Beginning today, Sons of Ben: The Movie is available for purchase on DVD. Click here to purchase a copy.
We make myths and legends about ourselves, where we come from and how we’ve gotten to where we are, stories about who we are to inspire us to become who we want to be.
Often enough, these myths and legends take on a life of their own and, in the course of re-telling, bear little fidelity to the truths of our origin.
The founding myth of the Philadelphia Union is that it was called into being by a small group of dedicated fans who not only believed the crowded Philadelphia sports market would support a MLS team, they believed Philadelphia deserved its own professional soccer team.
Sons of Ben: The Movie makes clear the legend of the Union’s founding is fact.
It really was just a small group of believers — several times in the film the number is put at 10 or 20 people — who formed the core of a supporters group that would grow into thousands.
They were Philly sports fans who were also soccer fans. They were dogged in their persistence. They were articulate in their message. And they were inspired in the humor that ran through the stunts they pulled to gain attention to their fundamental message: Philadelphia deserves a MLS team.
Thankfully, they were also smart enough to document themselves in the process. The audacity of some of their campaign efforts made sure others were documenting them too.
Deftly utilizing such footage, Sons of Ben: The Movie director Jeffrey Bell is also smart enough to forgo the use of a narrator and let the Sons of Ben tell their own story, principally through interviews with Bryan James, Corey Furlan, Brad Youtz, and Dan Gorman. It’s a powerful combination of smart and brash storytellers who movingly humanize the founding legend as they describe the challenges they faced, and the sacrifices they made, along the way.
Sons of Ben: The Movie also manages to humanize Philadelphia Union Chief Executive Officer and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz, who recounts another founding legend, that of starting the club with his American Express card. But Sakiewicz also makes clear it was the dedication and spirit of the Sons of Ben that convinced him to do so. It may be hard for some Union fans to believe now, but there was a time when Sakiewicz could stand in front of 750 Sons of Ben members and be cheered to the rafters (and not just because he was picking up the bar tab).
Interviews with other observers and participants in the work that went into bringing a MLS franchise to Philadelphia — journalists and local sports radio personalities, government officials — flesh out the story. There is real tension in the film as the uncertainty that led up to MLS awarding Philadelphia a franchise is recalled. Would state and local officials provide the funding necessary to build a soccer stadium in, of all places, Chester (even if PSP readers know Chester’s soccer roots run as deep as the 1880s)? That tension only deepens when the impact of the global economic crisis that happened around the same time is recounted, a crisis that resulted in further uncertainty about whether the team’s financial backers remained solvent enough to see the project through.
Through all of this, the Sons of Ben remained resolute in their message: Philadelphia deserves a MLS team.
And in 2010, that team took to the field for the first time.
It would seem natural for the Union playing its first game at PPL Park to be the end of the story Sons of Ben: The Movie tells. But here’s the thing: It’s a film about the Sons of Ben, not the Philadelphia Union. And as Sons of Ben: The Movie makes clear, in advocating for a soccer team, the Sons of Ben also became advocates for Chester.
It is plain to everyone the waterfront redevelopment that was supposed to accompany the building of PPL Park still has not come to pass. The economic crisis saw to that. And while Chester’s problems still run deep, the Sons of Ben’s commitment to being good neighbors remains strong in its annual Help Kick Hunger campaign and support of volunteer-based soccer programs in the community.
Of course, Philadelphia Union fans also know the team’s ongoing struggles on the field run deep, and it is easy to forget the heady jubilation that accompanied the team’s early promise. Along the way, The Sons of Ben’s original message of “Philadelphia deserves a MLS team,” has been replaced by “We deserve better.”
Regardless, the fact remains that a small group of believers did everything they could possibly think of to make the dream of a Philadelphia MLS team a reality, and they did this despite the doubters and the haters, sacrificing their own time and money, sometimes putting the bonds of family and personal career advancement at risk.
I have never been a member of the Sons of Ben. I was not with those founding members making the sacrifices they made as they worked to bring a MLS team to Philadelphia, doing so basically through sheer force of will. Watching Sons of Ben: The Movie makes me regret I was not there, for they fought the good fight and, goddamn it, they won. And every time Philadelphia Union takes the field, whatever the result, they win again. We all do.
Let me be plain: If you are a fan of the Philadelphia Union, whether you are a Sons of Ben member or not, you should own a copy of this film (and if the Union are smart, they will include a DVD of the film in every season ticket package for 2016). Every employee of the Union — players, coaching and technical staff, front office personnel — should own a copy of this film. So should every member of the Union’s ownership group. If you hate the Union and support another MLS team, or only watch teams from abroad, you should own a copy of this film. If you simply think soccer has a place in this city, in this country, you should own a copy of this film.
Because Sons of Ben: The Movie is a film about the power of belief. And we could all use some more of that.