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The other supporters groups: The IllegitimateS

Our series on alternative Union supporters groups continues with the IllegitimateS. Members of the IllegitimateS are mainly located in section 133 in the northeast corner of PPL Park, the section of the park otherwise reserved for away supporters. And that’s the point—the IllegitimateS exist to ensure that away supporters never get away with taking over the Corner and out-chanting the Union faithful. While their more confrontational—though in no way violent—style has resulted in misunderstandings on the part of some of the hired security at PPL, the IllegitimateS remain undaunted in their mission to “Defend the Corner.” IllegitimateS founders Jeffrey Mitchell and Kenny Hanson talked with the PSP about the origins of the group, their inspirations and philosophy of support, the efforts they are making to ensure better understanding with hired security, networking with other supporters groups, the support they have received from Union players and much more.

Philly Soccer Page: Did you play soccer growing up? Do you play now?

Jeffrey Mitchell: I played soccer growing up, but only until I was about 10 and then I switched over to baseball exclusively. It was more to do with most of the kids in the neighborhood being into baseball and not soccer. I play a few pick up games now and again, but nothing organized.

Kenny Hanson: Yes, I played soccer my whole life until college. I was offered a few Division 2 scholarships, but actually decided to be on the Debate Team at the University of South Carolina, instead. I recently started playing indoor soccer, unfortunately, that was cut very short when I tore my right Achilles tendon during the first game of the season, but I will be back out there in 8-12 months!

PSP: Your website says the IllegitimateS were founded after the first game at PPL Park. Who founded the group? What prompted the founding?

JM: I guess it would be more accurate to say that we were founded during the first game at PPL Park. I had chosen my seats to be as close to the away support as possible. I wanted to be in an intense almost European atmosphere for games. Seattle brought about thirty, maybe fifty supporters and we in Section 133 became united in our hatred for the Emerald City Supporters trying to come into our house and take it over. Immediately after the game I went on Big Soccer and started the “Calling all members of Section133” thread and started the Facebook page. I wanted to organize. I never wanted to be caught off guard when the bigger away support showed up to PPL.

KH: I think Jeff is right about this. He started it right after the game. During the match, it was clear that the section started to unify, but for the most part, we were still just individuals attending Union matches. I think we really came together after “The Arrests in 133.” At that time it was clear we needed to stick together and we have continued to do so ever since.

PSP: I’m a little unclear about how one joins the IllegitimateS. Is there a membership fee, for example? Do IllegitimateS members have to sit in section 133?

JM: Anyone can be an Illegitimate. We love the Sons of Ben and are in their debt for bringing a team to Philly, but when you sit outside the River End there is a bit of a disconnect. Even physically, the River End is almost an island in the middle of PPL. Most of us in 133 are card-carrying Sons of Ben who wanted to sit near the away support for atmosphere and felt like bastard Sons of Ben. Which became the Illegitimate Sons of Ben. Which became The IllegitimateS.

There is no membership. It is more of a way of life, like punk rock music. The only requirements are supporting the Union and standing at matches. Illegitimates definitely don’t have to sit in our section and we welcome anyone that supports the U to join us or to organize their own section into a supporters group. Like the Tammany Saints—who actually predate us—the Corner Creeps, Local 136 and the Bridge Crew, etc.

KH: Anyone can become a member of the Illegitimates. It is a mindset, a way of life. It is something that when you wake up in the morning you think about and is the last thing that crosses your mind before you go to bed. It is nothing that you can see, it is something that you feel.  You can’t “learn” or “apply” to be an Illegitimate. You either are or are not. To steal a portion of a quote from one of my favorite movies—“Shit man, I’m a natural born Illegitimate”.

Sitting in the section is not a prerequisite, as Jeff said. We welcome anyone!

Defending the Corner.

PSP: Is it true that some of the original members of the IllegitimateS may not have known that section 133 is reserved for away support?

JM: I wouldn’t say IllegitimateS didn’t know about Section133 being reserved for away support, but a lot of casual fans in our section, families, had no idea. We actually felt really bad for the families with small kids and would give up seats closer to the field so more active members of 133 could move back and create a safe barrier between them and away fans.

KH: This is actually true to some extent. I personally was unaware that the away support was going to be in 133. I’m not sure how many other people didn’t know, but I embraced it. My wife and I decided to sit there so we could feed off the energy that the SoB’s bring to every game. Luckily, we got a bonus and met some really awesome people in the process. I can’t wait to do it all over again starting on March 26.

