The Philadelphia Union Story — Through The Fans’ Lens

Matchday Story, Supporter Stories

Hey all. Thanks for stumbling upon the first (of hopefully many) Matchday Stories, told through the camera lens of one fan, who is simply looking to inspire others to share their own.

After Saturday’s match, which was played under pleasant weather conditions, arguably the best fans have sat through this season, I decided to walk around and snap some pictures.

I attempted to capture the luster of Talen Energy Stadium on what proved to be a fantastic Summer night. I’ll admit, my camera is of a reasonable price and my photography is second-rate (at best), but I think I was able to do just that.

Check it out.

Matchday 23 — FC Dallas Versus Philadelphia Union

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That’s my Matchday Story, through my lens (which happens to be a PentaxK5 DSLR). So, what’s yours?

Help contribute to the next Matchday Story on UnionFanTV by Tweeting your pics, snaps and polaroids @UnionFanTV on Twitter or using #MyPhilaUnionStory over on Instagram. 

Fan Chant Friday — Weekly Belter: New Song for Haris Medunjanin?

Fan Chant Friday, Opinion, Supporter Stories

Sometimes it’s best to take a step back to admire the chaos, instead of simply walking away from it completely. Behold, the first edition of Fan Chant Friday on UnionFanTV.    

It’s been a season of ups and downs (but mostly downs) for the Philadelphia Union. Whether Jim Curtin’s team manages to creep into the playoffs this campaign remains to be seen. Although thanks to the bloated nature of Major League Soccer’s playoff system, there is still a pretty good chance.

Here’s how the Eastern Conference table stands, following Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Montréal and other results around the league: Table.   

Simply put, it’s just another year. Another year of blindly, or rather naïvely thinking that results will begin to fall the Union’s way, that the front office brass will field more than just a competitive side in MLS.

It’s usually around this time every year, following a poor performance or result, when many fans decide to throw in the towel and move on with their lives. Until March that is, when the perpetual cycle of supporting the Philadelphia Union kicks off once more.

Finding the resolve on matchday to read up on various Philadelphia Union blogs, to flip the switch and turn on The Comcast Network, or make the trek down to Talen Energy Stadium gets to be awfully tiresome after a while.

Being a supporter of the Philadelphia Union is often easier said than done these days, but it wasn’t always this way.

In the beginning, supporting the Union was seen as pretty carefree. Although the Union’s inaugural team was a run-of-the-mill side, whose players were mostly poached via the Expansion Draft, fans nevertheless flocked to then PPL Park to see a band of misfits play.

Why did so many families journey from their quiet suburbs to a place like Chester, PA?

Why did so many people set up shop hours before a match, on top of an old toxic waste dump?

And why did an overwhelming majority of fans sweep the mediocrity on the pitch under the rug?

Why? Partly because it was their band of misfits. Soccer fans in the Philadelphia region reveled in finally having a local club to support, a club not coined D.C. United or Metro Stars.

But also because of the atmosphere inside the stadium.

It was unfamiliar to the average Philadelphia sports fan. It was electric, and it was unrelenting regardless of the score. A raucous, packed River End brought it for 90 minutes, while the rest of the stadium joined in unison.

Chants like Come on the U and the now defunct Philadelphia Clap were simple to learn, which helped bridge the stadium together. Player songs were a personal favorite among fans, who shrewdly anointed players throughout the team with a tune of their own.

Results were an afterthought in those days. For most fans, the overall matchday experience, from the tailgate to the autograph session that lasted until the stadium flood lights turned off, was what they happily came for.

Fans still want their money’s worth these days, but results are what matter more now. It’s a fanbase that has matured along with the team, who gets that soccer is a results based business. Thus, when the results don’t come for Curtin’s side, many fans are turned away.

Aside from an underperforming team, I believe its the matchday experience that is making it easier for fans to trickle into the ground well after kickoff, skip out on the tailgate, and cancel their season tickets altogether.

How can a middle-of-the-pack soccer team like the Philadelphia Union fill their stadium, regardless of results? An answer to this question can be found in all corners of the world, at places like Selhurst Park in South London to Providence Park in Portland, OR.

