1. DON'T BE A RACIST
2. DON'T BE A THUG
3. DON'T BE AN IDIOT
4. DO RESPECT THE TEAM
-Sons of Ben Code of Conduct
As I wrote and rewrote this entry, I thought back to 1996. I wish it was because I was thinking about the birth of MLS, instead I was thinking about a piece I wrote (that for the life of me I cannot find anywhere on the Internet) about the Phish scene that I was so heavily involved in. Back in 1995, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead passed away, and a lot of folks that spent their summers on the Dead scene came over to join us. It change our scene forever. I wrote about the negative affects of this change called, "Where did our scene go?". Now, 15 years later, I feel that in some ways, I am writing a similar piece about a different scene.
15 years ago, I refused to demand that the scene go back to what it was before the passing of Jerry. In the same light, I will not wax nostalgic about 25 to 50 people at a Harrisburg City Islanders game. I am proud of how the Sons of Ben have grown. I am proud of how we continue to do so. I am proud of how many different people from many different walks of life inhabit The River End, our home behind the goal at PPL. I want the Sons of Ben to continue to grow. I want us to continue our undying support of the Philadelphia Union. I want this to continue to be a family.
Growing pains, though, do occur. It is part of any group. We are no different. Most things that I have seen in The River End or with the Sons of Ben are exactly that, growing pains. Now and then, though, there are things greater than 'growing pains'. That is what made me set down my bass drum mallets, turn on my computer, and try to do my part to help us continue to be the greatest supporters group in Major League Soccer.
All of that being said, fan conduct in The River End has become a point of contention in recent weeks. I am not sure if I have all the answers. I may even be part of the problem. But I am going to try to do my small part in at least identifying some of the issues, and maybe, together, we, the inhabitants of The River End, can come to some solutions to make our experience at PPL Park one that is enjoyed for years to come.
The Sons of Ben code of conduct (see above) is elegant in it's simplicity. Those rules rely on each of us to make our own decisions as to how our actions fit in to Sons of Ben. I, like a lot of us, have not made the best decision 100% of the time. Mistakes and missteps will be made, and forgiven. But, some actions are unacceptable.
Why is there a new story coming out of almost every week at PPL Park? Why do I get the excitement of a victory ruined by a report of a fight in the River End, or by parking lot security telling me that a male in a Union jersey and SoB scarf kicked off the side view mirrors of someones car, or by pictures of someone hanging a banner of their area code over the home country flags of our Union players? Why do I read endless discussion vilifying our SoB elders from working with the Union FO to improve the overall atmosphere of PPL Park?
Don't be a racist.
Seems simple enough, right. This, to me, seems like the easiest of all rules. Yet, somehow, smatterings of racial epitaphs are said by people in The River End. Really, is this how you want yourself to be known, as the person who shouts racial slurs at a sporting event? Yeah, you have the right to free speech, but I also have the right to tell you that there is no place for that anywhere around me or my River End family. Come on, if you are going to insult someone, be creative. And yes, before you try to argue, calling someone a dirty Mexican is racist. It is demeaning not only to the person you are shouting to, but to yourself, and your fellow supporters.
Don't be a thug
So, during the NYRB match there was a physical altercation at PPL Park. Did a member of the ESC break through to the River End? Did one of our Sons of Ben member wander into enemy territory? No. Neither of these things happened. So, was there a damsel in distress? Did a River End hero save the day? Was it Dooperman? Once again, no. It was a flag.
Yes, you heard me correctly, a flag. A person was waiving a flag in The River End. How dastardly! Such thing are without precedence! Oh wait, there is a precedence for this. Its a supporters section. The Sons of Ben and the Union front office have approved flags in The River End. Each and every one of us is aware (or should be aware) of this policy.
Not for nothing, I have been a victim of flag attack. It is a bit annoying. How did I resolve this issues? Did I resort to threats of violence of physical assault of the evil flag waiver? No I asked him to move over a bit. I also moved over a bit. Low and behold, the issue was solved.
