Posted by: mdegeorge | June 28, 2010

Full marks on the dawning of a new era

For most of the week in Chester, the air’s been filled with fear and mourning, tales of funerals and curfews.

But on this sun-drenched Sunday, in at least one section of this troubled town, there were only cheers and chants.

The excitement leading up to the opening of PPL Park on Chester’s Delaware River waterfront made for a celebration that did justice to its three-year buildup. And the Philadelphia Union put in a performance worthy of their fans’ adoration in sending them home with a 3-1 triumph and a prized memory in the annals not just of Philadelphia soccer, but of Philadelphia sports at large.

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The stadium itself is marvelous. But right now, it’s isolated between the still undeveloped, repossessed industrial space surrounding it (a category to which PPL’s plot of land once belonged) and the residential area just across Seaport Drive. To get there off Seaport, you have to go under an overpass and over active freight rail lines through what looks like former industrial lots.

The stadium looks amazingly out of place from almost every approach. The trip into the stadium brings you through some of the most effected of areas in Chester, a city which is the poster child for post-industrial urban decay, has almost a third of its population living below the poverty line (over three times the national average), and struggles with high crime rates.The Union put on a marvelous show in what were less than marvelous conditions. Fans were greeted by a miniature fan village providing kids with opportunities to test their soccer skills, food vendors, a live band, and plenty of blue-clad supporters to revel with. The muggy climate that dampened some of the early action on the field had little of the same effect on the fans before and after kickoff.

The stadium itself is exquisite. It is a cozy, intimate environment to watch a game in, one that holds the crowd noise extremely well. The concourses and suites level exudes a large stadium feel, but the exposed brick and proximity of fans to the pitch reminds me of a small, European soccer ground (my first impression was a modern Craven Cottage, home of Fulham in London.)

The stadium is accompanied by an excellent vista on two sides, nestled in the shadow of the Commodore Barry Bridge on the Delaware River. And just over the northwest corner of the stadium, obscured slightly by the haze of today’s humid June day, is visible to fans as a reminder of the team’s moniker.

It wasn’t just the show they put on, but the services they offered for their fans. Security, and quite frankly the team’s ability to commandeer the city’s resources to keep fans safe was truly remarkable.

The team ran shuttle buses to and from their more distant parking lots and to the Chester train station, a 1.8-mile journey that would have been daring, to say the least, even were the city not under a state of emergency. The Union had SEPTA extend not just the number of cars per train, but also the number of trains per hour on the usually sparse Sunday schedule to accommodate fans. As a rider of SEPTA to and from the game, the avoidance of finding the proper SEPTA bus and/or a lengthy wait on the platform in Chester was much appreciated.

Security and police forces were prevalent everywhere, patrolling the area to keep fans out of trouble. Extra police, along with a hoard of Union-employed greeters, were at the station before and after the game.

The Philadelphia Union shows not just a commitment to the MLS and to their fans, but to the city of Chester. Their gameday operations are staffed by over 400 residents of Chester. They’re the cornerstone in the rebuilding process of the waterfront area that will hopefully include a boardwalk, convention center, grocery store, and other upscale dining and entertainment in the near future. And they’re a leader in an economic stimulus the area badly needs.

“The people who say that a stadium doesn’t do anything, they may have a bit of a point,” said Sons of Ben culinary director “Chef” Jim Halley. “But it’s the cornerstone of a whole redevelopment. With any luck, ten years down the road, people are going to be remembering today as the beginning of Chester’s turnaround, and I hope so. It’s a beautiful area, and it just needs some help.”

The Sons of Ben are even lending a hand. They sponsor a tailgate prior to home games in which members of the supporters’ organization can pay $10 for an all-you-care-to-eat-and-drink barbeque. Any profits from the party go to benefit Help Kick Hunger, an initiative to help feed urban areas like Chester.

As Halley puts it, “We’re going to work hard to do the best we can and help out. We’re going to be the best neighbors Chester’s ever had.”

They’re off to a tremendous start.


  1. […] Full Marks on the Dawning of a New Era the Sports Doctor And the Philadelphia Union put in a performance worthy of their fans’ adoration in sending them home with a 3-1 triumph and a prized memory in the annals not just of Philadelphia soccer, but of Philadelphia sports at large. …Continue Reading […]

  2. […] memory in the annals not just of Philadelphia soccer, but of Philadelphia sports at large. …Next Page Cancel […]

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