Fan Culture / Featured / Local

The other supporters groups: The Tammany Saints

Our series on alternative Union supporters groups begins with the Tammany Saints. Members of the Tammany Saints are mainly located in section 101 in the southeast corner of PPL Park.  Armando Rios—“I guess you could say founder, but I don’t want to sound too formal”— founded the Tammany Saints in late 2009.  Armando talks about starting the group, how its grown, its camaraderie with other supporters groups, and more, all through the lens of the group’s three simple rules: Support the Union. Respect other fans. Don’t break stadium rules.

Philly Soccer Page: Your Facebook page says the Tammany Saints was founded in 2009. What prompted the founding?

Armando Rios: Our team’s name, the Union, is a fitting name, I think, when you consider the several supporters groups sprouting up at PPL Park. As we all know, the name is in reference to the thirteen individual colonies that united to became a nation. Each state had its own way of doing things, but all the states supported the same principles.

Out of many supporters groups, one voice of support—at least that’s how I see it. I don’t see the different supporters groups as competing against each other, I see these groups supporting our Union in the way they choose to. I don’t believe anyone should say that they are a bigger or better fan because they choose to support the Union one way or another. If you’re sitting in or standing in front of a seat and you are supporting the Union, then that’s all that matters. As with any population, one voice cannot—and should not, in the interest of the whole—represent everyone, and that’s why we are seeing these groups that have come into existence.

PSP: I’m a little unclear about how one joins the Tammany Saints. Is there a membership fee, for example?

AR: There is no membership fee. All of our current members have joined by expressing interest in joining. It has been entirely by word of mouth, by people hearing about us one way or another and getting in contact asking to join. This has worked well to form a good foundation. We spent the first season building our identity and so this year we look to actively seek out new members in our section and elsewhere who like what we have to offer.

PSP: Is there a specific section at PPL Park where the Tammany Saints are located?

AR: We call Section 101 our home but we don’t restrict membership to people from other sections. We welcome all who share our philosophy of support.

Section 101 is a great section. Nearly everywhere I look in 101 are people who have great soccer brains who applaud a good run, who can appreciate a clever through-ball, and who never grow weary of the tirelessness with which Seba covers every inch of the field.

Generally speaking, 101 is not a full standing or singing section. I would love it if everyone stood and sang, but we have no right to mandate to other hard working, season ticket holders how to support our team. All we can do is recruit as many people as we can and sing our hearts out until it becomes so infectious that people can’t help but sing along. I hope that over the years Section 101 will become more vocal, but we’ll be patient. We’ll probably pass out a flier with a call and response chant with 133, but for the most part we hope that people get the urge to throw out a chant that comes to mind and that is organic. If it’s good, it will catch on. If not, we’ll move on to the next one. I don’t want to rely solely on a song-sheet. We’re not the Vienna Boys Choir.

PSP: How many members does your group currently have?

AR: We started in late 2009 with just me. As of February 2011, we have nearly forty. We’re having a membership drive at the beginning of the season and hope to sign up a good chunk of 101. Slow and steady.

PSP: What do you think of the Sons of Ben?

AR: Without the Sons of Ben, we likely would not even have a team to support so we are thankful for all their contributions toward bringing MLS to Philadelphia and the zeal with which they support the Union.

Tammany Saints at the opening of PPL Park.

PSP: What sets you apart from groups such as the Sons of Ben, the IllegitimateS, the Corner Creeps or the Bridge Crew?

AR: The differences are small. We’re all there to support the Union, we just do so in slightly different styles, none better, none worse.

PSP: Have you had much contact or networking with other Union supporters groups?

AR: We’ve reached out to all the known supporters groups you have mentioned and have formed a particularly good relationship with our friends in 133—The IllegitimateS—forming somewhat of a south corner alliance. Section 133 is a little louder than us, but we’re going to try to motivate enough people in 101 to do call-and response-chants with 133. It’s a work in progress and will take time to get right.

PSP: Fan v. supporter. What’s the difference? Or is the question of difference more like spectator v supporter?

