Interview with Bryan James, founder of Sons of Ben
Formerly the fans without a team, it’s been a long time coming for The SOBs.
The Sons of Ben are a group of soccer fans from Philadelphia whose outspoken support lead to February’s announcement of an MLS expansion team landing to the City of Brotherly Love in 2010. The team will play in a plush new stadium along the Chester waterfront, and fans can already reserve their seat’s on the unnamed squad’s website.
On the Sons of Ben website, the group claims to be about 1500 members strong, and is known for their devotion to traveling to matches (necessary with the lack of a “home” team), where they are sometimes admired for the level of noise and enthusiasm they bring to matches- though they may not be supporting either side on the field.
After the MLS expansion team announcement I sent an email to Sons of Ben founder Bryan James, who put up with the snarky queries to dish some dirt on the supporter’s club for those not in the know:
First things first- give us a glimpse into the future… Two years is a long time for ideas to fester, what are the plans for the Sons of Ben leading up to 2010?
Bryan James: We are planning road trips to US and MLS games and will hopefully an event or two here in Philadelphia before the MLS SuperDraft in January 2010.
Mind summing up your reaction to the news (about getting a team)?
BJ: Amazement, relief, and joy. Probably in that order. In all honesty, it didn’t hit me until the night before the announcement when the ticket deposit emails went out from the team. That day was surreal. Singing “Four Leaf Clover” with the Mummers to open the press conference with 150+ other Sons of Ben was something we will remember for a long time. Nearly every speaker to the podium mentioned the group and I was asked to speak, it was just amazing.
How did the Sons of Ben begin? Why did you decide to form a supporter’s club for a phantom squad?
BJ:We started getting excited about the possibility of the Kansas City franchise moving here in the summer of 2006. Once a local investor was found for the Wizards, there was a core group of us that didn’t want the momentum to die. We even went as far as to create a rough draft logo. I suggested that we have a Jolly Roger that evoked the spirit and history of the area by including a scythe and oar to represent the agricultural and nautical heritage of the city, state, and region. Andy Dillon took my idea and formed it into the logo that we are so proud of today. His hard work and additional contributions of ideas from Dave Flagler and Dan Gorman helped create our brand. With the logo moving along, and a naming choice clear, Sons of Ben (suggested by Ethan Gomberg), I started looking for a web domain. On the day that the previous owner let sonsofben.com lapse, I purchased it. From there, the core group met for a lunch at McGillin’s in Center City Philadelphia and we began to plan for the future.
Job interview time: where do you see the SOBs in 10 years?
BJ:At the World Club Championships cheering for Philadelphia Athletic against Real Madrid. I do think that the brand awareness that we have been able to create is unprecedented and will help Philadelphia have the best atmosphere in MLS.
Have you been thinking of a theme song for the new team in its brand spankin’ new stadium? (If not, may I suggest Elton John’s wildly exciting 70′s disco hit “Philadelphia Freedom” or anything other than the Rocky theme?)
BJ: In August 2006, a group of us were talking about how Philadelphia would support a team. We were discussing drums in the stands when we stumbled upon a great idea. Supporting the team the Philadelphia way, with a Mummers-type set up. We discussed Golden Slippers and Four Leaf Clover as anthems because being brought up here you can hum these two songs even though you don’t know their name or the lyrics and we thought that either of those would be effective and unique. I think eventually Four Leaf Clover won because it’s lyrics are easier to remember and more aptly describe the city and it’s relationship with MLS, being overlooked before and all that. It is traditionally played on New Year’s Day by at least one string band during the uniquely Philadelphia, Mummers parade.
Aside from your own group- what MLS club has the “best” fans? (obviously, it’s up to you to decide what qualities make the fans great)
BJ: DC United has a very strong core of fans bolstered by supporters clubs Barra Brava, Screaming Eagles, and La Norte. Chicago and their Section 8 are strong. Houston and Toronto’s fans came out of the gate strong, but I want to give them a few years before crowning them. Chivas has a strong supporters club, but no other fans. I think DC and Chicago are the two strongest right now.
Are there any colors or names you think are just unacceptable for the team?
BJ: Pink or Purple would be atrocious and doom the team to have an even bigger obstacle to overcome. I am hoping that the owners decide on a traditional soccer name but not something that seems ridiculous. Racing Philadelphia or Philadelphia Albion are examples of Euro-naming gone wrong. They also have to avoid something stupid and trendy like Kixx or Strikers. Branding a team is a tough job. I am confident that they will get it right.
Leave us with a parting shot- just to make the New York fans wince:
BJ: Doesn’t the thought of us winning with Nick in charge make you mad enough to cheer for a New York team that plays in New York?