Before walking away from the chaos altogether, maybe Union fans should contribute more to it. 

Fan Chant Friday was originally introduced by the Sons of Ben via their Facebook page, leading up to the 2016 Major League Soccer season.

UnionFanTV cannot take credit for such a brilliant idea for fan engagement. Instead, we can try to give Fan Chant Friday a platform, even if it’s a small one at that. So what’s our hope for this new series?

To help bring out the creativity and shrewdness from Union supporters that has been previously heard in the past, as well as inspire more engagement among an ever-growing fanbase.

This week’s Weekly Belter is a player song for the Union’s Bosnian midfielder, Haris Medunjanin. 

This one is sung to the tune of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ 80’s hit song, Come on Eileen (1982): 

Come on! Haris get your DOOP on. Come on! Go get your DOOP on. [x4]

Oh how you have grown, oh how you have shown

Medun-janin …

[Pause]

Come on! Haris get your DOOP on. Come on! Go get your DOOP on. [Repeat progressively faster until it dies down]

Medun-janin!

Oh! He captains our team!

At this moment, you mean everything!

No need to stress

[In unison] NO!

‘Cause Haris knows best

Verge on dirty

Medun-janin!

Have a song or chant you think should be sung around Talen Energy Stadium or on an Away Day? Let’s hear it. Tweet @UnionFanTV with your absolute belter. Happy Fan Chant Friday, everyone.

BearFight FC: A supporter-owned, grassroots club in Wilmington

BearFight FC, Supporter Stories, Uncategorized, US Open Cup

Fans who are familiar with non-league football in the United Kingdom will tell you their interest has less to do with the quality of play on the pitch, and instead, lies in the ethos of the club itself.

From the person live streaming a match from the backseat of their car, to the players themselves, who get to the pitch early to set up merchandise tables, goals and PA systems, it is the people around the club who truly make the experience of watching a non-league side worthwhile.

Closer to home, there is a group of fans who are challenging the status quo when it comes to running a club. BearFight Football Club just might be the coolest little team you have never heard of.

Until now.

I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the Club’s founders and current president, Jeremy Sharpe, who brought me back to the beginning: the birth of an idea, and the dawn of a fledgling, yet openly ambitious football club.

A native of Western New York, Sharpe’s initial involvement in the sport began at age 6, when he started playing youth soccer as a way to keep in shape during the off-season for ice hockey.

Sharpe’s newfound love for the game stuck with him after moving to the Philadelphia area. There was no local club to support at the time, but there was a cause to rally behind, which was spearheaded by the Sons of Ben. Sharpe joined ranks with the group in late 2007.

Fast forward to April 2013.

Major League Soccer has established itself in the area, and Philadelphia Union, a budding club still in its infancy, have just embarked on its fourth season in the League after enduring an abysmal campaign, the team’s worst to date.

Oh, and Jeremy Sharpe is at a local pub.

It was at Stoney’s British Pub in Wilmington, Delaware that Sharpe met with friends and fellow BearFight Brigade members at the time, Justin Lee and Eric Shertz.

The Brigade, which was founded at the onset of the 2011 season, comprises Union supporters who, as Sharpe put it, “do not feel they completely fit in with the other groups.”

As with any group of supporters, their topic of discussion was mostly confined to their club. Mostly.

Yet, somewhere midst all the rants, raves, and admittedly a few drinks (it was the end of the Piotr Nowak reign after all) Sharpe and his cohorts’ conversation took another course.

They began discussing the possibility of founding a club of their own, one that would follow in the footsteps of the Brigade and would challenge the way that a soccer club is traditionally run.

This was all discussed jokingly, of course.

But the joking was short-lived, and grins eventually gave way to bona fide looks of resoluteness when they came across a Tweet from the US Open Cup Twitter account, which informed that no amateur team from Delaware had ever entered the historic club competition.

Sharpe fondly remembers the irony of the moment, as well as the moment they thought, ‘Ok, maybe we can do this.’