AR: I don’t mind being called either but I prefer the connotation of supporter because I think it more accurately reflects what all supporters groups do: actively support the club. That means going to matches, of course. But it also means talking to people about the team, being the “soccer” guy at the office who is always dragging people to matches who have never experienced live soccer. It means wearing your scarf and gear on the street to spread awareness. For many ticket holders, last season was the most live soccer they’ve ever seen and they’re learning the differences between supporting a soccer team versus any other US sports team. We will do our best to create the conditions that allow fans to grow into being supporters.

PSP: Are you inspired by or consciously trying to create a more “English-style” of football support to PPL. If so, what does a more “English-style” of support mean to you? How would that be different from what the Sons of Ben are trying to do?

AR: I am a big fan of the EPL and have been following it, like everyone else, for a number of years.That said, it would be disingenuous of me to say that I really know what “English-style” support is just because I subscribe to the Fox Soccer Channel. It would be similar to someone from Liverpool or London who followed American sports proclaiming that they knew what it really means to be a Phillies or Eagles fan. To really know what “English-style” support is I think you have to live there and go to matches week in and week out, neither of which I have done. So, all we can do is enjoy ourselves and allow things to develop over time as they will. We already have a burgeoning American-style of support that will continue to grow and be refined through the passage of many years—no need to rush.

I don’t think it’s healthy to try to completely copy something happening in stands thousands of miles away. Rather, taking bits and pieces from over there and folding them into the stuff that we do here I think strikes a good balance. People shouldn’t get caught up in saying that something should or shouldn’t be done because it’s too English or not English enough, especially if you’re from here, not there. Don’t get caught up in putting up a posture and legislating tradition to the detriment of enjoying what’s going on on the big, green rectangle in front of you. Just enjoy the game.

PSP: Do you worry that some members may have an idealized notion of what a supporter is or how one should act from learning about hooligan culture from movies or YouTube clips, hooligan literature, etc.?

AR: There is always the concern that someone will take things a bit far and try to project what they learned of hooligan culture available through the various media. The pseudo-hooligans who have seen a movie and maybe read a book or Wikipedia page are not there for the game, they’re there to be a spectacle and act a part. Through this article and others that follow, the Tammany Saints and the other supporters groups hope to spread the awareness that we all stand united against hooliganism in its various forms. The game is only 90 minutes and goes by quickly. There’s no time to waste plotting your hatred. You might miss something.

They've got very cool membership cards.

PSP: The Code of Conduct on your website says that the Tammany Saints will “represent the Union well by being respectful to the game, the team, other Union supporters clubs, our team’s fans as well as fans of any stripe visiting our grounds. We intend [to] provide boisterous, Philadelphia style support for the Union, let there be [no] mistake.” Is there a conflict between being respectful of “fans of any stripe” and “boisterous, Philadelphia style support?” What crosses the line?

AR: In between the whistles, if you’re not for the Union, we’re going to let you know that you are not at home and that we have a caustic disregard for your team. After the final whistle blows, we’re all just people who want to support our boys. Fortunately, in this country, we don’t have the same rancor between fans as most other places in the world where the teams often personify and magnify the social, religious, economic differences between the supporters of different squads. We can just cheer our Union, boo the other team, and say “good game” to the other guy when it’s all said and done.

As an example, we were booing New York Red Bulls as loud as everyone else when they came to PPL Park. However, on my way to my car I ran into a group of Red Bulls supporters and wished them a safe trip home. “Gasp” you might say, “talking to the enemy!” But that simple remark led to a one hour conversation in the parking lot about how, while we may wear different shirts, that doesn’t mean we have to be jerks to each other when the game is over, and of our shared love for soccer and its growing relevance in the US. The line gets crossed when you are a jerk when not appropriate. Grown men and women should know the difference.

PSP: What makes the style of support the Tammany Saints are trying to encourage unique to Philadelphia?

