In a city renowned for passionate sports fans, Philadelphia Union’s Sons of Ben (SOB) supporter group is elbowing for space. Founded in 2007—a full two years before Philadelphia was even awarded an MLS team—the SOB fanbase are a dedicated spread of soccer aficionados named after Ben Franklin and whose moniker, SOB, intentionally doubles as “Son of a Bitch.”
Their mission is double fold: to support their local MLS team, and to do it with a distinctly Philadelphian flair.
Picture drums, smoke bombs, songs, and chants in the stands. Picture tailgates by the river with views of New Jersey. Imagine road trips to away games up and down the East Coast. Think about the dedication behind a supporter section that started before their team did, lobbying the MLS and the City of Philadelphia to bring them a team.
That’s the Sons of Ben.
Making hearts throb loyal to an MLS team in Philadelphia—where the Eagles, Flyers, Sixers, and Phillies already jockey for hearts and space—is no small task. But that task is the ethos behind the Sons of Ben. And over this recent Fourth of July weekend, the SOB took that task to Nashville, Tennessee.
In the sweltering heat of July 3, a group of 65 marauding Philadelphians landed in Tennessee, looking to acquaint themselves with one of the newest additions to the MLS: Nashville SC. It would be a tight match between a more veteran team negotiating a new season’s challenges, and a team in its second season negotiating its potential toward the top.
The Union won their first trophy in 2020 as recipients of the MLS Supporters Shield, but have since traded a few standout players. For a combined 12 million + across two deals, the Union sent homegrown players Brendan Aaronson to RB Leipzig in Germany, and USMNT player Mark McKenzie to Genk in Belgium. The departures were tactically wise for both player and team, but the Union are now missing a strong presence in pivotal spots.
Nashville SC, on the other hand, launched their inaugural season in a pandemic year. Their first ever season came to a halt just two games into it in April 2020. But when the league resumed, Nashville ended the season respectably with an even record, a final ranking exactly halfway down the Eastern Conference, and a playoff run.
For Nashville SC, questions for their team have more to do with defining their culture and developing their rhythm than upholding any previous standard. For the Philadelphia Union—with 11 years in the league and a distinct philosophy, style of play, and player development culture—the question is how to maintain and progress forward building on their recent success.
The Sons of Ben mission to Nashville would instigate a juxtaposition in fanbases of a similar nature; with traditions old and new meeting on the field in the south.
Fans from Philly— infamous for its rough character—would find themselves in a bright yellow sea of fans from the capital of country, more well known for southern charm.
While Nashville’s internet-controversial and allegedly tacky “Soccer Moses” superfan descended stadium stairs in sneakers, robe and wig to play guitar before his stands, the Sons of Ben stood stadium opposite, singing songs like “No one likes us, and we don’t care.” The contrasts could be felt outward from there.
Fan sections are a canvas where a city’s unique colors come to life. Nashville SC is developing their colors paying homage to Music City’s routes. Their supporter groups adapted names ranging from ‘Music City Heaters’ to ‘Music City Supporters’ to ‘The Mixtape.’ ‘Soccer Moses’ is a guitarist in a successful band who doubles as a soccer prophet on game days. Home matches feature Gibson Guitar Riffs featuring local musicians playing for the stands.
Similarly loyal to the city that sprouted them, the Sons of Ben have developed over 14 years with distinctly Philadelphian roots. Their name itself is a nod toward everyone’s favorite founding father. Their crest pays homage to Philadelphia’s inventions and revolutionary past. The snake symbol adapted by the club derives from the Join or Die flag and political cartoon (Developed by Ben Franklin) lobbying the colonies to band together and fight the Revolutionary War.
In presence they exude something reminiscent of their city as well. How would they describe themselves? Loud, passionate, relentless, and yes, sometimes a bit crass in language, a bit rough around the edges in aesthetic. The Sons of Ben aren’t an unfriendly bunch—quite the opposite in fact— but it wouldn’t be Philadelphia if they didn’t have character and grit.
The crew of 65 Sons of Ben members that traveled to Nashville didn’t get the result they wanted from the match. Nashville SC defeated them 1 to nil, and the absence of a real striker on the Union squad grew ever more apparent. But they walked away from the journey south with a notch in their belts of another kind. They continued to do what they set out to do in 2007; grow a thriving culture of soccer and corresponding supporter families in Philadelphia, and take that pride across the country.
In the coming weeks and months they’ll be back out on the road, traveling up and down the eastern seaboard from New York to Florida, and further afield to Mexico City this August for a Champions League match against Club America. In between the fun and debauchery on the road, you can find them reliably where they thrive most: crowding the river end at Subaru Park cheering on the team they brought to town.
Their tailgates are always open, their stands are always lively, and the Sons of Ben invite the curious and interested to join them on the road or at Subaru Park at any time.
Follow Megan Swanick on Twitter @Meg_Swanick