Just had a chance to sit down and watch the 2016 documentary, Sons of Ben: The Movie since it is now streaming on Netflix. I think the title, “review” might be a bit of a stretch as I think this post will read as more of an appreciation. It would be hard for me to “review” critically both a group and a filmmaker that have been working from a place of passion and not financial incentive. That said, it is a great documentary and you should spend some time with it when you have the chance.
If you don’t know the Sons of Ben, they are the Philadelphia supporters group that gained international celebrity as they formed without a soccer team in an effort to bring one to their city. Through their persistence and dedication the city was finally awarded a franchise, the Philadelphia Union in 2008.
The Sons of Ben story resonated with me as an American soccer fan. Their stories of watching Soccer Made in Germany and years spent in youth leagues reminded me much of my own experiences. I’ve always felt, despite different backgrounds and team loyalties, all American soccer fans have this similar narrative of being a soccer person living in the American sports landscape.
The documentary highlighted two very important aspects of modern soccer support in the United States. First, the importance of the internet. It can not be understated how this innovation and the social media revolution it spawned helped to connect islands of isolated soccer fans. I wasn’t surprised that the documentary made mention of how message boards and early forms of social media helped to create interest in the supporters group without a club. Long before the days I was able to debate about the tactics of my local club on Twitter or go to the game with a huge group of friends, my soccer fandom was lonely at best.
The second, and more visible aspect, highlighted in the Sons of Ben documentary was the notion of civic engagement. This is an idea I’ve been pondering a lot lately. A lot of my ideas and thoughts are more anecdotal than empirical at this point. That said, there is something supremely civic about soccer support that I believe goes beyond other American sports. The documentary highlights that the importance of Philadelphia to the supporters group as well as the civic engagement between the Sons of Ben and the community, especially in Chester where the stadium was built.
Finally, Sons of Ben: The Movie did well in their attempt to tell the story of expansion anxiety. While I can’t claim I was a fan of Orlando City before there was a team, I was a devoted fan from game one of their first USL season. Watching the founding members of the Sons of Ben relive their anxiety about bringing a team to their town resonated with me. Living and dying on MLS expansion news and wanting to will a team into existance is kind of a crazy experience. This feeling is documented well in this work.
Works like Sons of Ben: The Movie are important to soccer culture in the United States. While the soccer history and existing culture for the game in this country are deeper than most people fully grasp, documentary works like this one help to establish an understanding of American soccer culture and its unique complexities.
Photo used through Creative Commons licensing, thank you to KConners.com