A letter to the Sons of Ben from Gabe Shertz
To the Sons of Ben,
Growing up, soccer was a part of my life that took a sideline to many things. School, friends, family, and the occasional girlfriend. It was something I enjoyed, but not enough to prioritize it above other parts of my life. To me, it was just a game.
My first experience with the Sons of Ben came while watching the Philadelphia Kixx hand the Baltimore Blast - then my favorite team - an ass-kicking of a lifetime. As I sat across the arena from a loud, obnoxious group of Philadelphians I could only wonder why the hell they were there. As I later found out, they were there for soccer.
Playing soccer from the age of three has taught me many things. For one, you cannot cuss while playing the game as much as you do watching it. Secondly, just because you play goalkeeper doesn’t mean you’re exempt from the running in practice. Finally, it’s the greatest game on the planet. I remember one night working until 2 AM as a busboy for my summer job, and the Copa America final was playing on ESPN as a rerun. Like my coworkers who had stayed late, I had not seen the game. As a new employee, I had never met any of them who were watching the game, yet as the six of us sat around a tiny television in the dining room of an empty restaurant, we spoke avidly about the ins and outs of both teams, players, and who we supported away from just the Copa America tournament. Six strangers, watching the beautiful game like we were lifelong friends. To me, only soccer can do that.
Since that evening watching as my favorite indoor team got destroyed, I couldn’t imagine that I would know the role soccer would play in my life moving forward. Since my days I spent in the Dark Horse Pub watching the US Men's National Team play, or my time spent in the bleachers watching the Harrisburg City Islanders, breathing in smoke bombs (that some idiot dropped under the stands), or when I received my first Sons of Ben t-shirt from Bryan James as he said “Now, you’re one of us,” I started to realize that soccer was more than a game.
Soccer was just about everything to me and my father. With exception to Monty Python, Indiana Jones, Calvin and Hobbes, Toby (our black lab), Space Travel, and Bacon; soccer was our thing. April 10th, 2010 marked the first day where soccer became the setting where I learned almost everything I know from my father. As Sebastien Le Toux buried his third goal of the evening, I remember not looking to the field but instead at Dad, and remembering the joy on his face and the true meaning of what that moment meant to him. He joined this group not just because of soccer, but because you all had made it a place for which he had a genuine love. As the years moved on and the seasons of Union soccer progressed, I was introduced to many of you. As a young kid, I felt strange at first to be around these tattooed, drunken goofballs who liked to cuss for strange reasons and even at players on our own team. Now the lesson I learned from Dad is giving people a chance. Justin Lee said it perfectly. I could have been scared of these people. I could have thought they cursed too much, drank too much, had too many tattoos, but instead I gave you all a chance. And like my father, I aim to be accepting of everyone (Fuck Metro though). This single lesson is the greatest chance I ever took, because it made you all a part of my life.
As I stood in tears in the street following my father's funeral, just scanning the faces of the many of you who had come to say your goodbyes, you all sang a song. A song that plays every game, and one I will proudly sing forever as you all did for me and him. I cannot express the feelings I have on how much this group has done for me. Why this letter is coming two and a half years late, I do not know. Maybe it's the time that has passed and the unwavering support that I still get from every one of my friends in this group. And maybe now, at 4:02 AM as I type this, I finally can tell you all what I’ve been feeling all this time.
The people you meet through this game are, in a word, amazing. What makes me proud to wear that Jolly Franklin is the fact that the people it represents are those I am proud to call family. People that don’t give a shit about anything except 90 minutes of soccer (and in many cases Bear Fights and IPAs). But most importantly, they're not only people that are the biggest assholes you'll ever meet, but the most loving in the world. (You guys have given me a lot of shit over the years…Earl.) You don’t need me to tell you how much soccer meant to my Dad and how much he loved having me there with him, which makes it so damn tear-jerking every time I was told that I would be taken care of by you, my SOBs, after he was gone. You all went beyond the game to help me. No one asked, no one expected it, you all just did it and for that I am forever grateful. Now, whether you are apart of the group, a sub group, a club, I really don’t know, I just want to make it known that to me, and I’m sure Dad as well, that you’ll all always be Sons of Ben. You all showed me the true extent of this game and the power it holds, which is why soccer is no longer just a game to me, but an enormous part of my life. I think when Dad started supporting all those years ago he wasn’t just there for the just the soccer, or to be able to say “he knew this guy then,” but because he found someplace he belonged. If only you all knew the genuine love he had for his family. I think he knew that I too would find myself in a place I belonged, and he damn sure left me with the right people. We are all here because we belong, all supporting this beautiful game, and loving the people beside us as we sing our wonderful songs, not just for our boys in blue but for the Sons Of Ben that stand to our left and right in the River End. You all may be a bunch of assholes, but your my assholes and I will never forget everything you all have done for me.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart,