CHESTER, Pa. -- The boom-and-thud cadence of a continuous drumbeat has to be one of the coolest sounds in general. At a soccer match, such a soundtrack makes everything seem even more tribal. It's as if, by noise, you're calling the group together through a primal medium.
Plus, it's just fun as all heck to bang on something with all your might for a good cause. Just ask Erin Pupko, Jeremy Sharpe, Justin Lee or Corey Furlan ... a few of the Sons of Ben song leaders/drummers I saw on Saturday as the Philadelphia Union tied the Colorado Rapids 1-1 at PPL Park here. A crowd of 17,749 attended the match, which was televised locally on 6ABC and nationally on Telefutura.
Sons Of Ben president Bryan James was there, too, in full voice as the Union (now 4-10-5) does what it usually does at home: Dominate the game without coming away with the full three points. When a team gives up 34 goals through 19 games, you don't have to look too far for a reason you're low in the standings. But, hey, it's an expansion year and at least the Union has given value for money on the effort end of things.
You could say the same thing for the Sons of Ben, and then some. I've linked up with these hardcore guys and gals a few times before, but only on the road ... a Qwest Field in Seattle for the opening match in Union history and at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. for a midweek U.S. Open Cup match. (I also attended the league match against the Red Bulls in Harrison, but I went all "corporate" for that one. You know ... wine and sushi in a luxury box. It's nice to see how the "other half" lives once in a while.)
But Saturday was the first time I've entered the "belly of the beast" that is the River End at PPL Park. My boys, Andy Stubbs of Fairless Hills, Pa. and I usually sit on the corner flag in Section 114, but a good friend of mine slipped me a few extra tickets for the match against the Rapids. So, the boys and their friend, Korey Morgenweck of Northfield, N.J., stayed there while Andy and I ventured willingly into the cauldron of noise.
I've said it many times before, and it still rings true: The Sons of Ben make the experience of a Union game that much better. Yes, the soccer is the primary reason we're all there, but without the singing, chanting, drumming, flags, banners ... the whole panoply of visual and aural stimulation ... it's not at all the same. Trust me: I've seen West Ham play six times in England, and the Sons of Ben do a comparable job in helping to create an atmosphere. Full credit to them.
Apparently, the Sons of Ben have been asked in a benign way by Union officials to clean up the language of the chants a little bit, and the song leaders were trying to spread the word on Saturday. Trust me, I hate how popular culture continues to be ever more vulgar and coarse, especially the music; however, I think there's also a case to be made for wit and creativity. Ninety-nine percent of the Sons of Ben chants makes my sons and I laugh out loud.
There's only one I have a problem with (and it's the content, not the language, that bothers me), and I've made my minor displeasure about that lone chant known to the song leaders. But, Union officials should be careful what they wish for. The team's not really winning, and part of the reason 17,000 keep packing out the place is the atmosphere. It's a good day out. Soccer-philes like my sons, Andy and I would be there even if the Union was 0-19-0 right now, but it's the casual fan you want to keep attracting.
If you neuter the Sons of Ben too much, you run the risk of making the whole matchday experience sanitized and stale. That's not what soccer is meant to be about, despite the hijacking of the game by the suburban-moms mindset. If you went to a Philadelphia Eagles game and everyone clapped politely, and "tut-tutted" a dropped pass or a missed tackle, would it be the same? Of course not. Soccer's tradition is that it's a game for the working class, a chance to let off some steam on Saturday afternoons, and the PR types mess with that oeuvre at their peril.
As far as Saturday's game goes? Well, let's just say that Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz should have done better on Jeff Larentowicz's volley in the 59th minute, but the inclusion of Roger Torres helped turned the tide for the Union. Sebastien Le Toux provided another assist, this time for Danny Mwanga's equalizer in the 73rd minute. The Union nearly went on to win it, but Michael Orozco Fiscal's goal was ruled out for offside. There was also a shout for a penalty when Le Toux was taken down, but the referee had no interest. The match ended honors even.
And I not only survived my stint in the River End ... I thoroughly enjoyed it (although I couldn't hear anything for about two hours after the match). Many thanks to the Sons of Ben, and keep bringing your smoke bombs, your banners and your lust for life in general. You guys help in a big way to make supporting the Union a true labor of love.
Thanks to all 35 of you who signed up for the "AC Press Soccer Blog" fantasy league through the English Premier League's official site. May the best team win.
My soccer blog goes on a two-week hiatus now, but you can still follow all the news from the sport at http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/sports/local/soccer/
I will be updating the "James Clark's Soccer Blog" page on Facebook over the next two weeks, so if you haven't yet gone to the page and selected the "like" button ... well, what are you waiting for? See you at the end of the month!