One of the richest, most beautiful things about the world in which we live is the vast number of different kinds of people. I consider myself to be a person of the arts, cursed to have interest in almost everything, but to excel in only a few specific (arts related) things. It was a splendid birthday gift to be given the opportunity to attend a Philadelphia Union soccer game, one of the best places in the U.S. to be surrounded by sports people.
And we were surrounded. We arrived fairly early (and had to wait for the gates to open), so we were the first people in our immediate vicinity to take our seats. It wasn’t long before we were among a sea of people who seemed to attend games more regularly than us. In the row in front of us sat two guys wearing Union jerseys and speaking to one another in Spanish. Next to me was a young (late twenties) couple, half of whom harbored very strong opinions about the other team and the officials.
If you ever get the chance, make it your business to attend a Philadelphia professional sporting event. During the coverage preceding one of the Women’s Final Four games this March, the hosts were talking about how both of the coaches are from Philly. “Philadelphia,” the narration went, “means ‘City of Brotherly Love.’ It’s a moniker the city maintains with equal parts sarcasm and sincerity.” Nowhere is that more true than the competitive arena of sports. There’s a magic to being engulfed in the roar of thousands of people, all of whom paid good money to see a single thing: their city beat the crap (one way or another) out of another city. Some heartbreaking officiating killed the Union’s momentum about two thirds of the way through the first half, leading to a 2-0 deficit at the half. After a long second half, the result held, with the Union remaining shut out.
Soccer, as only Americans call it, is referred to around the world as “The Beautiful Game.” I cannot adequately explain precisely why I love to watch it so much, but I too see it as beautiful. Most (and all of the best) goals only happen when some angle is just right or something goes just wrong. And when something goes wrong, there’s someone to blame. It’s all very satisfying to watch, though when your team’s fundamentals aren’t showing it becomes more difficult. I bring this all up to explain why when I looked around the stands after halftime, I was delighted (but not surprised) to see no difference in the number of people wearing navy and gold in the stands.
It was “Dollar Dog Night” that night. Ballpark dogs (the experience, not the brand) are a special kind of fun, and the stadium has a Chickie’s and Pete’s stand. Excellent fries and decent dogs are a wonderful meal, particularly when you’ve got something much better to focus on. The facilities themselves are good, solid stadium facilities, with modern touches: automatic flushers, recycling bins. Curiously, the most uncomfortable things at Union games tend to be your arms, as the folding seats have no armrests. Honestly, though, it’s not a very bad worst thing.
Talen Energy Stadium was built to be an MLS stadium. Soccer fields are slightly larger than American Football fields, but MLS attracts smaller crowds than the NFL. Because of this, Talen Energy Stadium is sort of short and long. It’s built partially under the Commodore Barry Bridge, which spans the Delaware River (and thus goes to New Jersey). The River End of the stadium is reserved for the “Sons of Ben,” the Union’s supporter organization. They distribute songs to be sung during matches, and support local causes. Perhaps the most immediate of these causes is the renovation of Rivertown, on the banks of the Delaware.
It’s this influence that brings me back to why I have such respect for sports. Having a cause to believe in is good for people, especially when they all know they’re in it together. It moves money around, and if that money is moved right, everyone benefits. Above all, though, I had fun going to see the Union play despite the loss, and I look forward to my next stay in their stands. You should see it for yourself.