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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Video: Keka Scores Fantastic Goal in NCAA D1 Debut

After winning Player of the Year at the Junior College level, Mohammed "Keka" Kemara transferred to UCLA and played in his first game last night against Coastal Carolina, which ironically, is the school that fellow Silverback DZ Harmon now attends.

The UCLA Bruins went on to get the best of the Chanticleers winning 4-0 with one of the goals being scored by Keka when he amazingly chipped the keeper.

Silverbacks General Manager Phoday Dolleh shared the video on his Twitter account, while also adding "they said D1 will be too hard for (Keka), I said he is special. Watch my word America."

 Keka joins a UCLA team that suffered a down year in 2017 with a record of 7-10-1, missing the NCAA Tournament in which they usually qualify for, and win one or two games in a typical season. The Pac 12 is a very competitive conference for Soccer with Stanford being a national powerhouse that has won the last three consecutive National Championships, as well as California, and Washington who regularly make the NCAA tournament. Keka will have his work cut out for him in a tough soccer conference but if this first game is any indication on how his season will go, his team will be very competitive, and he will have plenty of chances to impress professional scouts.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Tales From The Road: Say It Ain't So, I Will Not Go (Greenville)

In this second edition of "Tales From The Road" I'll recall the best I can, my trip to Greenville, South Carolina, to see the Silverbacks take on Greenville FC. As a city, I have a huge soft spot for Greenville, and it's a place I could see myself moving to after College if I don't end up staying in Atlanta. The extent of my love for Greenville is to the point where my friends are concerned. Personally, I think they overreact because it's not like I can't just drive the 2.5 hours on Saturdays to watch the Silverbacks with them if it does indeed happen. The moral of this story is that there might be a little bit of bias in this post, but I don't see it as a negative one.

Our story begins at roughly 1pm in Dunwoody, as the same road trip partner from my trip to Asheville is stuck at his side job, I find myself hungry and in need something to do while I wait for him to get off. I decided to eat at the Burger King around the corner from his Complex. Keep in mind I hadn't eaten at Burger King I have no idea how long so I wasn't sure what to expect. Nothing could have prepared me for what might be the best deal I've ever seen: 10 Chicken Nuggets for $2. Sure Burger King's Chicken Nuggets ( and the rest of their food in general) isn't the best but it was still a fantastic deal, and it meant that I would have more Beer Money in Greenville.

We had an extra friend join us for the car ride to Greenville, and somehow, I ended up sitting in the back seat, but once again I was in charge of the playlist, so not all was lost. Unfortunately, my playlist making skills would later be replaced by my trusty pilot getting a Sirius XM subscription, but it was fun while it lasted.

We arrived in Greenville at the Campus of Furman University at roughly 4:30 in the afternoon if I recall correctly.  Furman is a litttle bit further north of Downtown Greenville so there was no shopping or eating to be done, but that didn't matter we found a good tailgating spot near Furman's Football stadium, isolated away from the rest of the event-goers, and then proceeded to have our beers and kick the ball around under the shade of a tree.

This was how the majority of our pregame was spent, and then it came time to go into the stadium. There were two elderly ladies taking tickets at the game, and when it became my turn to go in, Uptown Funk was playing over the PA system and they were jamming away while taking tickets, which I thought was pretty cool. I decided to walk around the stadium and I saw two things I wasn't expecting: A King Of Pops vendor, and someone wearing the jersey of my favorite Bundesliga team, Schalke.

After I got my popsicle and awkwardly complimented a stranger on his Schalke jersey, I went back to join my friends and see what other Silverbacks fans had spotted us and were prepared to join us.
If memory serves me right, there were close to 10 Silverbacks fans that made the trip. One of which attended East Carolina University in Greenville, NORTH Carolina, a place which he has very fond memories of, more so than the South Carolina version at least. I must say I got a real big kick out of him screaming "THIS IS NOT THE REAL GREENVILLE " at the top of his lungs on one or two occasions during the game.

Security at this game was pretty relaxed, to the point where they let some fans stand on the ledges of the walls separating the stands and the playing field. I didn't have much faith in me being able to keep my balance so I tried to stay off of it, but those with better balance seemed to be having the times of their lives.

The game itself ended as a 1-1 draw. The Silverbacks failed to convert an early Penalty kick opportunity but would manage to put one in just a few minutes later. Greenville would then equalize, and the game would end as a draw, but not without a few fireworks. Late in the game, there was a skirmish on the side of the field furthest from where I was standing that nearly emptied the benches. In the end, Ebrima Njie was shown a red card, and to this day I'm not entirely sure what really happened. Someone asked Njie after the game what happened with the red card and he only shook his head and laughed.

So after the game, there was still one more thing to do, find a bar to watched Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, in which my Washington Capitals were playing in. The closest place was The Pumphouse Grill. It also happened to be karaoke night at The Pumphouse, with most of the patrons opting to cover Country songs, and I figured "hey I'm just here to get some food and watch Hockey with my friends. I can tune this out." The Capitals were well in control of the game and the Buffalo Chicken Sub I ordered was very satisfying, but eventually, it got to the point where I was dying for variety in music, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I decided to channel my inner-Tom Delonge. When I say that I don't mean I tried to chase aliens and UFOs, I'm saying I chose to sing All The Small Things by Blink-182, As I'm singing the chorus of the song I happen to look over at my road trip partners who are sitting at our table reasonably close to the stage, both taking videos of me and cheering me on. It was at that moment I realized just how great of a trip this was. Yes our team had tied a game they probably should have won, and the heat was absolutely terrible that day. But here we were in a bar where we undoubtedly stuck out like sore thumbs having the time of our lives.

