The primary supporter’s group following the Philadelphia Union has endured an enormous struggle to not only bring soccer to Philadelphia but to also stick with the group through some awfully painful years. But now the Sons of Ben and their President Matt Gendaszek have a home playoff match Sunday to prep for (the first since year 2 of the franchise – 2011). Gendaszek spoke with PSN yesterday about this season and what Sunday means for him and the group. Below is a transcript of our interview.
What’s the general feel of the supporter’s group knowing the first home playoff game since 2011 is just days away?
It’s been total excitement knowing there’s a home playoff game. The hardest challenge has been the beating back of the ‘Negadelphian DNA’ that kind of run through all of our blood and say ‘No, we’re going to win and not get that beat up mentality that we get sometimes. It’s been total excitement but it’s been a little weird with this big break. If this came right after the last game, we’d be thinking ‘Yeah. let’s go!’ but now we’re kind of sitting around a little bit. So it’s been odd.
That’s kind of funny because [Jim] Curtin mentioned he and his group are really enjoying the break to prepare for this, but not so much for you guys…
Yeah, it’s opposite for fans because it’s like what do we do now? It’s like if Christmas was delayed two weeks and we’re all thinking ‘What the hell do I do now with my excitement?’ (laughter) We don’t want it to burn out. For the players, I’m sure it’s great they got some great. For us we’re thinking alright can we go now?
Is there a level of eerie anticipation as you wait for the game knowing what’s on the line?
If you talk to anybody after the NYCFC game, everyone was thinking ‘Oh crap.’ I think because of the break, everyone got to reflect on the team and what they’ve accomplished and to know that this is different – at least for me it feels different. Now everyone has that nervous anticipation of things and wanting to go on Sunday.
The gameday experience has changed in noticeable ways. Fans are going to games and not only going but are engaged. The level of excitement throughout the stadium is there again. Have you noticed that as well from your point of view?
I’ve been a member of the Sons of Ben – not active in the board – since 2010. And I remember 2010 and 2011 – I thought ‘Holy Crap!’ (how much excitement around the team was there then). 2013 and 2014 things kind of starting to lay off a bit. It wasn’t a new shiny stadium anymore and we had a lot of members within the Sons of Ben experience the changing of lives. They got married and had kids and there was this transition of people. But the last couple of months, we saw some old members come back – maybe some who were burned out a little bit. This isn’t the old Union, they’re not going to pull the rug. And now we have new members too bringing in new levels of excitement. So it’s been a different but familiar environment.
That’s interesting you mention the old members sort of returning. What’s it like when you see them again, and what are their reactions when they come back?
It’s great. My reaction is: “Where ya been?” (laughter) But the other part is that I understand too. But it’s just so great to see them. So many people have said it’s been great to watch. Whatever reasons they have for not being around – whether they could no longer stand what was going on, or they had a marriage, a kid, and a mortgage and just haven’t been able to get down there. But we’ve always said being in the Sons of Ben is sort of like being in a family you argue, bicker, and fight but you’re always happy to see each other. So it’s been a reunion of sorts. So that’s been great. But it’s also been great seeing new people come over because they think “I like what this is about.”
I’m sure you feel immense satisfaction just for sticking with it for so long right?
I think it’s more relief than satisfaction ya know? But yeah I’m happy for everybody that has stuck with. Not just board members, not just the people that volunteer to flip burgers at tailgates, but just people that have been in the River End this whole time or any of the seats you recognize that have been sticking with it. There’s that sense of relief and a little bit of validation. It’s been great. It’s also been great welcoming people. That’s something we’ve wanted to do since 2010 is to get the whole Philadelphia region on board with this team. Winning has its pluses and that’s one of them.
Have you noticed more and more people around the area becoming more aware of the team and their success this season?
Yeah, I get questions from people at work. My office is six or seven minutes from the stadium. My office is super close and some people still haven’t gone. But the people who are into it are really chatty and then other people are like ‘Hey I heard the team is doing well. Are they in the playoffs?’ So there’s been more water cooler chat since I started with the company.
That’s great. That’s got to be a positive for you to sort of get you through the days and the weeks at work knowing more and more people are taking note of the team and commenting right?
Oh yeah! It’s been great. It’s great to talk about and see people get excited. I talk to some of my buddies who are strictly the ‘4 for 4’ kind of guys. We went to a local bar two Sundays ago and they were breaking my balls about the team not doing well but there’s no way they would’ve even mentioned that if they didn’t have an interest in the team because they’re paying attention (laughter). Two years ago, they wouldn’t have known if we’re playing or not playing but the fact that they say ‘Oh, you lost to New York City what the hell?’ It’s even that – you take your buddies busting your stones and you think they must be paying attention. They must be on some sports ticker online or they might have even caught the game on channel 17.
Back to Sunday, are there any special guests planning to attend in the River End? Anything special going on that end of the stadium that fans should maybe keep an eye out for?
I’ll tell you what… If you’re a member of the Sons of Ben or even a non-member, I’d be at the tailgate. There’s a couple surprises that we have at the tailgate. It’s worth the extra couple bucks for a burger and a beverage to see what we’ve got planned.
IMPORTANT DATE TO KEEP IN MIND: SONS OF BEN ANNUAL HELP KICK HUNGER EVENT —— NOVEMBER 23RD AT THE LARIMER
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Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Graduate of Pennsylvania State University ’16. Interests include sports and history. Follow on twitter for Philly sports news – @MMcClain_PSN
Philadelphia Union writer.