. The Sons of Ben--who've been led into the cavernous room by the fully Mummer-costumed Polish American String Band playing the unofficial SOB anthem "Four Leaf Clover"--applaud raucously but politely. But then they'd got all their cussing out of the way in the parking lot with "Let's Go Fucking Mental" (a traditional British ditty sung to the conga). And "You Can Stick Your Fucking Arch up Your Ass"--a more recently composed tribute to St. Louis, the city Philly beat out to get the 16th MLS franchise (sung to the tune of "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain").
Actually, for "recently composed," read "just made up on the spot," which is par for the course for soccer fans. It's one reason Ed Rendell obviously doesn't know dick about soccer.
Baby-faced 24-year-old SOB co-founder Dave Flagler works as an assistant manager at Angelo's Soccer Corner, a soccer store in Huntington Valley. Though a huge Phillies and Eagles fan, he says the atmosphere at baseball and football games doesn't compare with what you'll see at soccer.
"Doesn't come close," he says. "When did you ever see guys banging a drum and waving a flag and singing through an entire game of baseball?"
It's a good point. The SOB have been going only a year and already have at least a dozen unique songs and chants, including one, "Custom Scarf Machine," sung to the tune of "Yellow Submarine," that has its origin in a moment of surreal fan daftness.
They sing it about Steve Dietrich, a 25-year-old Iraq vet and the sixth person to join the SOB:
"In the town where he was born/ Runs a river neon green/ And he drank it all his youth/ So he believes in the Scarf Machine/ Stevie's looking for his Custom Scarf Machine ... "
"I was asking everybody where they got their scarves made," says Dietrich, hopping from leg to leg to keep warm in the biting wind that cuts through the Chester waterfront parking lot. "They said there was a machine in RFK Stadium in section 417 where you swiped your credit card and typed in specifications for a scarf. And I bought it. I believed it."
Put it this way: The Eagles, generally considered to have one of the most vibrant fan cultures in the NFL, have been going 75 years--and in all that time they've managed to cobble together one song and, what, two, maybe three chants?
"Take the hardcore Eagles fan from the 700 level," says 22-year-old SOB member and Web designer Jason Watt, "and put that throughout the whole stadium, and you have soccer."
|From left: Mark Orr, Seth Gillman and Adam Huard await the arrival of soccer in Philly.|
When it opened for business in 1996, MLS was hailed as the Zion of the exiled American stars who’d long been forced to toil in distant lands. After that, washed-up greats arrived to great acclaim, only to disappoint fans with underwhelming performances and a distinct lack of interest. But surge of young American talent has given the league a much needed, albeit temporary, shot in the arm.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4