After the Capitals won the Hockey game, we decided to head home, but not without a stop at 7-11 so I could get my Slurpee fix. I would like to end the story there, but I feel like I have to point the very next day that I ended up having a Pool Party with a few friends, and I said that I wouldn't mind moving to Greenville after college and one friend's response was "Taylor! We were literally just in Greenville yesterday. Should I have just left you there?" To which I paused for a second, and then replied with "yes."

So there you have it. Now you know how much I love Greenville, how enthusiastic I am about Karaoke, and how good I am at making the most of a disappointing result. Stay tuned for my next post where I will talk about my trip to Nashville. I don't want to give too much away because then you wouldn't read it, but it was definitely the best trip of the summer.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tales From The Road: The Magical Mountain Tour (Asheville Away)

As another Silverbacks season has come and gone, I feel like it's important to reflect on all of the good times that were had while the season was going on, and boy did I have some good times. Whether it be at Silverbacks Park, Tara Stadium in Jonesboro, Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell, Asheville, Greenville, Nashville (too many "villes"), and at the end Chattanooga; it was so much more than just driving to the game, watching the game, and driving home from the game. I like to think I have enough stories from this season to last me a lifetime, especially from the road trips. I feel like I could make a whole series of posts about my road trips, which is EXACTLY what I'm doing. Hopefully, it'll help make up for how many chances I missed to write articles because I was neck deep in homework after all of my weekends away.

Seeing as how I missed the trip to Knoxville to see the Silverbacks play Emerald Force, this series will begin on a rainy Saturday in Asheville.

After one particular friend I agreed to carpool together for this trip, it came down to the next order of business, constructing a playlist for the ride. The main thing I tried to avoid doing was making it too Pop Punk heavy because I had a reputation to uphold as someone who puts a lot of variety into road trip playlists. I did a good job of this... until about 3 hours before we were set to leave when I added roughly 20 additional Blink-182 songs, to the 3 preexisting songs on the playlist. Not that it mattered in the long run because I had so many songs on a playlist for a relatively short drive so we went a long time without hearing any of those impulse songs

With a full tank of gas in his car and my still decent playlist playing on his stereo, we were on our way. Once you get out of Georgia the typical route from Atlanta to Asheville is pretty scenic. Both years I've gone it ended being a mix of Interstates, State Routes, and Backways as well. The best part is when you get closer to Asheville and the mountains are suddenly in the distance. We made good time throughout the ride and made it before all but one of the other Silverbacks fans we met up with.

When you get to downtown Asheville you will have no trouble finding cool little gift shops, amazing dogs being walked on every sidewalk, breweries in abundance, as well as hipsters doing hipster things, but a parking spot? That's far more challenging to find in Asheville and may involve a couple of trips around the block. When you do find a spot, however, you can walk pretty much anywhere you want in the area. For my friends and I, that was a place called Burial Brewing Company. Burial was where my friends and I hung out before attending the game last year and it left a good impression on us so we decided to return. The main attraction at Burial, apart from the beer, of course, is the fact that their door handle is shaped like the Grim Reaper's scythe, which unfortunately it took me a whole year to figure that out, but better late than never.

Memorial Stadium itself is just uphill from McCormick Field where Minor League Baseball's Asheville Tourists play. It's a multi-use facility so, in addition to Soccer Goals, there are also Football Goalposts. The thing I like the best about the venue it personally is how good the view of the mountains is. What can I say? I have an infatuation with mountains.

The game itself was pretty much gut punch after gut punch because in addition to the Silverbacks losing 3-1, I found out that 3 of Asheville's players were also players from my school, Georgia State University. I hadn't had much time to look up Asheville's roster but I heard the PA announcers mention them by name and I had to do a double take. Sure enough, it was the same people I had watched pretty much every week of College Soccer season. When the reality finally sunk it, I couldn't resist the urge to jokingly yell "you're playing for the wrong team! You go to school in Atlanta" at them. I don't know if they could actually hear me say it but I did get to talk to one after the game. He said he did recognize me, but for some reason, he wanted to say my name was Robert, as opposed to Taylor. Little did I know, next time I talked to him it would be after the game at Silverbacks Park the very next week, and I had to ask him what was going through his mind when he showed Westside 109 his underwear after one of his teammates scored a goal.

One moment that probably sticks out for me more than anything else that happened on this trip was after the full-time whistle. The PA system in Asheville started playing "Come On Eileen" and one of my friends spontaneously changed the lyrics to "Come On You Backs" and we all loved it so we joined in, and it has since become a tradition that we sing it everytime we're either on our way to or from an away game.

 After the game, there was the task of getting home, which was one-half walking back to the car in pouring rain and trying to say all of our goodbyes, as well as one-half driving. My carpooling buddy decided a few days in advance that he didn't want to go all the way back so he suggesting spending the night with some people he knew in South Carolina, relatively halfway between Asheville and Atlanta, which I was totally fine with.

