June 27 – 2007
We’re accustomed to MLS teams experiencing a total lack of quality support. The issue before us today, however, involves quality support experiencing a total lack of MLS team.
Sons of Ben are a supporters’ group backing Philadelphia’s MLS team – a team that doesn’t exist. In SoB’s short existence they have set a shining, if somewhat nerdy, example of what it means to be a hardcore MLS fan. They sing, they heckle, they offend the soccer bourgeoisie, and I think they’ve made Philly my favorite MLS team.
The President of SoB, Bryan James, and his VP, Andrew Dillon, were nice enough to let me pretend to be a journalist and interview them, which basically amounted to several layers of make-believe. “Hey I’m a fake journalist, you guys are fake supporters: Can I ride your unicorn?” That kind of thing.
They’ve been interviewed by SI, Four-Four-Two, and The Guardian, but Soccernista is the first to get them to sing an improptu terrace tune about Clint Mathis. That, and more, after the jump.
Sons of Ben sounds like a drunken idea that somehow came to life. I mean that as a compliment. How did you guys form?
Bryan James – The idea of organizing support for a Philadelphia team had been kicked around for ten years and had various stops and starts, but the current group of members really started to form last year when there were rumors that a team was finally headed to Philadelphia. Around September of 2006, Ethan Gomberg suggested the name for it’s historic and double entendre value and it passed by acclamation. We had been mulling over numerous other names, but when we heard SoB, we knew it was perfect.
Andrew Dillon – After hearing many rumors about MLS coming to Philadelphia, we felt a voice was needed to show potential owners/investors that Philadelphia fans would be just as passionate supporting a professional soccer team as we are supporting the other major sports in the city. The name was suggested as a reference to one of the founding fathers (obviously), but also with the initials being a play on words.
Is there a particular supporters group, here or abroad, which you have modeled?
BJ – I think DC’s supporters (Barra Brava, Screaming Eagles, and La Norte) have set the standard in MLS. The organization and the passion that they have created since 1996 is something we aspire to. But then you look around the league, New York’s ESC is coming back, and they greeted us with a chorus of F*ck Philadelphia (to the tune of La Donna e Mobile) last week, and Chicago’s Section 8 are the couple I think of right after DC, but really most supporters groups in the league should be admired because of the passion they bring each week, making sure it’s not all soccer moms and the only noise you hear is kids screaming during the t-shirt giveaway.
AD – The consensus among the membership is that Sons of Ben should be a hybrid of English and South American styles … drums, flags, chants, jumping, etc.
Is there a particular supporters group, here or abroad, that you would like to meet in an abandoned Philadelphia warehouse?
BJ – No. Frankly, I like my football without the fan violence. Despite the glorification of the agro side in Green Street Hooligans, I think that kind of violence at American stadiums would kill the sport.
Quick: Clint Mathis just fouled one of your center-backs long after the ball had gone. Give me an impromptu terrace song from the SoB.
BJ – Sung to tune of the Budweiser Clydesdales song – since Clint loves his beer
Along the lines of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “Greasy Chip Butty,” etc., do you have a supporter’s song picked out? Springsteen’s “Philadelphia?” Neil Young’s “Philadelphia?” One of those is a wrong answer, by the way.
BJ – We’ve talked about using “Four Leaf Clover” because of it’s history here in the city with the Mummers. Most Philadelphians know this tune, even if they don’t know the name or words.
AD – One of two songs very familiar to anyone who has seen the Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day: “Four Leaf Clover” or “Golden Slippers”.
Your logo puts to shame anything MLS has generated. Who did it, and what was the process like?
BJ – The logo started out as a simple idea and the process took 4 months. I had the idea that the logo should have historical value. So I looked at the flags of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey and found the unifying themes were agriculture and nautical. So I asked the following on our discussion board “Can anyone design a Skull and Crossbones with the skull wearing bifocals and a Liberty Bell type crack in the upper skull and SOB on the teeth? Maybe instead of crossbones – an oar to represent the maritime history of the region and a long handled scythe to represent the agriculture.” Andrew Dillon took up the task and it started with a simple sketch and from there it went through various iterations until it became the Jolly Franklin that you see now.
Your motto (”Faithful to the End”) would seem to imply a “beginning”…yet you have no team. Where does Philadelphia stand as an expansion candidate?
BJ – I guess the beginning was January when we decided to really do this, but Philadelphia’s standing as an expansion candidate is really the question of the year. There was a time when I didn’t think it would ever happen, but since the tail end of 2006, I feel like there is real momentum behind the efforts and the potential owner’s silence I think is a good thing.
AD – Rumors abound as to the when we’ll get a team, and who the owner/investor would be. But they are just that, rumors, and nothing is definite or confirmed. SoB is hoping that we will get one of the 3 expansion teams Commissioner Garber talks about between now and the 2009-2011 seasons. Perhaps the Rowan University debacle has caused current parties to keep things under wraps, until the time a formal announcement will be make. Until that time, we keep our collective fingers crossed.
Does it have to be an MLS team? Would a USISL team that wins the Open Cup be so bad?
BJ – Well, long story here, but one of our members was part of a group that wanted to bring a team to Philly and the minor league chiefs said no because they feared MLS would come in and take the market without compensation. Would we be happy to have pro soccer to support? Yes, BUT Philadelphia is a very knowledgeable and passionate sports town, I know that we wouldn’t be happy being minor league for long.
AD – As one of the largest markets in the United States, and probably the largest NOT in MLS, yes, it must be an MLS team. Philadelphia sports fans do not seem to be that receptive to ‘minor’ league sports.
I was ready to hail the badassness of Sons of Ben, until I discovered this. Is it possible to be hardcore and carry a tote bag?
BJ – It’s impossible to be hardcore and carry a tote, unless you are that big scary chick from the Howard Stern show, Nicole Bass.
BJ – It’s been quite amazing really, we have appeared in two of football’s best known publications and this past week, Sports Illustrated named us the Fans of the Week. If you would have told me in January when we were starting that within 5 months we would have 250 registered members, and appeared in 3 must read magazines and be interviewed on national TV, I would have called bullsh*t.
AD – It’s the most surreal thing, especially when you consider those publications approached us. And now to have Sports Illustrated highlight us as the “Fans of the Week” makes us wonder if this is really happening to us.
Let’s hope a team happens to you as well. Best of luck, gentlemen, and thanks for your time.