A crack crew of Philly Soccer Page writers, accompanied by several fellow travelers, went to Tir Na Nog on Tuesday night for the introduction of the Philadelphia Union’s first eleven. Complimentary Union badges in hand, surrounded by the artifacts of some kind of idealized but long lost notion of Ireland, and several hundred of the Union faithful, they ordered $7 pints of the brown stuff. The quick witted among them soon noticed that $3 pints of Carlsberg were on special for the night, the same thoughtfully dispensed from tap markers sporting the Liverpool crest.
Television monitors were sprinkled throughout the bar like sheep on some grassy down. Each TV was showing a five-minute loop featuring footage from the Chester Stadium groundbreaking ceremony, the unveiling of the team crest at City Hall, those commercials featuring some nondescript jersey that frighteningly resembles that of Chelsea and lots of face paint, as well as mug shots of the new Union players. And so it remained for the next three hours, Champions League be damned.
The crowd was wonderfully mixed with Union fans young and old, though admittedly it was mostly male and almost entirely white. The Sons of Ben were present, their banner larger than any Union banner in view and featuring an iconic image of the Commodore Barry Bridge. SOB scarves were raffishly draped around many a neck. Many wore supporters t-shirts with the number 10 on the back topped by “Zolo,” the inside joke resulting from an inability to read that is now simply confusing to those who are on the outside: “Who’s this ‘Zolo’ guy and when did we sign him?” At some point they started singing their anthem, “I’m Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover.” Feeling slightly embarrassed, some of the PSP crew looked somewhere else.
The area around the tiny stage that was shortly to be the focus of attention being very crowded, the PSP crew moved to the back bar which adjoins a windowed lobby. A fortuitous move it proved to be for, at approximately 7pm, the players entered the bar through the lobby and PSP were among the first to greet them. It was apparent that they, like most present, really had no idea what to expect. So the PSP crew simply extended the hand of friendship and was rewarded with sincere handshakes from many of the players and coaches, not to mention everyone’s new favorite coach in the world and genuinely nice guy, Piotr Nowak.
The new players took the stage accompanied by much cheering and clapping, some of which was organized in the form of chants, the most rousing of which was something like “We’ve Got A Team!” Indeed we do, and Nowak introduced each player to the crowd. The PSP crew couldn’t say enough about Nowak: he has an impressive pedigree, he is obviously game, and he is funny. In short, he is the perfect kind of person to coach a team in Philadelphia. His undeniable enthusiasm for his new players went a long way for a crowd that, soccer fans all, may not have known much about the individuals who will be the foundation of the team.
The players themselves were impressive. After the first uncertainties of what to expect, it must have been clear to them that the crowd simply wanted to cheer them, to thank them not only for being present at the event, but for being a part of making the long cherished hope and dream of many a Philadelphia soccer fan come true. They are on our team and in this town that means a great deal.
After the introductions, many of the players circulated through the crowd, signing hats, shirts, soccer balls, bumper stickers, coasters – anything that was put in front of them. And they looked like they were enjoying themselves and the moment. After all, how many times is one part one of the founding moments of a professional sports team?
Mindful of the possibility of a shockingly large bar tab, the PSP crew soon decided to take their leave, happily aglow with the good cheer of the evening. On the way out they passed Coach Nowak and a couple of staff members having a smoke. They exchanged a few moments of joking banter and one of the PSP crew, who is the son of Polish immigrants, said good night to Nowak in his native tongue. As they walked into the night, another of the PSP crew said how amazing it is that the coach smokes, that it was like the soccer players of old. “Of course he smokes,” the Polish American PSP crew member said, “He’s Polish. He probably enjoys a drink or two, as well.” This team is going to be all right.