Remember when I said my friend had a full tank of gas in the beginning? Well by this point we did need to stop so we found this gas station, and for the life of me I can't remember the gas station, but it turned out to be the best one I had ever been to. It had been a while since I had eaten so I grabbed a LOT of snacks. The kind of snacks that would cost me somewhere near $12 the gas station nearest to my house, but my some sort of miracle it only cost me half that at this magical South Carolina gas station, which is what I will forever know it as because I can't remember the name.

So that was my adventure to Asheville to watch the Silverbacks. As good of a trip as it was, it was probably the trip that was the least memorable. Perhaps I was still just getting into the swing of things, perhaps I've forgotten about one or two other things that happened (I'm sure one of my friends will tell my right away if that is indeed the case), or maybe Asheville just didn't have as much to offer as the other places I visited did.

In the next part of this new "Tales From The Road" series, I will be telling you all about my trip to Greenville. Stay tuned for more reading about the adventures of a lower division Soccer traveler.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Dejecting Draw And A Boneheaded Boris Decision

Before we begin our regularly scheduled blog post, I would just like to take a moment to say that sometimes the hardest part of doing this blog is having to even think about what went wrong after travelling to an away game and having vast amounts of fun even if the result wasn't a win, but I suppose it comes with the territory. The Atlanta Silverbacks shared honors with Greenville FC in a game that ended 1-1 on Saturday at the campus of Furman University.

The Silverbacks had a chance to take the lead early when they were awarded a penalty, but Keka was unable to convert as his shot was saved by Greenville's Paul Tyson. The Silverbacks would later take the lead through a Sherriff Suma goal in the 34th minute, so not all was lost.

The Silverbacks were able to hold onto the lead until the 71st minute when Greenville's Quinn McNeill scored from about 20 yards out to equalize the score. The game would end that way but not without some controversy. In the 89th minute a small altercation started after what appeared to be a dispute about a Greenville playing staying down on the ground, a Silverbacks player yelling at them to get up, goalkeeper Paul Tyson shoving said Silverbacks player, and then it further escalating to the point where the Greenville bench players all stood up and nearly ran onto the field.

Take that description with a grain of salt because I was on the complete other side of the field so maybe someone who was closer to where the skirmish occurred might have seen it differently. But that's my recollection of it.

In the end, only the Silverbacks' Ebrima Njie was dismissed from the game.

Ultimately, the Silverbacks missed too many opportunities to increase their lead, and then after Greenville equalized they had a lot of the better chances in the dying minutes up until that dust-up mentioned above which more than likely killed any chance of either team scoring another goal.

Next up for the Silverbacks is another game against Georgia Revolution on Wednesday June 6, this time at Silverbacks Park. Unfortunately it was announced recently that the kickoff time from this game would be changed from 7 pm to 5 pm, much to the annoyance of many Silverbacks fans.

According to a source, a scheduling conflict between Boris and the team first arose a few weeks prior. The initial proposed solution was to change the date of the game to July 8 so they could appease Boris and still play at 7pm. Unfortunately the date changed also needed to be approved by the Revolution ,and the NPSL themselves. One of which appeared to not approve of this change.

A popular talking point in situations that involve kickoff times being changed because Boris refuses to help the team, is the fact that there are many other possible venues that the Silverbacks could move their game to in such events. It is possible that Phoday was in discussion with other sites, but nothing came to fruition so playing the game at 5 pm was the only option that remained, despite the disappointment of everyone except Boris.

As far as the Revs themselves go, they were in New Orleans this past weekend where they were handed a 3-1 loss at the hands of the Jesters, with Isaac Promise scoring their lone goal. The Revolution continue to fall further down the standings. In first place just a week ago, they are now in 6th place only ahead of Greenville, and Emerald Force.

The Silverbacks currently sit 5th in the standings, which makes them safe in the playoff race, but it could jeopardize their chances of hosting a playoff game. With this in mind, it seems bragging rights aren't the only thing at stake. If you can find a way to make it Silverbacks Park despite the inconvenient kickoff time, it would be worth your time because this game is bound to be interesting.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Silverbacks Look Strong Against "Rejuvenated" Revs

On a humid Wednesday night in McDonough, Georgia, Silverbacks fans from all sides of Metro Atlanta were treated to a dominant 5-0 win by their team over local rivals Georgia Revolution.

Henry County High School is the third home for the Revolution in as many seasons. Regardless of where the games are played they have still been unable to beat the Silverbacks. This season's squad looked stronger on paper, and has already improved from last season by winning a game, yet they were unable to have any success against the Silverbacks that night.

With Theo Blachon in net, and a starting backline of Manuel Moreno, Abdul Bangura, Mo Issahaku, and Ryan Marcano the Silverbacks defense thwarted every Revs attack, the few times they managed to get past the holding midfield pair of Lansana and Oliveira, that is.

The Silverbacks struck first very early in the match when a long ball was controlled very well by Keka, who passed to Joao, who passed to Suma, who passed back to Joao who provided a clinical finish in only the 6th minute.

It wouldn't be the only goal that Silverbacks captain Sherriff Suma would record an assist for as he would later deliver a free kick that met the head of Keka only 5 minutes later. Keka's header went very high and descended slowly but still managed to drop at the right time and sneak into the net.

