With the Philadelphia Union getting an extra day off before facing Minnesota United on Sunday, many of their fans back home will be able to shift their attention completely to the Champions League final tomorrow at 3 p.m.
For the ones who are also Tottenham or Liverpool fans, the match-up of the two English Premier League rivals presents a unique opportunity to bask in the glory of a soccer team winning something that has proved elusive in the first 10 seasons in Chester: a trophy.
Liverpool has won plenty of those trophies in their storied history, but they last won a European Championship in 2005 during an era when there was no team in Philadelphia and games were much harder to come by than they are now.
Mike Aronson, an avid member of the Sons of Ben since the early days of the club, started supporting the Reds in leaner times. He was drawn to the team for a number of reasons — he’s a Boston sports fan for starters and the club shares an ownership group with the Red Sox — but what sealed it for him was a surprising discovery when he was helping to go through his grandmother’s things after her death eight years ago.
“During this process I discovered a letter written to my great-grandmother from a Liverpool address,” said Aronson, who lives in Conshohocken, Pa. “I opened it up and read the letter, and toward the end, it described a photo that was included and how the man third from the bottom left was the writer’s husband and that he was doing well on the board of directors. I looked at the photo, stamped Liverpool Echo on the back, and it was a 1946-1947 team photo of Liverpool FC. My great-grandmother’s friend was a member of the board of directors for the team. So naturally I took that as further proof that I was meant to be a Liverpool fan.”
It’s hard to accuse Aronson of bandwagoning, but it’s probably even harder to make that claim of a Tottenham fan. While they have been on the rise over the past decade, they don’t have the prestige or history of winning trophies that Liverpool has.
Which of course makes them in many ways the perfect team for a Union fan to follow.
Nathan Huber started rooting for the Spurs around the time the Union were starting out.
“Coincidentally enough I became a fan because of one of Spurs’ campaigns in the UCL,” said Huber, who lives in Lancaster, Pa. “I was just really starting to get into soccer and I remember watching Tottenham’s matches in the UCL and was enthralled with their ability to pull off great results against good teams. A pinnacle moment was Gareth Bale’s two performances against Inter Milan.”
Huber’s Spurs support actually ended up informing his decision to follow the Union.
“Being a big soccer fan I had a need to be a fan of a club I could go to games and see the players in person,” Huber said. “It made sense to be a Union fan, not only because of how close they were but also because they have a similar style of management to their club. Bring up youth players and treat your long-time players well and with respect. And the fan base is a lot of fun too. I love both clubs a lot.”
Alex Klein, who lives in Philadelphia but grew up in Pittsburgh, has a more random reason for becoming a Liverpool fan: Pittsburgh sports talk radio.
“A sports talk radio host (Mark Madden) I always listened to when I was a kid was a big Liverpool fan and at the end of his shows he’d always play the Anfield crowd singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ so I always thought that was really cool,” Klein said. “And one day I came home after school and the 2005 Champions League final was on. After watching that it was impossible for me not to be a Liverpool fan.”
Clint Dempsey’s one season with Tottenham in 2013-14 is what sealed the deal for Phil Moore.
“I knew I didn’t want to root for Man U, or any of the teams that were consistently winning trophies because I just felt like that was a cop out,” said Moore, a grad student at Arcadia University. “When Gareth Bale started getting good in 2011 and an American was the goalkeeper at Tottenham (Brad Friedel) I started to really follow them. When the Dempsey move was announced in 2012 that was it. I was all in on them.”
Like Huber, Moore sees similarities in Tottenham to the Union in terms of building the club from within and not relying on big money transfers to put them over the top. As successful as they’ve been in recent years, Tottenham is still an underdog story when comparing them to the big clubs that have a bigger following in Philadelphia and whose jerseys are easy to spot.
The local Spurs supporter group, Philadelphia Spurs, will be hosting a block party for the final at their home bar, Founding Fathers on South Street. Organizers aren’t sure what to expect in terms of numbers.
The Liverpool supporters group is expecting enough of a crowd to organize events at four different locations: The Victoria Freehouse, The Cambridge and Field House in Philadelphia and the Iron Abbey Gastro Pub in Horsham.
While Union fans support numerous other teams around the globe, the growing popularity of the Premier League since NBC Sports starting airing games in the U.S. every weekend means that plenty of Union fans will be paying close attention to this one.
Who do you want to win the Champions League final?
This poll is closed
Don’t like either team
I just want to see a good game