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Sam Donnellon: Union fans are a real bunch of SOBs

YOU WILL FIND a list of songs, cheers and chants on their website, but understand this about the Sons of Ben fan club: They can invent one on the spot, which is a good trait to have when you're singing, cheering and chanting nonstop for 90-plus minutes of a Philadelphia Union soccer game.

YOU WILL FIND a list of songs, cheers and chants on their website, but understand this about the Sons of Ben fan club: They can invent one on the spot, which is a good trait to have when you're singing, cheering and chanting nonstop for 90-plus minutes of a Philadelphia Union soccer game.

This is why their founder, Bryan James, is wrong when he contends that his club's devotion to Philadelphia's new Major League Soccer team, which has now surpassed 3,000 members, is "akin to what the Flyers and Eagles fans bring . . ."

It's why club member Mark Concannon, who designs the club's various T-shirts, is wrong when he calls the end-zone area where supporters congregate "like the 700 level at the Vet."

They weren't very organized in the old 700 level. Yeah, they could drink and they could cheer and they could sometimes shout things that would get you isolation in the state penitentiary.

But they didn't do it nonstop for two halves, they weren't allowed to bring in big drums to keep the noise nonstop, weren't allowed to bring in big banners attached to big sticks and wave them in front of anyone's face they wanted to.

And how about smoke bombs?

That would get you kicked out of even a 700-level seat.

But at PPL Park in Chester?

Fu-Runt row . . .

"We've created what we wanted to here," James said as we watched an SOB - and yes, the acronym was planned, too - get spray painted head to toe in the team's blue and gold colors, slogans included. "We've created a true hometown Philadelphia feel for a sport that otherwise might have struggled to gain acceptance. Now you have people talking about the impact we have on a match."

Sometimes that's a good thing. And sometimes, that's a not so good thing. See, the Sons don't just paint themselves blue. They can and will splatter a blue streak all over the brand-new 18,500-seat, soccer-only stadium, creating quite a contrast between the spectacular panoramic view of the Delaware River and Commodore Barry Bridge behind them, and the noise emanating from the forefront.

Such as when the opposing goalie prepares for a goal kick:

"You suck, a-------"

Or this one, sung to the tune of "Yankee Doodle":

C'mon, Union, score a goal

It's really very simple

Put the ball into the net

And we'll go [bleeping] mental

Of course, they say something other than bleeping, but the first, repeated throughout the game, is the one that has triggered the most complaints from fans who might be unfamiliar with what James claims is MLS protocol, or even what one might hear during a match outside of this country.

There are kids in the stands who should not be subjected to it, they say.

"Main Line mommies," one SOB said as James tries diplomacy.

"We're trying to limit it, but that language happens all the time at Eagles games," he said, and that is true, as it is for Phillies, Flyers and Sixers games.

Anyone who took children to the games against Houston at Citizens Bank Park last week was subjected to some salty umpire critiques.

The difference is the volume and unison of the club's chants.

"It's difficult, because we have 2,000 people in the stands, and 3,000 members, all of whom are passionate about the team," James said. "We're certainly one of the biggest, if not the biggest, [dues-paying] supporters club in the U.S. And our goal is to bring undying support for the team."

So engrossed were they at one point in their taunting of the visiting Chivas de Guadalajara team Wednesday night that a near-goal barely received a spike in the group's noise level.

Then again, they already were going, well, you know . . .

Bleeping mental.

To be clear: James and his club are not trying to re-create "Green Street Hooligans," a cult movie that glorifies the violent behavior of England's provincial "firms" both in and out of the stadium. James is a Center City office manager by day, his brother a pharmacist at a local hospital. SOB members include lawyers, doctors - I even met a sports writer - and the mischief is mostly for laughs.

Henry Naylor, a self-proclaimed "conservative evangelical," has come to the game as James' guest. The two men share coaching duties for their 12-year-old sons, and both have other children, as well. The chants, Naylor said, are no more offensive than what his kids hear on television, "or even walking the mall."

"I would definitely bring my son," he said.

"You can hear this in just about every stadium this weekend in the league," said James, who was a DC United fan before he got involved in bringing a team to Philadelphia. "We're just better at it. So we're going to blow some people's minds."

"All in all, they're pretty good guys," said Tom Sharp, the club employee in charge of keeping order in Sections 138 and 139. A former bouncer in a strip club, Sharp looks more threatening than most SOB members, and sometimes has to act that way. But despite his ZZ Top beard and long, graying hair that suggest long Sunday motorcycle rides, Sharp is affable and compromising.

Wednesday was a particularly grueling one for him, because of the international element. A "friendly" match is the ultimate oxymoron, especially when fans of the opponent - in this case, Mexico's most successful club team - show up in droves. During the Union's 1-0 shocking upset, players on both teams delivered Chris Pronger-like checks, dropping guys like bowling pins at midfield or sending them airborne along the sidelines. Chivas fans on either side of the River End - the official name of the Sons cheering section - were serenaded with all types of sonnets.

Some were vulgar, some were not, some were in Spanish.

There were a few feeble attempts to return fire.

Sharp, who had to move some Chivas ticketholders out of the end zone before the game to keep the peace, kept a nervous eye on it all. Even after it was over.

"Only three ejections in nine games," he said as fans of both sections walk peacefully out. "Pretty good."

James, meanwhile, negotiated with a club employee for future games, which include tomorrow's match with Kansas City. He's looking to trade fewer blue-streak chants for a few more smoke bombs. Nothing like dropping a fog over the opposing goalie. Even when it literally blows up in your face - which I can attest that it, in fact, did.

Once when the Union scored. Once when the game ended.

"More smoke bombs," I said in jest, mimicking "Saturday Night Live's" "More Cowbells" skit.

"Hey," Concannon said. "You've just given me another idea for a shirt." *

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