Keka would return the favor in the 31st minute after getting by a Revolution defender and passing the ball to Sherriff Suma who would go on to score the Silverbacks' third goal on the night. Suma's shot ending up hitting a Georgia Revolution defender but he wasn't in a position to clear the shot off the line so it still ended up in the back of the net. Regardless, it looked like he was standing completely over the line so it was always going to be a goal, and it was always going to be credited to Suma.

The Silverbacks fourth, and arguably most satisfying goal of the night came in the 66th minute when a long ball from Joao was controlled by Keka who took on the lone defender in pursuit of him, made him look foolish by making him fall, going around him, then doing something similar to the keeper, and then walking the ball into the net.

The Silverbacks fifth and final goal was scored by Nyambi Jabang in the 76th minute after he received the ball in his own half and beat three Revolution defenders. A few minutes prior, Jabang was set to take a free kick but slipped while running up to hit it, so one could say that him scoring a goal was a very satisfying moment for not just him, but the fans that also felt a little bit of sympathy for him.

It was a great performance for the members of the Atlanta Ultras and Westside 109 that made the journey to the Southside, as well as other Silverbacks fans that were in attendance. This performance was a great momentum builder going into Saturday when the Silverbacks travel to Greenville for their first meeting against Greenville FC, a trip that many Silverback fans are likely to make.

After the tough 1-0 loss to Asheville last weekend, Phoday was disappointed but still confident that the team was capable of turning it around. "Sometimes the reality check comes early in the season. We just have to shake it off and get back to work. We'll be fine." It's possible that the dominating performances over the Revolution, and even the Emerald Force are what we can expect from the Silverbacks throughout the remainder of the season. Maybe Asheville just had their number in those two games. It's possible the Silverbacks will meet them again come playoff time so that might be a problem in itself, but that's a long way away so for now it's best to continue to hope for the best, and enjoy it when the best of this team does present itself like it did Wednesday night.

The Silverbacks' next game is Saturday June 2nd on the road against Greenville FC, the first meting between the two team. Some of the notable players on their roster include Jose Cubillan who played against the Silverbacks in the US Open Cup with SC United Bantams last year, former Silverbacks player Willie Hunt, and Paul Tyson who currently attends Georgia State. Their last game was a 1-1 draw against the Georgia Revolution at home in which their only goal was an own goal by a Revolution player. Prior to that they suffered a heavy 5-2 defeat at the hands of Emerald Force at home. Kickoff for saturday's game is set for 7 pm at Eugene Stone Soccer Stadium on the campus of Furman University.

Friday, May 25, 2018

'backs Look To Strike Back Against Asheville

The Silverbacks will look to avenge 3-1 road loss they suffered at the hands of Asheville City on May 26 when they host the same Asheville team in their home opener. The Silverbacks have not played since the aforementioned May 19 loss while Asheville played Chattanooga FC to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday, May 23.

Asheville struck first in the game that took place last saturday when a penalty kick was converted by Bruno Andrade in the 7th minute. The Silverbacks would answer 14 minutes later with former FC Cincinnati player Aaron Walker converting a penalty kick for his first Silverbacks goal.

The two teams went into halftime level but Asheville would retake the lead on a goal by Thomas Deeley in the 54th minute when his run went completely unnoticed by the Silverbacks defenders. The lead was later doubled by Hannes Burmeister in the 64th minute after assisting Deeley's earlier goal. A whiffed clearance attempt by a Silverbacks defender left the door wide open for Burmeister who converted his chance with ease. Burmeister is one of three players on Asheville City's roster that currently attends Georgia State University. The other two are Frank Rosenwald and Lukas Joyner. Substitutions played a big part in the game as the aforementioned duo of Deeley and Burmeister did not start the game, entering in the 46th and 53rd minutes respectively.

In order to get a better result, the Silverbacks will have to make sure these defensive mistakes are not repeated, and the attack must not be as stagnant as it was. The season is still in its early days but another loss to Asheville could be a setback in Atlanta's race for the regular season Southeast Conference Title. Kickoff is set for 7pm at Silverbacks Park on Saturday, May 26.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Learning The Ways Of The (Emerald) Force

The Silverbacks' NPSL Season opener will be this Wednesday, May 16, in Knoxville against Emerald Force SC.

The majority of players on the Force's roster are from Knoxville, as well as surrounding towns, but there are a few exceptions. Some players hail from places like Nashville, Wycombe, and even Duluth. A Couple of players to watch are Lucas Altman, who was Wofford's top scorer last year. Connor Jacobs who scored 3 goals and recorded 6 assists last season for John Hopkins. Alexander Garuba who played his High School Soccer at Duluth High, and was All-County his senior year. A few returners from last year's team include Ashley Kelynack and Kalulu Bamba.

The Silverbacks beat the Force twice in as many meetings last season. The first meeting was a 2-0 win at Silverbacks Park. It was in this game that DZ Harmon scored his first goal with the Silverbacks, and Avery Shepherd made an immediate impact by scoring the second goal only 12 minutes after coming on as a sub. The game wasn't without controversy though, as Mitch Garcia posted a picture of his face bloodied up after that game with a caption stating his annoyance towards Knoxville players continuously elbowing him while going for headers.