Yes, the inklings of BearFight Football Club were conceived by a group of supporters over a few beers. For those involved in the Philadelphia supporter scene, this story is one that might begin to sound familiar.

Fast forward again. By September of that year, BearFight FC fielded their first ever team in the Inter-County League, an amateur men’s soccer league in suburban Philadelphia.

And although no Designated Players donned the Club’s colors that day, or even over the three and a half years of its existence, the faces on the field were and remain very much recognizable.

Captaining the side and anchoring the defense on the day and during the inaugural season was a familiar face to Union fans, and none other than the Deliverer of Elbows himself, Danny Califf.

Among the players who have and continue to sport the navy-and-black are friends and supporters who rally behind the values that constitute BearFight FC’s motto: Loyalty, Inclusion, Family, Pride.

Admittedly, the first match on Sept. 8 against Upper Moreland was a rough first outing for the Club, who fell 5-1 on the day. The same can be said for the rest of the inaugural season.

Nevertheless, everyone at forward-thinking BearFight FC relished finally having a club that they could call their own.

For Sharpe, there are no bad ideas. Each new season offers the opportunity to grow the member base and expand on the concept of a supporter-owned club that is uniquely grassroots.

As a member, which anyone can become for a measly $20, you own a stake in BearFight Football Club and have a say in how the Club operates day-to-day, which is something that Sharpe believes can one day be a reality in the United States.

In fact, several member-owned clubs already have started to appear in the states in more recent years. Detroit City Football Club and San Francisco City Football Club are perhaps the most notable of the bunch.

And there are others, with BearFight FC of course being among them.

Though the Club might be considered unique to the Tri-state area, as well as the majority of North America, Sharpe says part of the Club’s framework is actually inspired by other supporter-run clubs across the Atlantic.

“We will admit openly that we borrowed a lot of our own framework from FC United of Manchester, AFC Wimbledon and similar grassroots, fan-owned clubs,” said Sharpe. “It is a movement that has really taken off in Europe.”

Take Germany and the Bundesliga, for example. Under the current model, there is a rule better known as the “50+1 Rule” whereby a minimum of 51% of the club must be owned by the club’s members.

While it still allows for considerable investment opportunities for private businesses, it prevents them from having total control of the direction of the club. That way the supporters have a direct say on the management of the club.

The apparent advantage to this is that any surplus generated by a club stays within the club itself. It is not used to pay off someone else’s debt or to swell the coffers of a non-soccer business.

As Sharpe pointed out, there is no majority owner of BearFight FC. And there never will be.

Thus, BearFight FC board members, whom are voted upon by the rest of the Club’s members, are the ones who ultimately decide where funds will be applied. Whether it be new equipment for the team, fresh merchandise, or efforts to give back to the Wilmington community.

The latter is something especially important to Sharpe and everyone associated with BearFight FC.

In fact, the Club has already held fundraisers for the duPont Hospital for Children. Sharpe says the Club also has aspirations to set up programs and events for the City’s underprivileged youth.

With BearFight FC set to embark on its fourth season, Sharpe hopes that the Club can continue to form a strong partnership with the City of Wilmington.

BearFight FC recently took a big step in cementing its place in the community, after playing its first match in the City at Eden Park. Previously, the Club played only away matches throughout the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Looking back, Sharpe’s decision to trade blades for boots and begin kicking a soccer ball around was almost commensurable to the whimsical notion of starting a club from the ground up.

Nevertheless, Sharpe and everyone at BearFight FC fought on.

Now the Club is looking to take their next great leap of faith. After three and a half years playing in the Senior Division of the Inter-County Soccer League, BearFight FC wants to bring the United Premier Soccer League to Wilmington.

If they are successful in bringing UPSL to the City of Wilmington, Sharpe believes they will prove what everyone at BearFight FC already knows: that supporter ownership and ascension of the US Soccer “pyramid” can be a reality in the United States.

Fight on, BearFight. Fight on.

To learn more about BearFight Football Club, as well as the Club’s efforts to bring UPSL to Wilmington, visit https://www.gofundme.com/bring-bearfight-fc-to-the-upsl