First games are often a memorable occasion no matter the sport, but for 9-year-old Ian Alexander who recently lost his father, attending the Philadelphia Union game against the Seattle Sounders took on an even more significant meaning.
Alexander attended the game with his Roxborough United teammate Ben Franklin Mitchell, who if you’ve ever sat in the River End at a Union game needs no introduction as the son of super fan (and 2018 co-supporter of the year) Jeff Mitchell.
The Mitchells, who knew Ian’s dad through his involvement with the club as a parent and coach, gave Ian the full game experience with the pregame tailgate and the view from the Sons of Ben supporters section in the River End that was noticeably fuller than it’s been for some time.
It was in the River End where Sons of Ben member Bob King met Ian and made a simple but unforgettable gesture to help add something to Ian’s first game experience. King had won an autographed soccer ball earlier in the evening so he gave it to Ian.
“To me it was just trying to make his first Union game special,” King said. “I knew I wouldn’t need another signed soccer ball so for me there was only one thing to do with it.”
King, from Audubon, N.J., has been attending Union games since 2011 and said he loves the community that exists within the River End. Either bringing people to their first game or welcoming those he meets attending for the first time is a bit of a pastime for King. When he gave Ian the ball, he had no idea what the young man had been through losing his father so suddenly.
“When I met Ian he was so full of happiness and excitement,” King said. “With or without autographs I was gonna give him the ball.”
Ian’s mom, Audrey Corkery, said her son could not stop talking about the game or about plans to attend another when he returned home that night. Another Sons of Ben member gifted Ian a membership into the club to make him officially part of the group.
“He came home on Cloud 9 so full of life talking until 1 a.m. about it,” Corkery said.
He also slept with the ball that night.
Corkery, who grew up in the Republic of Ireland, doesn’t have family in the area but said the support that has come from the soccer community has been critical for Ian and his two sisters.
“A lot of people have come out because they’re good people and showed that they care,” she said.