If this issue was so easy for me to solve, why did a River Ender decide that violence was the only answer? Did someone watch Green Street Hooligans too often? Was there a case of the beer muscles?
Honestly, do I care the reason?
To be honest, no, I do not. There is no reason for violence to be used anywhere in soccer supporter, culture. Period. Full stop.
It takes a bit of crazy to be a soccer fan. It takes even a little more crazy to be a supporter. Add a little crazy to that, and you have the Sons of Ben. We sing, chant, jump, wave flags, and stand for 90 plus minutes every match. We know that our section of PPL is not for every fan, just as section 114 is probably not the best fit for most SoBs. That is fine. We all enjoy the sport in our own way. But, the reality is, if you are going to be bothered by the actions of the fans in The River End to the point that you want to be violent, than it is not the place for you.
As I said, violence is not an acceptable part of soccer supporter culture. It has no place in The River End, or anywhere at PPL Park. There is a boxing club in Marcus Hook. Feel free to check it out.
Don't be an idiot
This may be the most subjective of rules. Sitting at McGillin's Olde Ale House in Philadelphia, PA, right before the 2010 Superdraft, President Bryan James announced this rule to those of us in a pub at 9am. Without plan, and on cue, Justin Lee and I both said something to the effect of, 'oh, fuck, guess I have to leave.'. Well, obviously, Bryan wasn't referring to the silly, harmless antics of Justin and I. What he was describing was hard to define. We needed time for the definition of 'don't be an idiot' to evolve. Well, time has evolved, and a few good definitions of 'don't be an idiot' have surfaced.
Example 1. The whoring out of River End tickets to the highest bidder privately, through Stub Hub, or other related ticket sites. I really shouldn't have to say more than that. If you are the person selling your tickets to the highest bidder, you are an idiot. No further discussion needed.
Example 2. After a fun day of tailgating, cheering, and celebrating a victory, a Sons of Ben member went back to his car in Lot C to transport himself back to the real world. As he got to his vehicle, something looked askew. Apparently, someone decided his drivers side view mirror would look better removed from the vehicle. Upon further examination, it turns out that our mystery customizer decided that both mirrors should be removed from the vehicle.
How does this affect the River End though? What is the tie in? This seems like an isolated event of vandalism beyond the Sons of Ben and The River End. If only that was the case.
As it turns out, other Union fans, as well as a security guard, saw our perpetrator. He was fleet footed, and unfortunately not caught. He was described by more than one person as a male in his mid 20s to early 30s, wearing a powder blue shirt and a SoB member scarf. This incident occurred after the NYRB match. The man reportedly looked at the NJ plate on the vehicle, said, 'Fuck you, Red Bull fan, and kicked the mirrors off the vehicle.
There are a few levels of idiocy in this incident. First, destruction of property and vandalism is illegal and disrespectful. Do you recall how immature we found the actions of NYRB fans to be last year in Harrison when they threw rocks at a bus of SoBs and Union fans, cracking a window?
Now, here we are, with one of our members mimicking the action.
To make it worse, it was a fellow SoB members vehicle. So now, not only is our perpetrator disrespectful, he is also an idiot.
No matter, friend or foe, vandalism and destruction of property is direction violation of the 'don't be an idiot' policy. I don't want or need folks like that in my supporters club.
Respect the team
I know this is another touchy, subjective issue. I understand that respect is a two way street. I understand that in 2010, some of the things said by Tom Veit did not show a respect for the Sons of Ben, Philadelphia Union fans, or the Philadelphia soccer community. Those days are over. We are in a new season, with new leadership in the Philadelphia Union front office. Let the past be the past.
Respect the team. Let's revisit the ticket selling (read: scalping) of River End tickets.
"Re-sale of tickets above face value is prohibited anywhere on PPL Park grounds." -Philadelphia Union Stadium Guide.
Now, you may argue that Stub Hub and the like are not on PPL Park grounds, and you are correct in say that. But, the simple reality is, the team has asked you not to scalp tickets. And although legal, place like Stub Hub, or selling a $25 dollar ticket privately for a cent over $25 is scalping. It is disrespectful to the team and other fans.
