Enter the phrase “Philly fans” into Google, and you will come to learn that the City of Brotherly Love sometimes engenders anything but love. From hurling batteries to booing a Santa Claus, Philly fans rarely are regarded as compassionate.
But the Sons of Ben proved that Philly fans defy the negative stereotypes when the supporters group brought over 150 people out on Saturday night during the MLS SuperDraft Weekend for the charity event Help Kick Hunger.
“It’s Saturday night, people have other things they could be doing but supporting this cause brought out more people tonight than we have at our average tailgate, and I think that just shows the softer side of what people say is crazy soccer people,” said Meg Torpey, a Sons of Ben member since 2009.
The cause is one that hits close to home for many Union fans as all proceeds from Help Kick Hunger will be donated to the Bernadine Center, an outreach social service agency that helps support low-income Chester residents, located in close proximity to PPL Park.
Since the Sons of Ben’s founding, the supporters group has raised nearly $20,000 for the Bernadine Center. In addition to monetary contributions, the Sons of Ben encourages fans to donate canned goods to the center. On Saturday night, Union fans collected over 408 lbs of food for the center’s food cupboard.
Union fans weren’t the only ones eager to make a difference in the community. CEO Nick Sakiewicz, team manager John Hackworth, other front office staff, and Union players — among them Sheanon Williams, Zac MacMath, Danny Cruz, and Jimmy McLaughlin — all attended the event to support the Help Kick Hunger initiative.
“The Union has always supported this cause,” said Ami Oristaglio, the Event Director for the Sons of Ben. “They are a major player in Chester. They understand what’s going on in their community,”
The players in particular showed their commitment to the cause as several of them donated not only autographed memorabilia but “player experiences” as well.
“Instead of just winning some autographed items, you now have the opportunity to go to Barcade with Danny Califf and play some games, you have the opportunity to go with Sebastian LeToux to Dave & Busters, Ray Gaddis did an experience with us and Danny Cruz is doing one,” said Oristaglio.
The event, which was held at the Field House in the Philadelphia Convention Center, also brought out families with children who were eager to meet the players.
Earlier in the night, many of those in attendance viewed a sneak preview of Sons of Ben: The Movie at Drexel University. The documentary following the Son’s of Ben’s effort to bring a Major League Soccer team to Philadelphia will be released later this year. The room, which was packed to capacity, was filled with many of the men and woman who are responsible for bringing a soccer team to Philly.
Hooliganism and senseless acts of racism have, to a certain extent, compromised the global image of soccer fans. This negative characterization, coupled by the reputation of Philadelphia sports fanatics, forms a potentially frightening hybrid in the Philadelphia Union fan.
Saturday night testified to what the Sons of Ben and Philadelphia Union fans are really about: They are responsible for bringing MLS to a city that otherwise wouldn’t have a soccer team and are willing to help make a difference in a community that is often under-served and largely ignored.
“Philadelphia is small still as a city and that gives us the opportunity to really reconnect with what we are all about,” said Oristaglio. “We use the term ‘brotherly love’ and people can say whatever they want — they can tell us we are the worst fans in the world and we might give you a hard time — but if we need to take care of our own, I think that is something Philly does very well and this community especially has come out and done that very well. It’s a strong gathering…That just shows you we are all in this together,”
Look for our photo essay from HKH on Tuesday.