At­lanta United fans are a 'rowdy, proud' bunch

Footie Mob’s loud sup­port for young team sets a new stan­dard.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - FRONT PAGE - By He­lena Oliviero ho­[email protected]

Bran­don Schecter paints At­lanta United-in­spired ban­ners, sets up flags for games and re­cently helped place pieces of foil in team col­ors of black, red and gold on ev­ery seat in Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium for a shim­mer­ing, crowd-driven dis­play of sup­port.

He’s part of an At­lanta United sup­porter group called “Footie Mob,” which tail­gates be­fore games and cre­ates elab­o­rate dis­plays in the stands for the city’s wildly pop­u­lar two-year-old soc­cer team. He’s just one of the thou- sands whose loud sup­port for the young team have set a new stan­dard for At­lanta fans in ad­vance of Satur­day’s ti­tle match for the MLS Cup 2018.

To­day be­fore kick­off, Schecter will join other rav­en­ous fans who will march their way into the Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium ac­com­pa­nied by drums and horns, singing “We are the A. From way down South. And we are here, rowdy and proud, Sha la la la Sha la la la.”

A sea­son ticket holder, Schecter trav­els to away games — from Hous­ton to Philadel­phia and Mon­treal to New York and Den­ver. The 38-year-old at­tor­ney even learned a lit­tle Span­ish to help him per­fect Latino-in­spired chants like “Vamos. Vamos At­lanta. Esta noche ten­emos que ga­nar,” or “Let’s go. Let’s go At­lanta. Tonight we have to win.”

Schecter is all-in. But hisen­thu-siasm is sur­pris­ing and un­ex­pected, even for Schecter. He grew up in Nashville, and when he moved to At­lanta about 12 years ago, he al­ready had his sports teams. He was a die-hard Pitts­burgh Steel­ers fan.

He also loved the game of soc­cer but had de­vel­oped an al­le­giance to the Ger­man Na­tional Soc­cer Team as a child.

When he first heard about At­lanta start­ing a new MLS soc­cer team, his in­ter­est was tepid at best. He had never even watched a com­plete MLS game be­fore. But at the first home game at Bobby Dodd Sta­dium just last year, Schecter was sur­rounded by pas­sion­ate fans and con­stant en­ergy — cheer­ing, chant­ing, wav­ing flags. Vo­cif­er­ous chants of ‘A-T-L’ ‘A-T-L’ re­ver­ber­ated from the stands. The soc­cer team wasn’t just good, but re­ally good. Schecter was in­stantly hooked.

“Sud­denly this team gave ev­ery­one an op­por­tu­nity to come to­gether – from trans­plants to im­mi­grants, to life­long At­lanta res­i­dents, sud­denly we have this team for ev­ery­one,” said Schecter.

Only in its sec­ond sea­son, At­lanta United has the chance to win the first ma­jor pro­fes­sional sports ti­tle for At­lanta since the At­lanta Braves won the city’s lone cham­pi­onship in 1995.

With record-break­ing at­ten­dance through­out the sea­son, At­lanta United can count on a crowd of over 70,000 fer­vent fans in the glo­ri­ous, state-of-the art Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium. Coached by Ar­gen­tine Ger­ardo “Tata” Martino, the team fea­tures Josef Mar­tinez of Venezuela and Paraguay’s Miguel Alm­iron who have lit up the league with goals and as­sists. Mar­tinez was named Ma­jor League Soc­cer’s Lan­don Dono­van MVP for the 2018 sea­son on Wed­nes­day. Alm­iron fin­ished sec­ond in the vot­ing.

Team owner Arthur Blank has flexed his mus­cles fi­nan- cially and cre­atively to launch a suc­cess­ful team.

At­lanta sports fans have a rep­u­ta­tion for show­ing up late and think­ing in the back of their mind their team won’t win a cham­pi­onship. But fans like Schecter call At­lanta United part of a new At­lanta — one that is bold, con­fi­dent and in­no­va­tive.

In March, At­lanta United fans un­furled ban­ners be­fore the game shaped like tomb- stones, read­ing “R.I.P. BAD SPORTS TOWN.”

For­get show­ing up late. Fans like Schecter show up days, even weeks be­fore games. Vol­un­teers from sup­porter groups rent space in ware­houses to work on enor­mous “tifos” — an Ital­ian word for chore­ographed dis­plays of fan sup­port.

The re­cent tifo in­volv­ing foil — spe­cially or­dered from Ger­many — on ev­ery seat was a full-sta­dium mosaic de­signed by members of the Resur­gence sup­porter group and re­quired weeks of plan- ning. Schecter and vol­un­teers from other sup­porter groups helped set it up.

