Sons of Ben Dressed Down by GQ; How Much of It Was Deserved?

British GQ recently ran a profile of the Philadelphia Union’s “Sons of Ben” supporters group that’s very much making the rounds in the soccer blogosphere, mostly because the mag takes the fans to task for being a watered-down version of the English fans they are supposedly modeled after.

As you’d expect from a glossy mag like BGQ, the piece is well-written and entertaining enough; but then so are the responses to the article. Chief among these retorts: Philly Union Talk’s passionate ‘Open Letter to Andrew Hankinson‘ and Run of Play’s excellent take on how this cultural examination of fandom ultimately misses its mark.

My own take on the Sons of Ben, as portrayed in the article? I found two things galling from the perspective of an American soccer fan.

One, diehard soccer fans skipping a match to watch “the baseball”? From the article:

Sons of Ben founder and president, Bryan James, is watching the baseball; capo Rivera is watching the baseball; capo Furlan is watching the baseball along with who knows how many others. Naioti isn’t watching it because he’s from upstate New York and supports the Boston Red Sox.

I personally try not to get too high and mighty about my own soccer fandom, but I couldn’t imagine skipping a match to watch a baseball game, even a playoff game. It’s fine that James, Rivera, etc. didn’t go to Columbus for the away match. But to watch baseball over a soccer match? That doesn’t call into question their allegiances to the Union, it questions their true opinions of the sport itself. But, in their defense, the Phillies were in the playoffs, so it was probably (hopefully) more of a party thing than a sports thing. I can only hope they missed the first four innings of the Phillies game — and given baseball’s dreadful pace, that’s all they would have had to skip, if that much — to watch the Crew-Union match.

The second target of my ire is soccer fans continuing to insist that we call it “football” in the U.S. From the article:

We pick up Dave Remm at his office near Harrisburg, two hours from Philadelphia. Remm is a 30-year-old haulage-services salesman. He plays football with Naioti at weekends (they tell me not to call it soccer, as they’re very conscious of being proper football supporters, no matter how confusing it gets). He looks like an overgrown boy and he chews tobacco. I help him lift two crates of beer into the boot. He says someone is bringing a drum. I ask if they’re ever discreet.

Guys, sorry, but you live in America. It’s soccer, not football. As stateside fans, we really need to celebrate those things that make our version of the game unique, not try to adopt every aspect of the European version. We already have “football” here. It’s played primarily with the hands, it’s wildly popular, it’s incredibly violent, and it has more stops and starts in it than a 16-year-old learning to drive a car with a clutch.

We play soccer here. You root for a Major League Soccer team. Wear all the bovver boots and bomber jackets you want, but do it in the name of celebrating a sport, not just to upset the order of the sports, and social, hierarchy.

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  1. Thanks for the mention of our article at Philly Union Talk. You are a true American Soccer fan and we love that! Feel free to contact us anytime, perhaps even for a guest post on our site. Thanks again!

  2. Right, as one of the skinheads mentioned in the article, whose rebuttal was published by GQ’s website and Matchfit USA, I’ll restate again: Our fashion has nothing to do with being anglophiles or our soccer support. We happen to be skinheads who like soccer. We aren’t skinheads because we like soccer and we don’t like soccer because we’re skinheads.

  3. I think being an ‘ultra’ in any country has never been about the sport in question but about gang mentality. Soccer just happens to be a central theme to rally around.

    Another point (most notably made to me by Steven Cohen of World Soccer Daily) is that the unique thing about being a soccer fan in American is that you can ferociously support your club then share a beer at halftime with the opposition supporters.

    I’m also keenly aware of British journalists not having an issue with making Americans look silly.

  4. The Phillies game was Saturday night and the Union game was Sunday afternoon. I had tickets to the NLCS and didn’t miss any of the Union disaster in Columbus on television.

    The dude was being a jackass mentioning that because often in England, the fans are one sport fans. Would I choose another team over the Union? No. Do I travel to every road game? No.

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