I was listening to the 2012 State of the League conference call last week, in which Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber was discussing the role that supporters clubs have played in transforming the league into the blossoming entity it is today. Garber mentioned how soccer-specific stadiums came about because the league recognized the need for a place that these fans could call home, not merely visit for a 90-minute event. He talked about the activism of supporters clubs, giving back to their local communities, which helps strengthen both the team’s and the league’s ties to their host cities. He even cited the Sons of Ben, for contributing to the design of the Philadelphia Union’s PPL Park.
And that’s around the time I received an email inviting me to have a look at a trailer for a documentary about the Sons of Ben, the Philadelphia Union’s supporters club. Serendipity? Or very well-timed marketing?
Either way, this film looks fantastic (see the trailer below). It’s called The Sons of Ben Movie (though I think Shaka Zolos would have been a better title), and is scheduled to be released in 2013.
I was somewhat familiar with the Sons of Ben story because they were the first supporters club created before the actual team, successfully lobbying the league and city officials to award Philadelphia a franchise. I’ve been a close observer of the Borough Boys, who were founded 10 months to the day after the Sons of Ben and have taken a similar approach, lobbying for an MLS franchise here in New York City.
Thirteen months after the Sons of Ben began their campaign, the city of Philadelphia was awarded the 16th MLS franchise. Two years after that, in 2010, they were on-hand to christen the new PPL Park in Chester, Pa., where the Philadelphia Union played their first home game.
But, like their namesake, Benjamin Franklin, there’s more to the Sons of Ben than meets the eye. For example, when the Union chose to build the stadium in Chester, an infamously sketchy suburb of Philadelphia, many were alarmed. Chester is an impoverished community, struggling with crime, drugs, and unemployment. But rather than throw a tantrum, as many Old World supporters groups might, the Sons of Ben decided to do something about it – something positive. Through their own philanthropic initiatives, they set out to help transform Chester into the kind of place you’d want to go visit for a soccer game. And that tells you a lot about who these folks are.
The Sons of Ben Movie is their story, from the beginning. And in some ways, it’s the story of MLS, and American soccer in general. For the love of the game, and the passion of countless unrecognized individuals, we are where we are today – despite the odds having been against us for so long.
Of course, in many ways, it’s still an uphill battle. And no one knows that better than someone trying to make a soccer documentary. The folks behind The Sons of Ben Movie are trying to raise additional funds to finish the project and get it in theaters, or at least at the festivals. So if you’d like to see the movie, I encourage you to make whatever donation you can to support it. Just as in real life, if the fans take action, good things will happen!