After the Union’s exhilarating 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids I took the Union up on their offer to camp out on the field at Talen Energy Stadium. I brought my two boys, ages 6 and 11, with me and they had an unbelievable time. I found the whole experience surreal and think it’s one of the best little things this Union franchise does for their fans.
This is a time where I can appreciate the relative smallness of soccer in the United States. Can you imagine if the Eagles offered fans the option to camp on the field after a game and workout with the Eagles trainers? It would probably be the sports equivalent of Firefly. But with a modest family oriented Union fan base the team can offer up a very special experience. My guess is there were about fifty tents set up all around the field, and everyone had ample space to relax and kick a soccer ball around under the lights.
My car was packed with tent, sleeping bags, snacks and an email of rules and procedure from the Union front office on how the event would transpire. We went back to the car after the game and re-parked closer to the stadium. Our bags were checked just as if we were entering a game and then we received wrist bands and a series of souvenirs and snacks. There were t-shirts, toothbrushes, key chains, brownies, potato chips, and a very helpful staff directing us to the stations.
Once on the field it was pretty much pick your spot. Most people stayed in front of the The River End, probably because it was closest to the bathroom that was available to us near the Media Entrance. It was very surreal being on the field and my two boys were lit up as they ran around the field kicking the ball, connecting with random kids. My six year old, who only says thank you when prompted, said “Thank You” to me about a hundred times. That was already enough for me. I was thanking the Union.
We got the tent and beds set up and we zipped opened the door so that we could see whatever movie they said they’d show. About a half hour after we got there they put Finding Dory on the replay screen. Some kids sat and watched but most continued to play pick up soccer games all over the field. The joy on the field was infectious.
Kicking the ball around on this field felt like you were on hallowed ground. Once in college a friend and I snuck up to the gym where the basketball team that represented my school practiced. There was a rack of beautiful leather basketballs sitting there and we pulled them out and shot around the gym for an hour. The grip on those balls was unlike any I’d felt and that’s what kicking the ball on this field was like. Each bounce was pure and the spin on the ball would kick just how you’d expect. The grounds crew does a fantastic job with the pitch. This is probably something that professionals take for granted, but as a fan, we rarely come in contact with fields kept this well.
My six year old crashed at around 11:30 and the place was still humming. My oldest and I sat in the visiting team’s seats at field level and watched the rest of Finding Dory. At 12:42am the Talen Energy lights went down and things started to settle. But this wouldn’t be a peaceful night’s sleep in the woods. Chester itself has plenty of noise – trains, trucks rumbling over the Commodore Barry Bridge and someone with an incessantly beeping device. My kids slept well but not I.
At 6:30am on the nose the restless were shot from their sleeping bags as the Doop Song came crashing out of the loudspeakers as if Medunjanin had just hooked in the game winner. After recovering from the shock, we all slowly came out of our tents headed for the bathrooms and to check on breakfast.
Breakfast was courtesty of Bimbos with orange juice, apple juice, coffee, bagels, english muffins, rasperry pies and two toasters that didn’t work. No one seemed to care though as they rumbled and smiled through the line.
The kids were back at the soccer but this time they had help from the Union coaching staff. Garrison Draper, the Director of Sports Science for the Union Academy Teams put the kids through warmups and then training drills. I suppose the adults could have join in, but no one was up for the task.
Throughout the next hour tents came down and people started to go back to their Sunday reality. It was a wonderful escape though and one the Union seem to do for one thing and one thing only: the fans. The price of $15 per person can’t make it worth the Union’s effort for all they do. Sure the snacks and gifts and breakfast are paid for by a sponsor but security guards, staff, electricity all make this event not worth the Union’s time financially speaking. But it is clearly a great way to give a unique experience to the fans and turn them into passionate lifelong followers of the team.
As my oldest son said as we were leaving, “That was a fun event on very well cut grass.” Agreed. Thanks Union.