AR: That’s tough because all the supporters groups are more alike than dissimilar. It’s difficult to sum up what you stand for in a few words, but if I had to, I’d say we approach game day with discrete fervor. Fervent in that we are serious about and committed to our support of the Union. Discrete in that we try as best as possible to not be jerks about it. Also, we try not to take ourselves too seriously. We’re all about low stress and low pressure. No meetings, no dues, an infrequently updated website, simple rules, generally laid back but appropriately raucous. We’re just trying to feed off of what is the pervasive temperament of Section 101 and are trying to put that attitude into word and form through the Tammany Saints. We’re not trying to live out misguided hooligan fantasies. We’re not here to start fights. We’re not here to try to be cooler than anyone else. We’re not trying to be the biggest supporters group. We’re just trying to have fun cheering our team and hope to invite people along who like what we have to say.

I understand that not everybody shares our sentiments and that is why it’s great that supporters groups are springing up all over the park. There seems to be a group for everyone and I’m sure more will pop up. I do not see having several groups as counter productive or detrimental to a unified front of support. I see all the supporters groups as distinct and separate groups with their own identities and ways of doing things that can rally together under the common cause of supporting the Union. I have heard some individuals don’t agree with this belief and I feel that the symbolism of our team’s name is lost on them. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the thirteen colonies, as different and disparate as they were, united under a common flag but each flew their own banners and maintained their autonomy. Why can’t, or shouldn’t we, do the same?

This is how we have set ourselves up thus far but I’m sure we’ll evolve over time as we add members. We aren’t for everybody, but based on what I’m hearing, there are plenty of people out there looking for a group like us. If you are interested in joining us, whether you’re in Section 101 or elsewhere, I encourage you to send us an email. We’d be happy to have you.

PSP: The mission statement on your Facebook page says “Just enjoy the game.” What do you mean by this? How does the typical Tammany Saint enjoy the game?

AR: We’re all paying good money to watch our team play, so just enjoy watching your team play. It means don’t get hung up about who is a better fan or who wasn’t singing loud enough or who had to leave a couple of minutes early to avoid the crush of outbound traffic because they had a meeting in the morning they couldn’t be late to. If it’s not breaking the rules posted at the stadium entrance then don’t worry about what other people are doing. A supporters group should be there to enhance the fun through a sense of community and camaraderie and not take itself too seriously—that’s the ideology we hope to get across at least. We don’t have dues because we don’t want to feel like we owe anything to anyone. We just want to set up the conditions and framework for our section to feel like a cohesive group. Besides, I have neither the time nor the inclination to keep track of who owes what—that interferes with my fun. Sure, that means we’re not going to have an overflowing war chest, but that’s not our concern.

PSP: Some MLS supporters have suggested that the league has made a mistake in over-marketing itself as “family friendly,” which leads to the kind of debate we saw over the summer about the “You suck,…” chant. Where would you place the Tammany Saints in this debate?

AR: Personally, I dislike the YSA chant, mostly because it is unoriginal and crass for its own sake. That doesn’t mean you can’t turn the screws on the opposition with a well timed or well thought out chant. For example, one of the stand out memories for me last season was when the Sons of Ben started and finished 99 Bottles. Now, I felt just a little bit bad for Kansas City’s coach, but the song was organic, topical and clever, and I was smiling the whole time and explaining to others what was going on who smiled as well. That right there proved that we can do better than insipid chants like YSA. That’s just my opinion.

As for family friendly, when the league started in the mid-90s, it had to market itself as family-friendly to put butts in the seats and to get us where we are today. Now that we are sixteen years on, that’s not as much the case—the fanbase has grown. I really don’t see the league over-marketing itself as family friendly. There are going to be kids at the stadium—I bring mine. There are over 18,000 seats to fill every week. I think it’s a vocal minority of people who are overly concerned with the “vibe” at the stadium with having families there and how they perceive that as a slight against their Utopian vision of how things should be at PPL Park.

