My first Philly/West Chester experience

Last weekend, despite ongoing threats of rain, I went to the FC Gold Pride-Philadelphia Independence game. That makes five WPS home stadiums that I have been to. I don’t feel much need to talk about the game–it was on FSC and I enjoyed it a lot–but I do want to talk about the experience.

In 2009, I was fortunate to make it to three stadiums. I saw NCAA and WPS games at Edwardsville (Athletica’s original home), W-League and WPS games at the Soccerplex (Washington’s longtime home), and WPS games at Rutgers (Sky Blue FC’s base in New Jersey). This season, I made it to Fenton (Athletica’s place of demise) and now West Chester (Philadelphia’s current home).

I’m the sort of person that preferred watching games at Edwardsville to Fenton. The fact that I’m a grad student should tell you something about my budget. After paying for the gas to make a 2-4 hour drive to a game, I just want free parking, cheap seats, and for the majority of fans to not be shrill (read: 12 years old) or rude. My priorities have shifted since last season–things that I used to just put up with are a big issue for me now. This season, I have the added fun of trying to get to games while dealing with chronic anxiety attacks, which are like panic attacks, without the obvious symptoms or triggers. Read: very, very frustrating for someone who wants to go to live sporting events. So for me, the overall stadium experience has become more important.

I’ve read complaints about West Chester. Mainly, this is one of a handful of fields where we have to deal with American football lines. Petty complaint. We have to pay for $5 parking. Better complaint. It was easy to find a way around the parking fee in Saint Louis, but I was running a little late on Philadelphia and feeling okay about the cost since Philadelphia’s cheap seats are $15 (thank you, thank you, Philadelphia). So, parking was decent, and the ticket booth was a little slow, even though I arrived right as introductions were starting.

During the first half, I sat level with the backline in front of FCGP’s goal with families and kids around me and some medical staff in front of me. I think you can tell a lot about the hometown fans from the parent-children interactions in the stands. For instance, in Saint Louis, the exchanges I heard were unenthusiastic, ignorant (with regards to women’s soccer), and negative. When the Athletica hosted FCGP last year, there was a real gem of a father that got whiny and snippy over Barnhart’s reaction to getting hit in the face on a play. Since I tend to switch seats at least twice during a game, I was able to move away from this, but what does it say when your best random fan interactions in Saint Louis are with the Chicago supporters?

I digress. Philadelphia was nothing like that. Exactly the opposite: enthusiastic without being obnoxious, better-informed, and overall positive.  When I switched seats for the second half, it was more of the same. The fans were vocal about calls and plays they disagreed with, but there wasn’t any heckling. It was like a Soccerplex crowd but with the obvious demographic differences. And considering the weather last weekend, this was a decent-sized crowd. Especially given the downpour before and immediately after the game, this was great.

Then there were the little things. You know, the things that matter but are kind of “take what you get” at sports events. PA dude with a sense of humor and humanity, no halftime line for the bathroom, a merchandise table with gear for more than just the home team. What is that, Philadelphia? For this FCGP fan, that’s awesome. I might never make it to a home game for my favorite, ridiculously expensive team, and I’m not interested in making the trek to Boston or Atlanta. If I can avoid paying for shipping, I will. So you have some limited gear for the opponents? You have a free post-game with players and fans at a local grill? The youth teams at your games don’t hit decibels that only dogs can hear? I’m sold.

I’m sold on the whole experience. I like the Soccerplex a lot, but it’s pricey and hosts a team I’m not fond of. Philadelphia is a decent team, which balances out the football lines on the field. It’s that plus the rest that makes me want to bring my friends to games. We’re not looking to be pampered and catered to. We’re 20- and 30-somethings looking for a good spectator experience that isn’t going to break the bank. I can’t wait to take them to West Chester to see Philly play.


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