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Ad Finem Fidelis

October 4, 2010 1 comment

Ad finem fidelis: Faithful to the end. It’s the slogan of the Sons of Ben, the Philadelphia Union supporters club, which faithfully chanted, cheered, and derided the opposition on Saturday, as they loyally watched their team’s playoff hopes come to an end.

After attending the inaugural game at PPL Park in June, and sharing my thoughts on my first MLS experience and the state of American soccer in my piece for Culture Blues, I promised myself I’d see a game from the fan section before season’s end. The constant standing, singing, and generic rowdiness seemed like it would suit my style of game attendance more than the docile, first-row midfield seats that allowed me to get an up-close look at how much worse these players are than the Europeans.

Certainly a decent crowd, but noticeable empty seats on a picture perfect day

I had a lot of hope that day though. The stands were full and a buzz definitely hovered over the pitch. But this Saturday’s beautiful sun was gleaming off chunks of empty seats around the stadium. I stayed on my feet all game, learning the verses of various cheers, including my favorite one expressing disapproval of the officiating:

Who’s your father? Who’s your father? Who’s your father, referee?

You don’t got one, never had one, you’re a bastard referee.

As much as the supporters section was a good bit of fun, I expected to stick out there. I thought I’d be the only idiot who didn’t know all the songs by heart. I expected to have to fight through a gauntlet of team flags, supporter scarves and clouds of smoke to reach my seat. From my other seats in June, it looked like a reenactment of the Revolutionary War was taking place in that section. But empty seats showed their bare bottoms,  and the environment was tame enough for me and my buddy to have a lengthy conversation about fantasy football keeper league rules. I was only there because a season-ticket holder, supposedly ad finem fidelis, sold me his tickets to the game because he couldn’t make it. Devotion made an appearance at the stadium, but it’s going to take a while for diehard dedication to make its presence felt.

Sons of Ben members offer to throw the opponent in the river behind them

Nevertheless, a certain team tradition is being forged. Nearly everyone in the crowd donned a slick blue and gold Union kit or some other official team apparel. The DirecTV blimp was capturing aerial footage of all this, and frankly I was pleasantly surprised that this game was deemed blimp-worthy.

If you aren’t sure you’re interested enough to get a pair of seats for a game, I’d say observing the crowd at Union contest is worth the price of admission, which, by the way, was only $70 total for two seats and a parking pass on Saturday. The demographic at PPL Park truly distinguishes itself from any other stadium crowd in the city. The experience begins with the drive up to the stadium and the awkwardness of cruising through the floods of white folk walking around the depressingly dilapidated black Chester neighborhood. The irony will raise your eyebrows as you make your way to the parking lot.

Once you’re inside the stadium corridors, it’s easy to be taken aback by the diversity within the practically all-white crowd. There’s more tatted up pale skin in the PPL stands than there is at a Northern Liberties community event. The hipsters are mixed in among the affluent yuppies who grew up with special soccer channels on their cable packages and spent semesters abroad taking in the world’s favorite game. Splice in a young dad who is explaining the British term “wanker” to his little-league playing daughter and that gives you an idea of the group that is embracing the new team in town.

It all makes for an entertaining scene, and it can be more interesting than the product on the field at times. But unless the whole crowd is willing to be ad finem fidelis, attending games in season two may not be quite as much fun.

The supporters section on its feet all game long

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