Who knows, we may get to the point in the future when all 18,000 plus fans are standing and singing in unison, but realistically, that is going to take time. You can’t mandate tradition and you shouldn’t poison the well by alienating the people spending their time and money to regularly support the Union, families or not. Life is stressful enough without worrying about these things. Just enjoy the game.

No more streamers for the Tammany Saints.

PSP: Supporters group threads on forums like Big Soccer often have long (and heated) discussions about the difference in acceptable behavior between sanctioned supporters sections such as the River End and everywhere else in the stadium. What has gone on in your section that you thought was not appropriate? For example, how do the Tammany Saints feel about waving flags and banners or standing during the game?

AR: Our rules are simple: Support the Union. Respect other fans. Don’t break stadium rules.

I love standing, but as stated, 101 is not a standing section, so it would be wrong for us or anyone to mandate that everyone should stand—that will take place slowly over several seasons. I’d love flag waving too, but first we’d have to get permission from the Front Office since we’re not in the River End.

Full disclosure: We were the ones busted for throwing streamers, so we did break a rule, even though it went unenforced most of the season up to that point. We then switched to confetti. We have members in other sections and they carry themselves the way that particular section carries itself—our members in the River End jump, shout, sing and yell just like everyone else.

PSP: Tell me about organizing pre-game tailgating. Is there a danger that tailgating might make adhering to your mission statement more difficult?

AR: We have had some great tailgates and hope to have many more. None have ever gotten out of control. We’re a pretty laid back group in the parking lot. If someone is not adhering to our mission statement, then common sense will prevail and someone will ask the person to cool off a bit.

PSP: What kind of activities outside of the matchday at PPL does your group organize?

AR: Not many and that’s mostly intentional. We’re having a viewing party at Kildare’s with the IllegitimateS in Manayunk for the first game and we’ll likely plan something when we play New York Red Bulls. If someone in the group wanted to organize more road trips or other events that would be great. But between family, friends and work, I don’t have the time to set up road trips. I never want this supporters group to be like a part time job for me. Like I said, I hope that our group is able to set up the framework for our section to feel like a cohesive unit and it will grow from there. It’s as much about forming a cohesive section as it is an ideology.

PSP: You have a variety of merchandise available through Bark Tees and Cafe Press. Can you tell me about the importance of the merchandise to the organization?

AR: If you’re going to support the team and the section, you may as well look good. We try to have the best gear at PPL and have some great shirts and a nice scarf lined up for this campaign, all of which are featured on the blog. Wearing our stuff is an outward sign of the support of what we stand for.

PSP: What is the money raised from the sale of merchandise used for?

AR: All profits are put back into the group to defray the cost of shirts, membership cards, banners, tailgate supplies, etc.

PSP: Do you aim to be officially recognized by the Union? What would you hope to achieve by gaining such recognition?

AR: If the front office wants to recognize us as an official supporters group, we would be very appreciative of that honor. If not, that’s fine too. We’re just going to do what we do.

All images: Courtesy of the Tammany Saints

11 Comments

  1. I think the TAMMANY SAINTS are amazing! I love what they bring to PPL Park! I hope they stick around and do their thing for a long long time.

    p.s. IF you look at the Virtual Viewer/Seat Locator you will see the Corners are Designated for fans who like to stand OFTEN.

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  3. Thank you, PSP, for introducing me to the Tammany Saints. I moved to 101 this year from 114. TS seem to be a perfect fit. That’s not to say that I don’t love the SoBs. Like Armando said, w/o them we likely would not have a team to support. It’s great to see other groups sprouting up all over PPL – E pluribus unum. Or if you prefer – Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno.

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  6. Thanks for talking about the other supporter groups. I sit in 101 & didn’t they were behind me. I am stoked about the season & hope to help get more folks on their feet & chanting with the saints.

  7. i FINALLY was able to get to a match last October and sat in section… 101. I had no idea there was a supporters group based there and it was great learning of them here, as well the other groups focused-on this past week, on the PSP. I’ll be looking-into the Tammany Saints a bit more as a result of this article… Thanks! 🙂

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