When Atlanta United start their inaugural season next month, they'll do so with the support of an unprecedented number of new fans. Last week, the club announced that a whopping 27,000 season tickets have been sold, including 3500 for the designated supporters’ section behind goal.
And they'll be met at the home opener by four principal supporters’ groups who have anticipated this moment for years. Though Atlanta United are new to the city, soccer most surely is not – and many folks who will turn up in the stands have learned from years of experience how to set the tone.
Atlanta's boasted pro soccer for decades. The now-defunct Chiefs were an inaugural franchise of the fist NASL in 1967. The Silverbacks, still active as an NPSL franchise, have been a mainstay in the city since 1998 when the franchise (initially named the Ruckus) entered what was then the A-League.
And some vets from those days now count themselves among the groups coalescing around Atlanta United, with a distinct spirit of cooperation bringing the various factions together. Chants are still being worked up (with an initial list recently published online), capos are still being appointed, and the supporters’ groups are still gathering new members as opening day approaches. But the groups, though staking out their distinct identities, assert that they’re cooperative, complement each other, and are ready to rally behind the new team.
So how did they all come together? We can point back to 2011, when a group of Atlanta soccer fans aligned around the “ATL Wants MLS” banner, with more than 3000 signing a petition making their wishes known. Three years later, just before MLS officially announced Atlanta had won rights to the league’s 22nd franchise, more than 200 of the MLS campaign faithful attended what is now recognized as the launch party for the first official Atlanta United FC supporter's group, Terminus Legion.
According to Terminus Legion’s director of brand development, Jorge Alonso, the group is dedicated to all Atlanta soccer. Some of its official 400 members have been supporting at Silverbacks matches while waiting for MLS to officially come to the city.
The first part of the name comes from Atlanta’s history as a railroad terminus, and Terminus, the Roman god of protecting boundary markers, is invoked in the Terminalia celebration the group has hosted each year since 2014. (Naturally, it's inspired by the ancient festival of the same name.) The legion part of the name comes, simply, from “being many.”
Terminus Legion at their most recent Terminalia event. Photo by Lara Michelle
In recent years, they've heartily welcomed other groups to the extended Atlanta United fold. “We’re all collaborating, even though we’re all independent,” Alonso says of the interaction between Atlanta United supporters' groups, asserting a “passionate yet peaceful” approach to support. They’re also looking to recruit fans who have bought supporters’ section tickets, but haven’t yet claimed allegiance to one of the groups, to come find their own people.
“There’s a need to be inclusive,” Alonso says. “Atlanta is one of the most diverse cities in the country, and our groups are committed to keeping it that way.” Alonso, who is of Colombian origin, touts ethnic diversity and a near 50/50 gender split among the groups’ leadership as evidence that the team’s supporters reflect the larger community.
Footie Mob is another supporters' group on the Atlanta United scene, working together with Terminus Legion. Curtis Jenkins, who founded the group towards the end of 2015, says the city’s diversity in culture — particularly in music — is something he’d like to see reflected in the chants and in-stadium music. “If music’s played, it should be Outkast and Allman Brothers,” he says. “I want fans to be able to close their eyes and know that it’s a game being played in Atlanta.”
Footie Mob merch; photo via Footie Mob on Facebook
The group’s very name is a nod to Atlanta hip-hop pioneers Goodie Mob, who coined the “Dirty South” moniker that many in the region wears with pride. Though Footie Mob only numbers about 125 members currently, they feel that their tailgate-embracing culture and laid-back approach will help them attract like-minded fans. And they’re already at work on chants that draw from the likes of Erykah Badu. “My personal pet peeve is American chants that are based on English songs," Jenkins says. "We’re not in Liverpool.”
Resurgence, meanwhile, founded in the summer of 2015, is inspired by a punk-rock, d.i.y. approach to fandom. According to co-founder Sam Veal, the 100-member group is turning to old school legends like Sham 69 for chant inspiration, and are encouraging members to make their own Resurgence-themed gear to wear in the stands.
And while that may sound a bit aesthetically different from their counterparts, again, it's all love so far. “I’ve heard horror stories about how some supporters’ groups don’t get along,” Veal says, noting that the Atlanta groups are complementing each other well and coalescing. “It’s going to be great to finally be on the field.”
Those are the three groups so far listed on Atlanta United’s official site, but there’s actually a fourth, emergent group adding another dimension to the team’s support. Called the Faction, the group aims to be a more family- and service-oriented group, largely comprised of parents in their 30s and 40s who want to support enthusiastically and give their kids the same positive, sports-centric memories they remember from their childhoods.
“We might have been with one of the other groups a decade ago,” says co-founder and board member Mark Knipfer, “but this group fits who we are now a little better.” One principal difference is their physical location – rather than sitting behind the goal with the rest of the supporters’ section, they’ll sit behind the home bench, hoping to create one side of a whole horseshoe of support.
“The team has talked about wanting the supporters’ groups to be the beating heart of the stadium,” Knipfer says. “We’ll be the start of the circulatory system.”
Together, all of these groups are focused on the upcoming season, including the Feb. 11 preseason opener against Chattanooga FC, and the Carolina Cup Challenge later in the month.
They're also looking forward to more than just the battle for supremacy in the Southeast, and express guarded optimism about first-year playoff placement. “There might be a silly rivalry with Minnesota since we’re both coming into the league the same year, and we’re both Uniteds,” Veal says. “Personally, I love the idea of calling out a team that we shouldn’t be a rival with geographically – like, say, the Whitecaps.”