“We had some con­cerns in the weeks lead­ing up to it and mak­ing sure peo­ple were ac­tu­ally in their seats and ready to go, and on time,” said Ben Reed, part of the lead­er­ship team for Resur­gence, a sup­porter group known for be­ing rowdy, rau­cous and anti-au­thor­ity.

Just af­ter the singing of the Na­tional An­them, the strik­ing tifo was re­vealed — pieces of foil spell­ing out “ATL” in one sec­tion of the sta­dium, “Vamos” across the way, and sur­rounded by five black and red strips along the side­lines.

“There was a lit­tle re­lief that it looked great, and ex­cite­ment that we have over 70,000 peo­ple here for a soc­cer game and they are re­ally into it,” said Reed of At­lanta.

In 2014, Cur­tis Jenk­ins and his friend Ste­fan Kall­weit, ex­cited about the just-an­nounced At­lanta United FC, joked on Face­book about cre­at­ing a sup­port­ers’ group and nam­ing it Footie Mob, a play off of the At­lanta hip hop group Goodie Mob which formed in the early 1990s. Within a year, they moved for­ward with the plan, found­ing what is one of four main sup­porter groups known for mix­ing mu­sic, food, beer, and soc­cer cul­ture — all with At­lanta con­nec­tions. They have mu­sic-in­spired chants from At­lanta artists in­clud­ing R.E.M and the B-52s. A sta­ple is “We Ready,” which is from an Archie Ever­sole song and likely fa­mil­iar to Fal­cons fans.

The Footie Mob has about 1,500 members who pay $25 to $65 for an­nual dues and get dis­counts to food at tail­gates and spe­cial fan mer- chan­dise in­clud­ing a scarf that says “Bless Your Heart.”

Jenk­ins, a 39-year-old At­lanta na­tive who is a fire mar­shal, has long been a fan of At­lanta sports teams with strong mem­o­ries from the 90s era of the At­lanta Braves, the 80s with Dom­inque Wilkins on the At­lanta Hawks, and the ups and downs of the At­lanta Fal­cons.

“I am a Fal­cons fan and the (Footie Mob) ac­coun­tant is a New Or­leans Saints fan, and an­other col­league is a Pitts­burgh Steel­ers fan,” said Jenk­ins. “But now, ev­ery­one has found this one team.”

Mean­while Ash­ley Robin­son, a 35-year-old stock bro­ker who lives in De­catur, is a die-hard Fal­cons fan (she has a Fal­cons tat­too on her right wrist). The tim­ing of the start of At­lanta United was per­fect, only months af­ter the crush­ing Super Bowl loss. It was the kind of loss that can bring a city down for a very long time.

“The city was de­flated, and I was ea­ger to be part of some­thing new from the ground up,” she said. “I used to say Fal­cons was the mar­riage and At­lanta United was a side thing. But it’s be­come neck and neck.”

And then there’s Gary Pater­son who lives in a small vil­lage called Urch­font near Stone­henge in the south­west of Eng­land. He lived in At­lanta from March 2015 to Septem­ber 2017 – just long enough to form a last­ing bond with At­lanta United, the team, as well as its fans. Since leav­ing At­lanta, he’s flown back for the first play­off game against New York City. And he’s fly­ing back for Satur­day’s game, his fare cov­ered by At­lanta United Pres­i­dent Dar­ren Eales who was im­pressed by Pater­son’s loy­alty.

To­day, At­lanta United’s ar­dent fans near and far are burst­ing with pride and ex­cite­ment.

“For the city, this is the c ha m pi­o­nsh ip we have been miss­ing,” said Jenk­ins. “What I love about the play­ers is they will go 100 miles an hour to the fi­nal whis­tle. This is what we need, to leave ev­ery­thing they pos­si­bly have on the field.”

And the play­ers know they’ve got fans who will also give ev­ery­thing they’ve got.

With record-break­ing at­ten­dance through­out the sea­son, At­lanta United can count on a crowd of over 70,000 fer­vent fans in state-of-the art Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium. To­day, they are burst­ing with pride. Said one, “For the city, this is the cham­pi­onship we have been miss­ing.”

CUR­TIS COMP­TON / [email protected]

Fans cel­e­brate af­ter At­lanta United for­ward Josef Mar­tinez gets the MLS sea­son record-ty­ing goal dur­ing a vic­tory in Au­gust.

JOHN AMIS

At­lanta United de­fender Ge­orge Bello takes a selfie with fans af­ter a 2-1 At­lanta vic­tory against the New Eng­land Rev­o­lu­tion in Oc­to­ber.

CUR­TIS COMP­TON / [email protected]

At­lanta United fans raise a tifo of coach Ger­ardo Martino dur­ing the first half of the semi­fi­nal play­off match against New York last month.

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