The second meeting in Knoxville was a 4-2 win for the Silverbacks. That game is probably best remembered as Keka's breakout game in the red and black. He scored two goals against the Force and continued to wreak havoc on every team he faced after that. The other goals were scored by Joao Johanning Mora and Abraham Lansana.

If all goes to plan, the match will be stream by the Force's supporter group, Scruffy City Syndicate will be streaming the match live. A fan's best bet is to keep a sharp eye on their social media, as well as Silverbacks social media for the link. After Wednesday's match, the Silverbacks will travel to Asheville on Saturday for their second game, and then prepare for their home opener on May 26, also against Asheville.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Silverbacks vs Life University Preview

The last preseason test for the Silverbacks comes in the form of the Life University Running Eagles, on Friday, May 11, in Marietta. The Silverbacks are coming off of a 1-1 draw against a very formidable Jacksonville Armada team, and a 6-0 win over AFC Mobile before that.

 Life Unversity Men's Soccer is still a relatively young program that began play in 2016. Featuring Silverbacks forward Thierry Jules, Life's 2017 team went 9-9 in the regular season, with a first-round victory in the Mid-South Conference tournament over the University Of The Cumberlands before falling to Lindsey Wilson in the following round. Thierry Jules lead the team with 10 goals and 4 assists and was followed closely by Wessley Soronellas (9 goals 2 assists), and Marek Beno (6 goals 2 assists). 

The Running Eagles are lead by Alex Pama who is notable for his success as an executive with SC Cambuur in The Netherlands. Pama was the CEO at Cambuur during a fascinating time in the club's history with record attendance, record jersey sales, and near promotion in 2009 and 2010. Cambuur did eventually get promoted to the first tier of Dutch Soccer in 2013, shortly after Pama had left, but he no doubt played a significant role in helping them get there. 

Kentaro "Taka" Takada, a member of the 2017 Silverbacks team, also served as a Volunteer Assistant on the Running Eagles coaching staff. Taka recent announced on Twitter that he won't be playing for the Silverbacks this season, so maybe coaching is the next phase for him.

With the season opener on the road against Emerald Force (Formally Knoxville Force) fast approaching, it's crucial for the Silverbacks to continue the positive the positive momentum they've been building this preseason. Kickoff is set for Friday, 7 pm at Lupo Field in Marrietta.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Silverbacks vs Armada Preview - By Taylor Peyton

Coming off a 6-0 thrashing of AFC Mobile, the Silverbacks will be looking to continue gaining momentum heading into their May 16th season opener against the newly re-branded Emerald Force in Knoxville. The Jacksonville Armada is the Silverbacks' opponent this Saturday, in the first matchup between these two sides since 2015. Ironically my first away game was in Jacksonville, but that's a story for another day.

If you've attended any of the preseason games, or have been following through social media, you know by now what the core of this Silverbacks team is starting to look like. Fan favorites from recent years like Alex Harlley, Joao Johanning Mora, Abdul Bangura, Avery Shephard, and even Bryce Billington, to name a few, are back in the red and black and still very much at the top of their games. Then you have newer faces like Aaron Walker, Kebba Demba, Ryan Marcano, and new captain Sherriff Suma making great first impressions on the Silverbacks faithful. Then there's of course, the entertaining style of play that has been installed by new head coach Roberto Neves, that you have to see to believe.

The Silverbacks are looking promising for this upcoming season. That's a fair assessment. But What about the Armada? What do they have in store after announcing they'll play in the NPSL for 2018 while waiting out the ever-uncertain situation with the NASL? Some notable names on the roster include Drew Beckie, Yuma, J.C. Banks, Conor Doyle, as well as a trio of players who were part of that 2015 squad that played against the Silverbacks in the NASL; Mechack Jerome, Derek Gebhard, and Alhassane Keita.

The Armada's season starts much earlier than the Silverbacks', April 28th against Miami FC, to be exact, so there's a good chance the Silverbacks will see something very close to a provisional Jacksonville starting 11 on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 5 pm, but the friendly against Mobile was delayed a few minutes because the referees arrived late so you never know for sure. It should still be a good day at Silverbacks Park so clear your schedule to watch this relatively high-profile friendly, and cheer on the 'backs to #SinkTheArmada.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Supporter Culture Pioneers - An Epic Interview with Westside 109 Founder Kurt Braunsroth

For the uninitiated, Westside 109 is the oldest currently operating supporters group for Atlanta Silverbacks FC.  Kurt Braunsroth founded the group in the mid-90s.  Buckle up.  This is an extensive interview about the wild and wacky first couple decades of supporter culture in Atlanta.