This goes double for any Sons of Ben members and ticket holders in The River End. We are trying to build a strong supporter culture in The River End. It is our home. We want it accessible and affordable to people who truly want to sit there to be a supporter, not to the random, highest bidder.
This is purely conjecture on my part, but I bet that most of the River End issues (fights over flags, arguments, and dissatisfied fans) are a direct result of selling your seat to the highest bidder instead of finding an SoB who can really appreciate what we do, or bringing a person that is really interested in the Sons of Ben and The River End culture.
Have some respect for your fellow River Enders and the team. If you are just in this for the cheap tickets to resell to the highest bidder, please leave. No hard feelings, no grudges, just leave.
Understanding the great flag/ tifo debacle of 2011.
There are many things we do as a supporter group to show our support of our team. We stand, chant, sings, and jump for 90 plus minute. We have banners, signs, and 'big ass tifo'. We also have country flags, representing the home countries of our Philadelphia Union players. Our Sons of Ben volunteers show up early, and hang all of these banners and signs, carry the tifo through PPL Park, and hang flags of all the countries of origin of the players on the Philadelphia Union. Please respect the team and it players. Do not hang your own banner over top of any country flag.
Imagine you were a professional. Imagine walking into a room, or on a pitch somewhere in Europe, Asia, South American, or Australia. As you look around, you see the Stars and Stripes of the United State of America. Well, you see part of it. Some sporting fan has decided his homemade banner of his street address is so important that it needs to go over top of the stars and stripes.
I mean, he has a point. Obviously, there is no disrespect. His banner is just more important than your home country, or having any respect for you, and in turn, your team.
Yeah, that guy sounds like a real jerk now, doesn't he?
Another 'respect the team' issue, and the hot button of this entire piece, YSA.
YSA, for those of you who may have been out of the SoB, Philadelphia Union, MLS, or USA soccer loop, is the acronym for 'You suck, asshole!", the omnipresent chant at every soccer match, at every goal kick, in North America.
The team has asked numerous times for YSA to not be a part of PPL Park culture. Pure and simple, advertising revenue and ticket revenue has been lost because of YSA. Admittedly, I have YSA along with the rest of The River End and the Sons of Ben. Now, we stand at a cross road. The team would like to see a YSA free River End. Respect the team, respect The River End, and drop YSA from Sons of Ben, The River End, and PPL Park culture.
The Philadelphia Union has asked for YSA to be removed. Respect the team.
I hope that this editorial did not come off as a whinny bitchfest. I love my time at PPL Park. I love my Philadelphia Union. I love my SoB family. I love my time in The River End. 99.9% of the time, I have no issue with anyone or any action in The River End. I have never personally met a bad person in The Sons of Ben. But, as these issues come to the attention of the Sons of Ben, I firmly believe we should discuss and deal with them now before the molehills turn into mountains.
I see the Sons of Ben as the greatest supporters group in MLS. We also have to realize that we are part of the Philadelphia sports landscape. We, in Philadelphia, will never be judged fairly. Right now our issues are small. If not kept in check and dealt with now, these issues will grown. The little fight and slap over a flag may become a full fist fight. The kicking of a mirror could become a car tipping. The scalping of a ticket or two can become an epidemic of overpriced tickets and price gouging. Loss of revenue because of one chant could result in inflated ticket prices. A racial slur by one person in the River End could give us the label of hate group. One flag covered could be seen as a disrespect to a player who asks to leave the team and tells his countrymen to never become a Union player.
And any of these could be the moment that a major media outlet picks up a story and portrays the Sons of Ben, The River End, and The Philadelphia Union faithful as 'typical of the Philly stereotype' and set Philadelphia soccer back a least a decade.
We have worked to hard to have this happen. We have worked too hard to see SoB turn on SoB, Union FO turn on the SoB, or the Philadelphia Union faithful turn on the SoBs. To succeed, we must address the issues before they grow into something bigger.