Happy Birthday Lamar Hunt
By Bryan James - President, Sons of Ben || Photo Courtesy: Paul Rudderow via Flickr
Locals don’t talk about Lamar Hunt the same way they talk about Walter Bahr or other Philadelphia soccer legends, but for the second time in pro soccer history, Mr. Hunt is one of the reasons why the area has a team. The Atoms were founded by Philadelphia construction mogul Thomas McCloskey in 1973 at the urging of Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Tornado owner Lamar Hunt during a Super Bowl. Years later, the impact would be two-fold. First, local businessman James Nevels, a board member of Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, asked Mr. Hunt what it was like to own a pro sports franchise and it was suggested that Mr. Nevels look into purchasing a MLS team, a dream that he continued to pursue and eventually see come true. Second, Mr. Hunt put the Wizards up for sale in late 2004 and eventually the rumors included a purchase and move to the Philadelphia area. This invigorated a dormant soccer fan base who longed for their own team. When the Wizards were sold to Kansas City partnership On Goal, the brief momentum that soccer fandom and chatter had experienced threatened to cease.
It was in this atmosphere, with soccer on the way back out of the conscious of even the soccer lovers that Sons of Ben was born. Wanting to reverse the ebbing momentum by building on what excited local fans the most, the Sons of Ben started in January 2007 to capture and build on the area’s passion for the game and desire to have MLS in Philadelphia. Starting with a handful of interested parties, the group grew to over 1,000 members before 2007 was done.
The initial mission of SoB was to show Major League Soccer how many passionate fans of the sport existed in Philadelphia and they did so by organizing group outings to games and with some luck. Not many active MLS supporters clubs had graced the pages of FourFourTwo magazine or Sports Illustrated, yet within SoB’s first six months, they had appeared in both. By October 2007, Delaware County officials joined the mission to bring MLS to the region and there was the Sons of Ben president Bryan James with James Nevels in the front of the Delaware County building’s chamber posing for pictures following the announcement of county and city funding for what is now PPL Park
American soccer fans owe Lamar Hunt a debt of gratitude for his dedication to the game and Philadelphia fans owe him twice for pointing businessmen towards owing professional teams in this region. Thanks Mr. Hunt for all you have done for the game in our city and our country.