Philly's most passionate sports fans are nuts about a team that doesn't yet exist.
But so what? Without the SOB, the coming of the Philadelphia whatever-the-hell-they're-gonna-be-called wouldn't be half as exciting.
More than 500 new members joined the Sons of Ben in the week following the announcement. And there were reports of SOB-inspired "preemptive fan groups" in Brooklyn (the Borough Boys), Miami, Phoenix and--better late than never--St. Louis.
As one SOB T-shirt puts it, quoting the movie Anchorman: "We're kind of a big deal."
Back in Chester, most of the visiting dignitaries have scurried back to Philly or Harrisburg, their cars whisking them past the ghost town of overgrown yards and falling-apart row houses that abut the wasteland where the stadium will be built.
A few facts and figures stand out from the verbiage. Seventy thousand children play soccer in Delaware County alone. There are an astounding quarter-million youth soccer players in Eastern Pennsylvania. State Sen. Dominic F. Pileggi recalls getting to the office early one morning, hearing a knock on the door, and opening it to find Bryan James there, clutching a petition with 6,500 signatures.
"We the (Soccer) People," the petition started, "in order to form a more perfect sports world ... "
Back at the press conference a stunned-looking Bryan James smiles at the microphones. It's noticeable that the banners behind the stage where the recently exited dignitaries made their long and mostly rather boring speeches show images not of the great and the good--they don't even feature the game's superstars. They show the fans.
Also present is a dude walking around with a cardboard sign reading "C.C.C." It stands for Chester City Casuals. "Nothing to do with the Sons of Ben," he says.
That's two supporters' groups. And no team.
Over to one side of the stage Walter Bahr--Philadelphia's World Cup hero--talks to anyone who'll listen about Philly's glorious soccer past.
This city once provided the backbone of the U.S. national team. Walter talks about the ethnic and mill teams of the '30s, '40s and '50s. He talks about Philadelphia's Bartholomew "Bart" McGhee, who scored the first goal in U.S. World Cup history in 1930. He talks of grim and bitter rivalries with New York teams, fought out on converted baseball fields and polo grounds, and of the great Philly teams--the Atoms, the Fury and the Charge. "We are a soccer town," he says proudly.
He's right. Philly has always been a great soccer town. We just forgot it for a while.
Steven Wells (firstname.lastname@example.org) is PW's arts and entertainment editor.
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 Holiday Guide 2014
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4