Below is a feature from the March 23rd edition of Inside the Net.
Supporter culture in soccer is unique. Across the world, supporters' groups provide a thumping, raucous element to matches. That energy arrived in Philadelphia through the Sons of Ben, and both of the Union's 2018 Supporters of the Year come from the rowdy River End.
"I wasn't an early adopter; I didn't join Sons of Ben until 2010," Jeffrey Mitchell says. "I knew what they were doing but thought they were just a bunch of crazy guys without a snowball's chance in hell of getting this done. It seemed like the craziest story ever told!
"And then they proved us all wrong."
Similarly, Adam Booth wasn't part of the first wave of SoBs, but he has embraced and amplified the group's traditions over the past few seasons as one of the capos leading chants each and every match. Booth, who says he often travels alone to away matches to find some calm before ramping up his energy to push his fellow fans to greater heights.
Booth and Mitchell were nominated to be Supporter of the Year by Union fans, and neither could gain enough of an edge of the other to win it alone. Thus, Philadelphia Union's first Supporters of the Year enjoy the award together, and it is well deserved.
The Supporter of the Year award is not intended to elevate some fans over others, but to recognize supporters that spread their love of soccer to others through sheer force of belief.
"I got into it through my girlfriend, so at first I was standing in back in the River End... now, I want to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves and feels welcome," Booth explains.
Mitchell echoes those sentiments. "When I see someone standing nervously at a tailgate, I make sure to go over and welcome them into this family," he says.
Soccer stands out among sports for the extent to which it relies on the entire team. Across the entire world, perhaps three players at a time are so individually brilliant that nearly any collection of teammates can be carried along by their skill. Similarly, it is the rare fan that can lift others to greater heights of manic cheering, chanting, singing, and fervor. Booth and Mitchell are both part of that special group. Mitchell has helped develop a supporters' group for Phang, the Union mascot. The Wu Phang Clan has exerted such an influence on the Union that Phang now has his own Wu Phang Clan gloves to wear on his newly developed hands. The organic growth of the WPC is no surprise given Mitchell's passion for soccer and for the Union. "My son was raised in the stands, so it's more than just a game," Mitchell readily concedes.
Mitchell's son, Benjamin Franklin Mitchell, is as embedded in Union culture as anyone alive. "He was born in September of 2010 so he literally grew up with this team," Mitchell laughs. "I'd love to figure it out one day, but he's been to hundreds of Union games! He's been to the River Cups, the meet and greets, practices. When Zach Pfeffer was here we had this familial bond with that guy. He would hang out with Ben."
Booth and Mitchell are also both friendly with Union head coach Jim Curtin. After Booth was honored prior to the opening day match against Toronto, he received dap from the head man in front of the Union bench. That moment highlighted the personal connection between club and supporters, and it's something Mitchell feels as well. "We go to preseason, and one year Jim came over and took Ben by the hand, had him out on the field kicking the ball around with Fred," he remembers.
The Union have had and continue to have some of the top fans in Major League Soccer. When the River End is bumping, as it was against Toronto, it turns Talen Energy Stadium into a cauldron. When Curtin says he wants his home turf to be a fortress, he wants one that is prepared to push his players into every tackle, after every pass through the lines, and into the thick of the box on set pieces. Because when the Union emerge with a goal, and when the final whistle sounds on victory, the players turn to the fans and thank them for providing the energy they needed to finish the job.
As they chase a win against Columbus this weekend, the Union will need the fans behind them. Booth and Mitchell will both be there, pushing their team on.
Thank you, from Philadelphia Union to our 2018 Supporters of the Year: Jeffrey Mitchell and Adam Booth.