- Jason Davis
There are always two sides to every story, and the recent portrayal of the Sons of Ben in GQ's UK edition is no exception. In the aftermath of my comments on the story, both here and on the American Soccer Show, one of the SoB members featured reached out via email to explain his view of what writer Andrew Hankinson spun into an article entitled "America's Football Factory."
You can now find the story on GQ UK's website, and the MFUSA response here. What follows is Sons of Ben member Brody Chacha's emailed reaction and explanation. The relevant portions of the article are quoted for context.
There is no visible police presence today on the railway platforms beneath Philadelphia's Gallery shopping centre. Nothing to prevent a gang of four skinheads, in bovver boots, bomber jackets and blue scarves indicating their allegiance to the Philadelphia Union, the city's Major League Soccer franchise, from indulging in a little bit of retro, English-style football hooliganism, should they wish. Nothing to protect a vulnerable-looking couple in New York Red Bulls tops from a vicious assault.
The Red Bulls are today's opponents, the same fans who smashed up Philadelphia's buses earlier this season. The skinheads are animated. They pogo and chant: "We hate Red Bull, we hate Red Bull." (They mean the team, not the energy drink.) But the train arrives and the New York couple scuttle to a distant carriage. The skinheads don't give chase.
The article starts with me and my three friends waiting for the train. Bear in mind, only three of us were skinheads (and if I'm knit-picking, none of us were wearing bombers -- my two friends wore Harringtons and I wore a hoodie). The fourth "skinhead" was wearing cargo shirts, an SoB shirt, and sneakers. He has hair to his eyebrows.
Yes, we were singing "We all hate Red Bull," but it was in no way intimidating. We were laughing our asses off and pogoing into each other, excited for the match. I can't remember there being anyone in Red Bull jerseys there to begin with, but if there were, we posed zero threat to them.
As for singing on the train? Yeah, didn't even kind of happen. We all sat down and talked the whole ride -- in fact, we were quietly making fun of the journalist for looking like a British (lucky guess) nerd, hipster, and mod combined. We did sing the songs he claims we sung, but that was at the tailgate, after he asked us to sing some songs. It's pretty clear he made that incident up to suggest that we are both racist (stopping when "two big black guys" got on the train) and pretending to be tough.
In the stands, Lorenzo Rivera, another capo, holds a scarf over his face as he pulls the pin from a smoke grenade. He looks like a perfect ultra (a hard-core Italian fan). The chemical fog chokes the first few rows. "Some people have that ultra thing going on," says one of the skinheads, "but we like the English bovver boys thing. It's part of British culture I identify with. It's got bad connotations, but we're against racism. To me it's about culture and lifestyle. I am a skinhead. It's a way of life for me. And I love the fashion."
Which brings me to the first quote. That first quote was an amalgamation of things stated by multiple people and attributed to one nameless skinhead. Even then, he completely misrepresented what was said. We did not claim to be hooligans or bovver boys. I stated that I consider myself of the antifascist ultra mentality. We explained that we are skinheads because we love soul and reggae music and the fashion and culture associated with it, and we made a point to explain that we are anti-racist (even showing him an antiracist elbow tattoo my friend has and telling him that we usually have a black skinhead with us at games). When he photographed us, we didn't realize it was for GQ. We thought it was for some local soccer blog. He asked us to pose like hooligans, so we figured we would at least get some cool photos out of it.
The rest of the Sons of Ben are tailgating at the 20,000-capacity Columbus Crew stadium. The car park is vast and almost empty. I recognise one of the skinheads from last week's game. He's wearing chinos and bovver boots and says he's so focused on singing at matches that he has to record them to find out what happened later. Another Son of Ben, who's wearing a kilt, plays music while we kick a ball around and drink beer. Nobody talks about the match, but rather about singing and road trips.
As for quoting me later as saying I record matches because I'm too focused on singing to watch, that's again not true. I told him that I capo for my section, which means that I spend a long time with my back to the game, so I DVR it in case I miss anything. I don't go to games to sing. I go to games to watch soccer.
We get in the car. We won't be back until 3am and Naioti has work in the morning. He talks to Remm about tactics and future signings. Halfway home we stop for fried chicken and bump into the skinhead in chinos. He tells us a female Son of Ben had her scarf stolen by Columbus supporters. He's furious. Security did nothing when he reported it.
"I'd have kicked their f***ing heads in if I'd been there," he says.
The final quote is a real one. I meant it, and I do not regret saying it. But it's in the wrong context. No one had their scarf stolen. A very petite woman in our group was tackled and hit by a man several times her size in the parking lot, leaving her bloody. There was absolutely no security in the parking lot, despite being told we would have an escort. To get a police officer or security guard, I had to run all the way back in to the stadium. That cop then told me it wasn't her job to chase the person who did it, even though he was still within sight. So yeah, if I had known what was happening, I would have kicked his fucking head in -- regardless of what colors he wore.
It also bothers me that he refers to me solely as a skinhead throughout the article. He knew my name and my age, knew my occupation and where I lived. He was shocked to find out that me and the people I go to games with are working class, with full time jobs and full time studies, and that we aren't some rich suburban kids. But knowing that the Union support isn't just middle aged accountants wouldn't do him any good. He knows who I am, but giving me a face would be a lot less interesting than referring to me solely as "skinhead," a loaded term.
I am a section representative and I help capo. I attend meetings with other representatives and the heads of the SoBs. I am not a hooligan, and I am not a bovver boy. I do not care about the EPL and its casuals, bovver boys and firms. I care about the MLS. I care about Philadelphia. I care about the Union.
UPDATE - The writer of the article, Andrew Hankinson, has reached out in light of Brody's accusations posted above. The following is his response, added here at his request.
"The story is accurate and I made clear to everyone interviewed that I was from British GQ. The photographer did ask Brody and his friends to pose for photographs, two of which were used in the article.
Brody says he didn’t intimidate anyone on the train platform. He should understand that a young, male skinhead (a term he used to describe himself on several occasions) jumping and singing on a platform inevitably makes people nervous. After interviewing him I realised he intended no harm, but at the time I felt it was intimidating and the two Red Bull fans did look intimidated.
The incident with him and his friends singing on the train did happen and they did stop when two black men got onboard. It may have been a coincidence, but it looked like they stopped because the men got onboard. I don’t think Brody stopped singing because he’s racist; I think he stopped singing because he was dressed as a skinhead.
I made sure to include the quote in which he says he is anti-racism. However, skinheads are strongly associated with racism and many people from ethnic groups still feel threatened by them. Brody can’t realistically explain his personal stance to everyone who sees him and several people told me they were uncomfortable with the presence of skinheads at the PPL.
As a final note, the piece was not supposed to be anti-American or an attack on the MLS. The article was originally going to be about the Sons of Ben, but after visiting the PPL I thought there was a better story to be told about the nascent MLS culture and the debate between fans, commentators and commerce over how that culture should develop – whether to swear, how aggressive to be, whether to wear scarves, whether the baseball play-offs are more important, whether to use hooligan lingo when naming supporters' groups, and whether dressing as a skinhead is tolerable."
Now seems like a good time to reiterate that the comments are a place for discussion of the issues raised by the post, not for name-calling or personal attacks, racist, homophobic, or sexist remarks, etc., etc. There are lines, and we all know where they are. Please keep it civil.