Last Saturday, over 200 supporters of D.C. United traveled north to Chester, Pennsylvania to watch the Black & Red take on the Philadelphia Union, where an early goal by Chris Rolfe was the difference in United’s 1-0 victory. However, to me, the real story occurred outside the stadium a couple hours before kickoff. There, rival fans of both United and the Union joined together to honor a fallen supporter when the Screaming Eagles, Barra Brava, La Norte and District Ultras joined the Sons of Ben and the Bearfight Brigade at the Eric Shertz Memorial Tailgate. The tailgate was in honor of Eric Shertz, a Philadelphia Union supporter who passed away suddenly on Easter Sunday. An invitation put forward by the Sons of Ben to join them at the tailgate was happily accepted by the United supporters groups.
To many in Union circles, Eric Shertz was a part of their family. But Eric was also a member of the U.S. soccer supporter family as well, and his death hit the community hard. Fans of D.C. United remember the passing of United supporter Javier "Chico" Solares back in 2012 and know what it’s like to lose a member of their soccer family. For us, it was a chance to show support to fellow fans of the game who were experiencing a similar loss.
And so, about a half hour after the D.C. United supporters buses all arrived, United fans ventured over to the tailgate, and were met with a standing ovation from the Sons of Ben. There were tons of handshakes and warm welcomes with beer and bearfights, supporters of both teams socializing with each other, taking pictures, joint cheers of “We All Hate Red Bull” and trading scarves. There were no short of 50 people that came up to me thanking us for attending the tailgate, and there were no short of 50 people to which it was made clear that it was our honor to be there. It was truly a wonderful scene, and it showed the true soccer spirit that many fans of MLS and soccer in this country really have. You won't see this kind of scene elsewhere: rival diehard fans sharing laughs and drinks and each other's company.
Even during the match, there were moments where United fans and Union supporters joined together. At the 20:10 mark, there was a minute’s silence from both sections, with United supporters holding up signs that read “RIP Eric Shertz” and “MLS Family” to complement the several signs from the Sons of Ben honoring their fallen friend. After the silence was concluded, both sections, in unison, chanted “Eric Shertz” for another minute before saluting each other. At that point, the match went on and both the away section and the home support went back to cheering on their teams.
Even after the match, members of the Sons of Ben leadership thanked us again outside the stadium for coming to the tailgate and for observing the minute’s silence. It was there we presented them with the banners we created for Eric Shertz. We wished them well and we were on our way. But to have members of the rival support, even after defeat, wait for us to leave so they could thank us for coming to the tailgate and for showing support for their fallen brother was simply incredible and showed tremendous class, a refreshing glass of awesome that you simply don't find yourself enjoying in other sports.
There are times where the game comes second to something bigger. While I'm glad we were able to leave Chester with 3 points, the most important thing that came out of Saturday is that, even if only for a little while, United supporters and Union supporters were unified as one big family. As I said to many on Saturday, it was truly my honor to be a part of a tailgate to honor a man who wanted nothing more than to bring people together. Hats off to the Sons of Ben for their warm welcome and an awesome tailgate. In soccer, fans of two teams can be against each other for 90 minutes but outside of the game, we are all supporters of the game who will not hesitate to join each other in the name of a supporter who was called home much too soon. Saturday's tailgate is one that I'd love to see again in the future, although hopefully under better circumstances.