PSP: How many members does your group currently have?

JM: Honestly I cannot put a number on it. I don’t think any of us really know. I do know that we have a huge following on our Facebook group and our website, Section133.com. What we do isn’t even about numbers, or money, it’s about supporting our team. It’s about having a good time.

KH: No idea. The way Jeff markets our section, you would think we have thousands of members, but honestly, we have absolutely no idea.

PSP: What sets you apart from groups such as the Sons of Ben, the Tammany Saints or the Bridge Crew?

JM: I don’t think we do much differently from any of those groups.

KH: We are all there to support the Union. I do not really know the structure of the other groups, but the one thing I really like about the IllegitimateS is that there is no hierarchy. There is no single leader, we are all leaders. We pride ourselves on the fact that everyone has a voice. My guess is that the other groups are very similar, but I am just not familiar enough with the design of them.

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

JM: Things definitely started out rocky. We got a lot of hate from individual members of the Sons of Ben at first—I don’t know if they thought we were trying to rival them or challenge them. But, the Sons of Ben as an organization have been very good to us. The Elders have taken us in and included us in a lot of important events. They even helped us establish a dialogue with the Front Office of the Union.

Sticking it to the Red Bulls

The Corner Creeps and Tammany Saints have been instrumental in our development. Damian Cusumano of the Corner Creeps actually designed our logo—free of charge—and they tailgate right next to us in Lot C. I think we have a strong bond with them, because section 134 is right next to the away support. They know what we’re dealing with. They join us in chants against the away support.

As for the Tammany Saints they were the inspiration for me to try to start our own group. Before I saw them online I figured it was the Sons of Ben or nothing. Then I saw a photo with a group of ten people with shirts, scarves and a manifesto. I was instantly inspired to organize. Since then Mark Jenkinson and Armando Rios of the Saints have helped me get the website off the ground and are now partnering with us on Events outside PPL.

KH: Originally, it started out rocky. We truly felt like outcasts and couldn’t figure out why. There were many personal attacks about the people in 133, which was odd, because none of these people even knew who we were. Over time, it got better. More people started coming up to us and verbalizing their support. At the present moment, I feel like we have a good relationship with all of the supporter Groups. The SoB’s have offered support to us on many different levels. Nick Cefelli—he was the one who brought the large Monster Energy Drinks signs during the New York Red Bulls game—has been instrumental in our success and has been able to get us in on a bi-monthly call with section reps in the River End. Matt Ansboro, Bryan James and several others have reached out to us recently and we feel that the relationship is in a good place right now. But we want to continue to build it, just like we want to do with all the other groups.

PSP: The Code of Conduct on your website is pretty short and sweet: “You don’t run, not when you’re with us…You stand your ground and fight!… Well not FIGHT, but definitely STAND…and Sing & Chant…and Drink Beers. ” What crosses the line?

JM: The code of conduct is actually a tongue in cheek reference to Green Street Hooligans, which for some is some fantasy about what being a football supporter is all about. We took the quote and modified it to fit our beliefs.

We think the atmosphere should be tense. We love the give and take of chanting face to face with away support. We don’t even mind the swearing or middle finger making appearances. What crosses the line to us is when things get physical. We really only had one problem with fights in 133, which is a small miracle considering passion and booze are mixing every week. But we ended up losing a few of our most loyal guys. In the end it isn’t worth it. Keep the fight on the pitch and keep the chants in the stands.

KH: When it gets physical, the line is crossed. We think “talking smack” is fair game, but in no way is violence acceptable.

PSP: The mission statement on your Facebook page says “Our Purpose is to Defend Section 133 from the AWAY Supporters of ALL other MLS Clubs.” What do you mean by this? How does the typical IllegitimateS member “defend” section 133?

JM: Defending the Corner is simple: You come to PPL, stand in Section133 and Chant and sing over the away Support. You completely nullify them. There is nothing more embarrassing to a club or its supporters than having away fans take over your stadium. We will not let that happen at PPL Park.

KH: Our goal is to act is a buffer between the away support and the rest of PPL. This is our home, not theirs. We want the River End to set the stage for creating a loud atmosphere and our job is to make sure it isn’t the away support.

