By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s never surprising to hear anyone talking about the passion and dedication of Philadelphia sports fans. But one group seems to stand out among the rest, the Sons Of Ben.
The Sons Of Ben is the supporter group for the Philadelphia Union. They pack the ‘River End’ of PPL Park in Chester full for every Union match, with 2,500 fans who stand and cheer the entire time.
Jeff Bell, producer and director of Sons Of Ben: The Movie, wants to tell their story.
Bell, who moved to Los Angeles in 2000, grew up in Philadelphia.
“I actually grew up with Brian James, one of the co-founders of the Sons Of Ben,” Bell said. “We grew up the same street, we played wiffle ball in the summer time and snowball fights in the winter, those kinds of things.”
“I had been living in LA, and my buddy who is a huge MLS fan, and knew I was a big Philadelphia sports fan, he was like ‘hey, by the way, Philadelphia got an MLS team.’ And then he sends me a link, and right there, I see Brian James, along with the other members of the Sons Of Ben, along with the commissioner of the MLS, and I’m like, ‘oh my God.’”
The Sons Of Ben were an integral part in bringing Philadelphia a Major League Soccer team, and one of Bell’s childhood friends as an integral part of the Sons Of Ben.
“That moment, I was like, ‘this would make a great story or a documentary.’ This was such a good story, I had to tell it,” Bell said.
“The thing I find so unique about the story is that a group of fans started a supporters group for a team that didn’t exist, to get a team to their city. That’s just insane to me. As far as I know, that’s never happened in professional sports, where a league and politicians listen.”
Bell brought the idea of a documentary up to his former wiffle ball teammate a few times, but James never took him seriously. That was until November of 2011, when they saw each other at their 20th high school reunion, and Bell laid out a plan to make the film.
“And then January rolls around and I was like, ‘dude let’s do this.’
The project started, and Bell has amassed hours and hours of footage of the Sons of Ben, from interviews, to tailgates, to what it’s like to be in the middle of the River End at a Union match.
“Going into this, this has been a great learning experience for me as far as documentaries,” Bell said. “You may go in thinking you know how to tell the story, but in reality the story is going to dictate to you how to tell it. I thought it was this crazy group of fans who just wanted a team. But I didn’t realize the true heart of the story, the charitable efforts that they’ve set up for the city of Chester.”
One of the biggest charity events the Sons Of Ben put on is the annual Stache Bash, which raises money for emergency food and supplies for low-income families in Chester.
Though charity is a focus of the Sons of Ben, soccer is the driving force. The entire section stands for the entire 90 minute match, while singing in unison their occasionally moderately profane songs that support the Union, or try to needle the opposition.
“They want to outwit other supporters groups too,” Bell said. “They want to be the funniest, the most daring, the most loud, the most brash, and I think that’s what propels them to do what they do. Sitting in there, you have to be involved in the experience. You don’t want to be the only one sitting down in 2,500 people in the River End.”
Bell would like to have the film done early in 2014, but needs some help to do so.
There is a campaign to raise money for the final leg of filming and production of the film on the crowd-funding website Indie Go Go, which runs through Monday, May 6th. They’re near the minimum goal of $20,ooo, but could use every penny.