"Sons of Ben: the Movie" is now out on DVD. Visit the movie's web site to buy a copy.
PHILADELPHIA -- For a couple of hours, the Sons of Ben gathered together in one place to cheer, boo, laugh, yell and drink.
Only this time, they weren’t watching a soccer game … they were watching themselves.
Earlier this year at the Trocadero Theatre, “Sons of Ben: The Movie” debuted in Philly in front of many members of the Philadelphia Union’s loud and crazy supporters’ club that made the film possible.
Some Union players as well as head coach Jim Curtin were also on hand to watch the documentary, which chronicled how the Sons of Ben overcame significant adversity to help bring an MLS franchise to the region before embracing their new home in Chester by doing important charity work in the beleaguered town.
And the reviews were all positive, with Curtin and team CEO Nick Sakiewicz saying afterwards that the film would be “mandatory viewing” for any Union player or employee.
“There was a ton of behind-the-scenes stuff that maybe not everybody knows,” Curtin told MLSsoccer.com following the screening. “I thought it was really well done, really entertaining and a really good portrayal of a great fan base in the Sons of Ben.”
Some of the most compelling “behind-the-scenes stuff” detailed the personal obstacles some of the early Sons of Ben members faced as they tried to build a group from nothing. In the end, they did enough to convince potential investors, politicians and league higher-ups that there were enough passionate fans in the region to support an MLS franchise. But along the way, a tremendous toll was taken on people like co-founder Bryan James, who discussed on camera how his marriage was on the rocks while he worked on what was essentially a second full-time job.
“I would have rather kept it private,” James admitted afterwards. “As the movie details, we had some not-so-good days. But family will always be the most important thing to me.
“Tonight was amazing,” he added. “My boys are next to me, my mom and wife are right here. I’m really, really fortunate.”
The movie’s roots can be traced back to James, who was childhood friends with filmmaker Jeff Bell. Intrigued by the unique concept that fans of a team could come before the team itself, Bell reached out to James about the potential for a documentary and began filming at PPL Park in 2012.
It took three years to complete but the film has been well received at international film festivals in Spain and Japan, winning the grand prize at the Tokyo International Football Film Festival earlier this year. Bell wants to be able show his film to the world but hasn’t yet announced plans for its release.
In the meantime, the director was excited to hold the grand premiere in Philadelphia in front of the Sons of Ben, who turned out in droves for the event, which included a red-carpet party before and after the screening.
John McCarthy is interviewed at Sons of Ben premiere, courtesy Philadelphia Union
“I’m really glad this story got told because it’s a unique story,” said original Sons of Ben member Brad Youtz, who showed a lot of emotion during his on-screen interviews. “Taking myself totally out of it, I think it’s important for people to know how this team started and the story behind it. That has value.”
And even people who know the story well will likely learn something from the movie – whether it’s longtime Sons of Ben member Corey Furlan using the group as an outlet to overcome addiction problems or Sakiewicz working closely with the Sons of Ben and helping get PPL Park built while battling cancer (which is now in remission).
Above all else, though, it’s a Philadelphia story. And that struck a particular cord with Curtin, a Philly native who first heard about the Sons of Ben while playing for the Chicago Fire in 2007 and thinking that it was a “cool name.” But sitting in the theater on Wednesday and hearing from all of the people that worked tirelessly to turn what was once a collection of just a few people into a group that now has over 2,000 members put it all into perspective for him.
“It was awesome,” the Union head coach said. “To see all the different guys when they spoke, you can relate to them all. To see them unfiltered, letting the f-bombs fly here and there, it was very Philadelphia. They shared the same passion that I did growing up rooting for the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers. Now to have their own team and to see that process was very cool.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.