PSP: Your Facebook avatar has the IllegitimateS crest superimposed over a Union Jack in Philadelphia Union colors. 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?

JM: We are inspired by “English-style” Support. Most of us are huge fans of different Premiership clubs. None of us could bring ourselves to support an MLS team that wasn’t in Philly so for the first 15 years of it’s existence we looked across the pond for a team. “English-style” support to me means being spontaneous. I have nothing against the Sons of Ben, but some of our favorite chants come from people making stuff up in the middle of games and shouting it out. I understand why the River End has Capos, but, in the end, it seems a little strange. Most of them don’t even get to watch the matches. I also don’t get the drums. There is an ongoing debate in 133 over drums, but to me there is nothing better than the sound of handclaps.

I just love the organized chaos of 133. We try to keep it organic. Some chants are masterpieces and some get booed by our fellow members. I love that I hear a new chant at every match, good or bad.

I wanted to add a little background on our logo. William Franklin was Benjamin Franklin’s illegitimate son. We use him on our logo in front of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. William was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War and was hated by his father. This is the reason we adopted the “Union” Jack in Philadelphia Colors.

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

JM: I think what makes us truly Philadelphian is the fact that our group is founded as much on love of our team as it is on hatred of everybody else. To me that is Philadelphia. Why do we hate you? Because, you’re not from Philly. It’s that simple.

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.?

JM: I try not to worry about it, because in the end there isn’t anything I can do about it. We do our best to set a good example. In the end no matter what you do there are always going to be bad apples.

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

JM: A fan is someone who follows a team. They love the team they keep track of the players etc. A supporter is someone who lives and dies by each game. A supporter is gutted for the rest of the week after a loss. A supporter is on cloud nine for a week after a game. To me a supporter is someone who refers to the team as “We”— “We” beat the Red Bulls to finish the season. A spectator is someone who is on the outside looking in. Someone who won tickets, or someone who was brought to a game, but doesn’t care about the results.

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 IllegitimateS in this debate?

JM: We think it is stupid to debate. If the fans want to do it they will. If they get bored of it, they will stop. The more of an “issue” it becomes the more “controversial” it becomes. My belief is that if the Front Office didn’t draw a line in the sand over it the chant would’ve died out. We in 133 don’t do it all the time, but the chant does come out from time to time. As a parent myself my kid is being taught right and wrong at home and will be unaffected by a swear word in public.

Just trying to have a good time, sir.

PSP: In the Section 133 thread on Big Soccer, there are several accounts of members having problems with security. What is your relationship like with security at PPL Park?

JM: We really don’t have a formal relationship with security. One of our goals for this season is to form a relationship with CSC. The biggest problem with security in 2010 was the APEX Security fiasco. It seems that we weren’t the only ones who thought so. Almost everyone is in universal agreement about APEX.

We also had some problems during the Red Bulls Game. There seemed to be a bit of nerves coming from security who proceeded to eject people almost at random. My brother was kicked out without even being given a reason for his ejection. He is my younger brother and I know people just think I am sticking up for family, but trust me, I would be the first one to call him out if he was being out of control. To this day we have never gotten an explanation as to why he was removed.

KH: Currently, we have no relationship with security. This is something I am working on very vigorously. I saw several acts of unacceptable ejections and even arrests. The problem is that, during games when there is a lot of away support, security doesn’t understand that verbal jabbing is part of the game. They take it as a likelihood of physical contact, which isn’t true. I will do everything in my power to make sure that season ticket holders in 133 do not have the worry about being ejected or even worse, arrested, without warrant or cause. I feel that this is the one area where the Front Office really dropped the ball. There have been several people whose lives have been ruined by charges from the Chester Police Department. If we are going to be successful in keeping the stadium full, the Front Office must protect their fans. I don’t feel this happened last year.I hoped they learned.

Le Toux (il)legit to quit

PSP: Some of your members have resigned their season tickets in protest over what they saw as the IllegitimateS being singled out for harassment and ejection by security. Does losing supporters for this reason worry you? Should it worry the Union?

JM: My personal belief is that we were targeted at first as troublemakers. It seemed as though the powers that be were more concerned with away support than their own season ticket holders, but that is just one man’s opinion. I think the Union did a pretty good job with most things considering it was their first year in operation and I hope they continue to work with us, and the rest of the fans, in 2011.

KH: I won’t be as PC as Jeff—that is why he handles the marketing. There is absolutely no question that there were members of 133 singled out by security. Not the Front Office, but security. They would target people that were loud and tag them as troublemakers. There was this perception that people in 133 wanted to do nothing but fight and cause trouble. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. We are mostly laid-back individuals who want to have fun at the matches.

This most certainly should worry the Union Front Office if they do not try to resolve some of the issues we had last year. Jeff, Nick and I will be working on a way to solve this problem in the next few weeks. We are hoping to meet with security heads and have a stronger dialogue with them.

PSP: During the match against Chicago in September, six IllegitimateS were arrested. What happened?

JM: I feel like it is not my place to speak on behalf of other parties. There is a huge thread about it on Big Soccer. My personal opinion is that the situation was blown out of proportion. I feel that passion and alcohol fueled both sides of this situation and it could have been handled better than it was.

KH: Way overblown. I will not speak for the members that were involved in this situation, but the charges that were brought against these individuals were absolutely ridiculous. The Union lost some very passionate supporters that day, but we will work with the Front Office and security to make sure issues like this do not happen again.

PSP: What is your relationship like with the Union Front Office? Do you have regular contact with someone there?

JM: Our dealings with the Front Office are handled by Kenny. I mostly handle our interactions online.

KH: I would say we have a very positive relationship with the Front Office. The individuals I deal with are very upfront with me. They know where we are coming from and I know where they are coming from. Unfortunately, we do not always agree on every issue, but we try to work though them and come up with a solution. They have a business to run, I understand that, but we are paying customers and we appreciate them listening to us on a regular basis. I feel I can call our contacts there anytime and they are always willing to speak with me. I hope to continue that relationship and really focus on this security issue this season. In addition, the Sons of Ben have been helping us out in this area as well. I hope things continue to move forward in a positive manner.

Facebook fan

PSP: How have Union Players reacted to you?

JM: Union players have been great to Section 133. They always make sure to stop by the Corner for autographs after games. They’ve commented on our Facebook Page and talked about how much they appreciate us sticking it to the away support. We’ve even recently had Sheanon Williams reach out to us for a charity endeavor.

My favorite personal moment was Sebastien Le Toux kissing my then one-month-old son Benjamin Franklin Mitchell on the head at a meet & greet at Best Buy. I gave him the IllegitimateS shirt off my back for that! The newest player to show love for 133 is Home Grown Player Zach Pfeffer. He sent us a great photo of himself with his IllegitmateS Shirt from Barktees.com.

PSP: How about visiting players?

JM: We’ve had some great reactions from away players. They seem to hate coming over to take corners, because 133 and 134 team up on them. We’ve even had nasty looks as the away teams come over to applaud the away support who have come to cheer them on. It fuels us to make them feel unwelcome.

PSP: In October, season ticket holders in Section 133 were asked to fill out a survey about the section. What was learned from the survey?

KH: What was learned was that almost everyone that filled out the survey supported our right to stand and chant during the matches and many of them wanted to join us in front of the away support. I think there were ten total accounts that thought we needed to sit down. They are no longer season ticket holders in 133. We feel we have strong support from the members in our section and we are very thankful for that support.

PSP: Many people feel that the placement of away support so close to the River End almost invites trouble. While recognizing that the IllegitmateS represent Union supporters who specifically want a more confrontational, albeit not violent, interaction with away support, how do you think the Union could better situate away supporters to minimize bad incidents?

JM: I think this is actually the best placement for everyone. Imagine having a group of obnoxious away supporters sitting in a section with families who showed up to a game with no idea of who they would be sitting with? Right now the Union have the most passionate fans of both the home and away teams all in the River End and can concentrate security there. It just makes sense. Anyone looking for a fight is going to find one regardless of where you sit them.

PSP: Tell me about organizing pre-game tailgating. How important is tailgating to the group?

JM: Tailgating is something that has slowly grown as the group has grown. In the beginning it was a few guys from the section with a cooler and a grill. By the end of the year we had our flag raised in Lot C and would chant and march to the stadium as a group like the Sons of Ben. We hope to further organize tailgating in 2011. In 2010 it was very informal.