Planet of the Backs: Let’s start at the beginning. Were you involved with the Silverbacks ancestor club, the Atlanta Ruckus?
Kurt Braunsroth: I started in 1996. I missed the '95 season, although I monitored them and watched a little bit. I won't say on TV, but I kept up with them. Watching them and the success they had, I said, "You know what. I need to be there next year". So '96 was my first year.
POB: Wasn’t there an early supporters group called the Ruckers?
KB: Yes. Yes, they were there in '95. At least I heard that. By the time I got there in '96, they had given up and had left. And I ended up showing up about the time they left with a drum, and there you go. I mean, then they ended up showing up years later as Eastside 309.
POB: Didn't you guys originally call yourselves the Blue Army or something like that?
KB: Right. I was trying to obviously get more people beside myself. And I was putting out through the Internet and anyway else... fliers and whatever, calling myself the Blue Army, but really it was me. '96-'97, somewhere in there Blaise shows up. '98'-'99? I think it was somewhere in there...
POB: You were the first guy.
KB: I am the first guy. I think I still have it... there's an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution from 1996 that speaks of 'The Lone Drummer.' I've still got a copy of it. 'The Lone Drummer,' yeah. And it's a write up on a game where we lost like... I'm trying to remember, but it was like 5-0 or 6-0. I remember the game because there was one of our players who had a compound fracture. [Laughs] On a flying tackle, a bad flying tackle. That gave him a compound fracture. It was an awful game. And then it poured rain. That was my first game. [Laughs]
POB: You and your drum were the supporter section.
KB: Yeah. Wendy Parker wrote that article. I can't remember exactly how bad we lost. We lost very bad. I had seen the USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago in Richmond - it was a world cup qualifier. After that, I just said, "I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna start drumming for these local Ruckus games" because I'd drummed in high school. I knew a little bit about it. I bought a drum, and I just started showing up and said, "I'm gonna keep going to games and keep drumming because there's not people making noise. There's not." And so I've got my drum to... as a kind of a forced multiplier if you want to use a military jargon. You know? Just make noise. I'm just gonna keep going until the team is gone. There you go. And so here it is, God, how many years later? 96 to now. And uh, yeah, I'll still go to games.  I'll still drum. You know, I'm gonna keep that promise.
POB: Who was the first person to join you in the Blue Army?
KB: Oh god. Well, the 1st person to really show up was my wife. Um, she's a wonderful musician and uh yeah we started dating in... I could remember the day. Up 'til then, it was several years so... 96, 97, 98, 99, 2000.
POB: It was just you all those years?
KB: Pretty much just me, yeah. Pretty much... every now and then somebody would show up um and we would work together. There were these three Mexican kids, and I don't remember their names. Wonderful fans. They came several years in a row. They would bring a car battery and a siren and a horn, and they would hook it up to the car battery. We would honk the horn to the rhythm I was beating, or they would hit the siren. They were great, great guys. There was a guy named Hunter Sheridan. And Jason Longshore, who is known these days for his work with the charity Soccer In The Streets. We would heckle, but it was pretty much just me and maybe occasionally somebody else for those first several years.
POB: There’s a photo circulating on social media of a few fans with a big, handmade banner of the Ruckus crest.
KB: There was a banner. It was two queen-sized bed sheets, and they were like grey. I had my mom sew them together, and then I took an overhead projector, and I took the logo of the time projected on it, traced it and painted it. It took...I think it was the 2nd or 3rd try because I kept using the wrong paint and it would chip off and eventually I found a paint that would stick. I finally got it to work, and it was like, "OK, I've done it. I've got this done".
POB: After your wife, who was the next person to show up and stick around for the long term?
KB: Since the club was in the United Soccer League at the time, I was always on the USL discussion boards back in those days. Then one day, I get this post from a guy he calls himself Blaise. And I'm like, yeah come on to games. Come on. And he's the next one to have the balls to really be like "I'm gonna do this. I'm gonna show up". And he showed up, and we would hang out and drink beer. I would drum, and he would just hang out with me and sing a little bit. Yeah, he's the guy. He's a really good guy, a really brave guy. You know, 'cause it's funny, you got... I sensed there were other people that wanted to jump in, but they didn't want to be the first one to join me and my wife. And Blaise was the one that had the balls to go, "I'm gonna be the first one." So yeah, hats off to Blaise.
POB: So, now, the early days as the Silverbacks... where was the club playing?
KB: OK, so early days it's Adams Stadium, which is a high school field over there on Clairmont, I think? Where the Ruckus used to play. And then they ended up going over to Roswell High School, I think it was, way up on the North side...which is a dilapidated, abandoned high school field. That was when Vincent Lu was the owner. They did that, I wanna say, two seasons? '97 and '98, which were pretty awful.
POB: Was that when they were called A-League Atlanta or something like that?
KB: Yes. Well, first they were the A-League and then what happened was Vincent Lu was like, I'm done with this. I mean, right in the middle of the season, he's like I'm done, I'm walking away, I'm not paying for anything. So the league took over and started paying... yeah, 'cause they can't have a team fold in the middle of the season. Um, and it looked really bad, and I was like OK this is the end of the team. But then we got new owners that took over in the middle of the '98 season. They ended up renaming the club...which leads back to my tifo story. So they show up to a game, and I remember walking up to them and saying, “This is great, you're gonna buy the team!” Well, they were just considering it at that point. I come with the deal. I'm like an added dividend. [Laughs] I'm showing them the tifo. "I made this. And I come free with the team", you know. 'Cause I wanna save the team. And yeah, and they're looking at it. Awesome guys. They're like, “Yeah, you know we're gonna have to change the name and the logo.” And I'm like, "Yeah, OK." You know, after all the hours it took to make that logo banner - 200 hours. I estimated it at...that's probably about alright. And I'm like, "OK, do whatever you gotta do. I'll just make a new one. I know what to do now, I know how to do it. I won't be 200 hours the next time" So yeah. So...that went down.
