What Philly – and Philly’s sports fans – taught me about fandom

When I moved to Philadelphia in 2007, a colleague from my former newspaper asked me if I liked sports.

“Not really,” I said.

“Well, if you’re moving to Philadelphia, you don’t have a choice,” he said.

I was kind of offended. Living in rural towns and growing up in a family that didn’t watch sports, not only had I managed to fend off fan bases, frankly I didn’t get it. I couldn’t believe a city would change my mind.

Obviously I didn’t know Philly.

A little over a year later, the Phillies began their run to the 2008 World Series, and I saw the city come alive and come together in a way I’d never seen before—here or anywhere else. Conversations with strangers became even more frequent; Talking trash became an art form; and everyone was in a good mood.

But it wasn’t until I was sent to mentor the Phillies fans at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay that I fell in love, not so much with the team, but with the fans.

Phillies fans I spoke to were incredibly excited that Rays fans weren’t as excited as they were.

“Where are we . . . in the library? It’s the World Series kids,” said one. “It’s great to be down here, but it’s not the same as Philly.”

“I try to talk crap and they just say, ‘Good luck to your team,'” said another. “Why is?”

Phillies fans wanted them to enjoy the rivalry, be proud of their own team, and most importantly, they wanted to compete against a fanbase just as passionate as their own.

But the truth is, perhaps nowhere else is there a fanbase quite as passionate and dedicated as Philly’s.

When the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2018, I walked with fans on South Broad Street from XFinity Live! to City Hall and saw strangers dancing and singing together in the street, fans banging pots and pans and people sobbing with joy in their arms.

Yes, some fans did things that night that the whole town wants to forget, but overall I’ve never experienced so much unbridled joy shared by so many people at once. It was exhilarating and I was completely sober.

I may not like sports but I love to see the people in the city I love so happy. I like things like “Go Iggles!” or “Go Phils!” standard greetings and goodbyes; I’m here for all memes and t-shirts about the Philly pride; and I love to see this city, often divided over so many things, unite behind a common cause.

What I didn’t understand about the fandom I understand now – which I understand because of all of you – is that it’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself.

I’ve been chasing this feeling my whole life and have only found it in a few places: the night sky, the open ocean, and right here in Philadelphia.——

Over the years I’ve tried to be a good fan, but the investment of time, emotional investment and heartache proved too much for me.

That is, until this week when I pulled my 14-year-old Phillies gear and green “Grease these poles, all the poles” shirt out of the bottom of my drawer. I even had to switch between the Phillies and Flyers games on Tuesday.

That’s when I realized that I had bought the ticket to take the train again.

But can I get back in?

I tweeted my question to die-hard Philly fans, “How do you feel about Bandwagon fans?”

Among the hundreds who responded, the sentiment was almost universal: welcome aboard.

“I will be driving the train, making several stops along the way to pick up anyone who wants to ride,” wrote Robert Cowie, 37, a Mayfair native who lives in Royersford.

Eric Fink, 30, of Northeast Philly, member of the Finks Hoagies family and host of the City Pigeons podcast on Philly fandom, said: “The more the merrier.”

“It’s the city of brotherly love, isn’t it? Just put some stuff on and have fun,” he wrote. “Life is too short that we can’t all enjoy these moments together. LET’S GO PHILBIRDSSIXERSFLYERSUNION.”

For a fanbase often vilified as one of the country’s worst, the responses confirmed my own experience: Philly fans are incredibly honest, welcoming, and willing to invite you to the party.

Several people pointed out that real fans often start out as followers and that the stadiums are a lot more fun (and intimidating) when they’re full.

However, I’ve been given a few rules for Bandwagon fans:

  1. Be honest about your follower status. Don’t try to pretend you’ve been chasing all season.

  2. Don’t talk about the team, the players or the fans. You did not deserve it.

  3. Do not be the Person who gives Philly fans a bad name.

While welcoming follower fans, the Diehards say newcomers will never experience the joy and exhilaration that comes with winning after years of loss and pain.

And they are right. But I’m aware of the low points you’ve all been through and I’m so happy to see you so happy now. I may never scream as loud or jump as high as you do, but I’m honored to scream and jump next to you.

So, LET’S GO PHILBIRDSSIXERSFLYERSUNION!

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