KH: Tailgating is very important. It gives us a chance to bond with each other. The thing I love about our group is that there are so many people that would have never hung out together without Section 133. We come from all walks of life. We were thrown in to 133 as individuals, but have emerged as friends. I look forward to the tailgates, because so many different people come out and everyone is welcome. It is normally pretty chill, very rarely is there anyone getting rowdy. It is just a bunch of U supporters having fun.

PSP: Is there a danger that tailgating might make adhering to your mission statement more difficult?

JM: I think with alcohol there are always going to be idiots There were drunken fights all around PPL Park last year. You don’t have to be part of a supporters group to do something stupid. The Phillies have no supporters groups and had loads of incidents in 2010. So I don’t think tailgating will cause any trouble for us. I can guarantee that no one from section 133 will puke on a kid or run on the field and get tazered in 2011.

PSP: You have a t-shirts available through BarkTees.com. Can you tell me about the importance of merchandise to the organization? How important is such merchandise in terms of establishing an identity for the group? What is the money raised from the sale of merchandise used for?

JM: I think merchandise is huge in terms of establishing an identity for our group. We have a huge presence on the web, but the shirts help get our name on the streets. It’s free advertising for us. Most importantly the t-shirts look cool. As I have mentioned before they were designed by Damian Cusumano of the Corner Creeps.

All money collected, which isn’t a whole lot, is put back into a coffer for the group. We will use it for tailgate supplies and future tifo, as well as for charitable donations.

KH: It is very important from a marketing standpoint. We want like-minded individuals to join us in 133, so getting the word out is important.

The proceeds will go to put on a charity event at the end of the year. We are inspired by what the SoB’s do for the community. Section 133 is full of individuals that want to give back to society. We hope to have a large event to raise money for charity and would like everyone to join us.

Union Zach digs the IllegitimateS

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

JM: Right now we are working on our Season KickOff Party at Kildare’s in Manayunk. We are hoping to turn this into the hangout of The IllegitimateS and Tammany Saints. We are also looking to establish ourselves in the community through charity. As I said earlier, Sheanon Williams reached out to us about a run for charity. We also participate in a lot of Sons of Ben functions. If it weren’t for them we would have no team. If we had no team we would have no Section133. We helped in a small way at the Sons of Ben Help Kick Hunger Event and will also be at the Sons of Ben Night at the Flyers.

PSP: Do the IllegitimateS plan to travel to away games to support the Union, particularly against New York Red Bulls and DC United?

JM: I will definitely be traveling to both New York and DC this year. I would also like to get to New England, but it might be hard with the new baby around.

KH: Yes, I personally plan to attend a few away games this year. I will have to wait until the schedule comes out, but the DC and Red Bulls games are a must.

PSP: Can you tell me about why you decided in September not to pursue becoming an officially recognized supporters group?

JM: The main reason we decided not to pursue becoming officially recognized was the front office said they would have to move us. There is some MLS rule about seating away and home supporters in the same section. In the end none of us wanted to move.

KH: If we were “official”, it would be hard to pull off the whole Illegitimate thing. We were told that MLS will not allow a “recognized” supporters group in the same section as the away support. We have no desire to have the away group moved. We like them right where they are.

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

JM: If it means moving from 133 and away from away supporters then we would rather not be recognized. We have actually gotten informal recognition from Matt Ansboro and the Sons of Ben and now have open discussion with them and the Front Office. Being recognized would really only be a formality now. We love the way things are and hope only to make things bigger and better as we progress. Perhaps we can take over section 132, as well!

KH: Recognition means nothing to us. We can be “recognized” but not be “official,” I guess. All this recognition, and official and supporter and supporter group stuff gives me a headache. I’m happy just how we are.

All images courtesy of the IllegitimateS.

7 Comments

  1. Pingback: PhillySoccerPage : The IllegitimateS | Section133 : The IllegitimateS

  2. Thanks for posting such a great article about section 133. I was an un-official supporter that now has an offical home defending the corner for 2011. I am excited for the group and to help cheer the Union to a successful season. Go the U!

    If you are considering joining 133, please do… I bring the veggie trays to the tailgates (fancy, lol)! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Philly Soccer Page – The IllegitimateS « Tammany Saints Supporters Group

  4. Pingback: Sheanon Williams: The MVP of 133 | Section133 : The IllegitimateS

  5. Pingback: The Philly Soccer Page » PSP’s Best of 2011 Awards

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