POB: So the Silverbacks name is born at this point?
KB: With black and blue as the team colors. And then Boris took over from those interim owners. He kept the Silverbacks name, but we went from blue colors to red colors when Boris took over. 'Cause apparently Boris likes Manchester United. Our first kit under his ownership was like a Manchester United knockoff.
POB: When they changed the colors to red, you couldn't be called the blue army anymore right?
KB: Exactly and on top of that... heh, here's another little story. Before they changed the colors I worked a 2nd job 'cause I wanted scarves. Again, I'm doing anything, everything I can to make people interested in this team. And so I thought, "Scarves! We could have scarves!" This was way back in those days when nobody liked soccer. So here's this obscure website that basically promises to give you soccer scarves, OK? You send them the design, and they'll make some for you. So I was like, "Yeah! That... I'm gonna do that". So I work a 2nd job. I negotiate with them. 'Cause they wanted a lot more and I said, "Look. Here's what it looks like I'mma give ya", you know? And I want to say it was right around $1000 which was a lot of money, back then...especially back then.
POB: And these were scarves for the club?
KB: Yeah. And I've got a few left - they're blue, white, and black. It's a knockoff from Celtic. I saw this Celtic design of a scarf and I went, "That's what I want". But, in our colors, so it was black and white checkerboard with blue on the ends and the old blue and black Silverbacks logo, OK? Which, I never asked the team permission. But again, back in those days nobody cared, you know? I created the design myself on my home computer, even though I'm not a design artist. I mean, I put a lot of work into this. Ordered a crapload of 'em, like a couple thousand of 'em. Like, I wanna say 1500-2000 of those scarves. And I paid for them myself using my extra job money. We tried to raise money selling them, but it didn't work. So we ended up giving a lot of them away.
POB: Collector's item.
KB: Totally rare. But I've got a handful of 'em up in my closet still. So, we put out those blue scarves, and then of course, classic Silverbacks type of moment: "Hey, we're gonna go to red!" [Laughs] But to give people an idea, I mean, I've been through some serious shit with the Silverbacks. I do this on my own time, I work an incredible amount of extra hours. I raise money for these scarves to promote the team, and then they change the color.
POB: If you weren't in Silverbacks Park yet, you weren't in section 109 yet. And if the club color wasn't blue anymore, was there an interim name after the Blue Army?
KB: By then there was more than just me. And we talked about it and I don't think we ever came up with a name. We just...were like the guys who banged drums in the stand. We didn't come up with a name again until we went to Silverbacks Park and we said, "We really gotta come up with a name. What are we gonna call ourselves?” And we all put our heads together and nobody could come up with anything good...and then we said we should just name ourselves after the section that we sit in, which was Westside 109.
POB: Anything else about those days before Silverbacks Park opened?
KB: We played for awhile in the Roswell suburban area. It was a dilapidated stadium that Vincent Lu had control of. We didn't put any money into fixing it up. I mean, it's an old, messed up high school stadium. We did that for two seasons. Oh my god, those days...I tell people, "Whatever you see from the Silverbacks now...and you whine about it. It’s nothing compared to the '97-'98 era". Literally, the entire game day operations were Vincent Lu and his immediate family, OK? I'm not kidding. Tickets, everything. He's buying pizzas himself, ordering pizzas, and handing slices to the fans. "Thanks for coming". [Laughs] I mean, you wanna talk about rinky-dink. That is as rinky-dink as it gets. You's funny though. I look back at those days now and I'm proud of that. A lot of people would be like, "Oh, that’s so screwed up. I'm ashamed of that". No, no. Not me. I'm proud of it because I hunkered down and I hung with it. And anybody who was with me in those days, I salute 'em, because you're a real fan. You know those guys who show up to Atlanta United today, it's like it's all... finished and tied up with a brilliant red bow around it and you just pay some money. I can't after all I've been through, and you're gonna hear more, but... after all I've been through, do you think I'm gonna just jump ship? And just he like, "Ohh, they've got money.”
POB: So when did the core group that became Westside 109 start to build up?
KB: Definitely when we played at DeKalb Memorial Stadium. That's when Blaise showed up. That's when my wife showed up. My wife first, then Blaise. Then Kevin Stephens was the next one, if I remember right. Good guy. Yeah, he's still around.
POB: Alright, and then it just kind grew from there into a real kind of supporter section?
KB: Once you had that critical mass. You get those couple of people and then there's other ones that go, like, “Oh. It's not just one guy anymore.” You know, it's like, “There’s a guy and a cute girl and this guy other guy and another guy!” It's weird. You could see it happening. I'd be drumming and there’d be people sitting close, but they wouldn't come over. They’d be, like, really close and they'd be watching and you could see them looking! And they’re just like, “Oh, no-no. I can't do it”. And then my wife showed up and it was like, you know… I mean, let's face it – when you get a cute girl sitting with you it's like, “OK he can't be… he can't be that weird. He’s got a cute girlfriend,” you know? Blaise shows up and then Kevin shows. And then now you've got four people and it was easier, much easier, after that. And the teams also. Boris shows up and he’s running the team and there's more money being spent. So people are starting to show up and it's much easier to jump in. It was almost like… I don’t know, a secret society. I mean, there’s these guys – because soccer is not cool back then – and you got these people that show up and go, “This is really fun and what you guys are doing in the stands is really fun.” And they start to kind of show up. And we end up with tailgates and we're planning food and… I mean it's... it just all comes together. Really, it's the people with vision, you know? The people who have more brains. They're not just there to, like, spend some money and consume a product. They get what's happening and they're… they're contributing and we're all creating a friendship and a network. You know, it's sad I can't remember the names of everybody, but that was a good crew. Because every single person there got it and was contributing and we ended up having a really good crew. And we were communicating through the discussion – the USL discussion boards – or email or whatever and we would organize. Again, advance tailgates, whatever, and put on a show. You know, today it's all taken for granted. The whole idea: tifo, tailgates, etc. We’re creating all of that from scratch. Even those who didn’t want to jump in with us…they're looking at us and approving. I remember people coming over who were just, you know, the mom and dad crowd – the soccer mom crowd – and coming over and saying, ”Thanks for being here. You guys added to the atmosphere.” And that was big to me. Even though they're not, you know, the diehard fans. But I like to think those were the days where the guys who were in with me were creating that niche for the fans of today. Because back then, it was all soccer mom. That's the future of soccer, you know and and…”We don't want the hooligan crowd,” you know? But we disarmed all that. You want us there, we're adding the atmosphere that you and your kids want. It took years of showing up in rain and whatever else, and just doing it. And… and to the point where, you know, they suddenly said, you know, “It's cool to bring drums.”
OK. Little side story. There was an M.L.S…what do you want to call it? Exhibition game. In Chattanooga. I can't remember what year it was, but Alexi Lalas was playing. I remember that. And… and they had, like, four different M.L.S. teams playing a pair of games in Chattanooga. It's a little, crappy stadium in Chattanooga. And, of course, I got wind of it and I went up there. I emailed the lady who was in charge of the overall operations, because I knew she was the one paying the security folks, right? And I'm saying, you know, “I'm a fan and I'll give you credentials. And you can do background checks on me. But, by God I want to come up there and play drums, you know, at your game.” And she gives me, “Yeah, yeah. That’d be great.” You know, she emails back. And I end up going up there and I have two drums by this time. I have a big bass, which I still have. It’s an awesome drum. And an old tom that was the one I started with. And so I’m a little unsure, you know. Going in, you know? I show up and I walk into the stadium. And I got my tom because, I’m like, “If they're going to confiscate the drum, I want … that’s the throw away.” So I’m drumming and uh, and sure enough the police show up. “Hey. You can't be doing this,” you know. “We're shutting you down.” And I was like, “Really?”.
POB: Wow, just for drumming?
KB: That’s what I'm trying to tell you is, these are the days where we're the pioneers. We're the ones making it OK, proving that it's OK to drum and sing and do tifo and make noise at games. Don't just sit there with your kids and go, “Isn’t that nice?” and golf clap. OK? And I give full credit to the Silverbacks for this, OK?
POB: They allowed you guys to develop the culture.
KB: Exactly, exactly. And so, you know, people don't give the Silverbacks enough credit, you know? “The Silverbacks failed to do this, they screwed this up.” Yeah, they did. They screwed up a lot. Let me tell you what, they're the pioneers and I give them full credit for that.
So anyway, so I'm sitting there looking this police officer in the eye. I mention the name of the lady I emailed, “…she is the one paying you. I know the P.D. is not sending you here. You're working here on this lady’s dime. She's the event organizer. I know what's going on. I tell you what,” I said. “Why don't you just take me to her and if she tells me to shut it down, I’ll put the drum away and sit quietly. But if she says it's OK to drum, then you gotta let me drum.” I know he doesn’t care, he just wants to avoid trouble, too. He just wants his extra money. So, he goes, “Yeah let’s do that.” So we walk over there. Sure enough, we find her and she goes, “Oh yeah. You're that nice guy who drums.” So the guy, the officer goes, “Cool.” And I go, “Hey, It is OK if I go to my car and get my bigger drum and come back?” And they were like, “Yeah, yeah. It’s totally OK.”
I go to the car, dropped the little tom, I pick up the big bass and I bring it back. You know. And I strapped it on where I can play it Samba style and I… I've learned some tricks by then. And I walk back into the stadium. Here's the thing. Here's the payoff. Everybody in the stands starts cheering for me, a bunch of people. Like, dozens if not 100 or more, clap for me. That’s the first time I ever had that happen. And I was like, “What?” And they go, “We thought you'd been arrested. But you’re back here with a bigger drum!” It was the green light for all those people who wanted to make noise and have fun at a game. And my attitude was, “Yeah, come on. Let’s party!” And we started drumming, you know. And… and that was a moment for me, OK? It also happened at a U.S. national team game. Not long after that I was down in Jacksonville and, again, I was the lone drummer. I was the only one. And you start drumming and people start realizing it’s OK to make noise. It's OK to have fun. And, I got to say that whatever happens to the Silverbacks, no one can take that away from me. I knew I was making a difference. In games like that, I knew I was making a difference. And then, of course, when you show up back at the Silverbacks, there were people who knew me who were like, “Oh, you're the guy from Chattanooga!” “Yeah that was me,” you know? I give big credit to the Silverbacks for allowing the culture to develop.
The owners of the Silverbacks were losing crap loads of money, you know? Paving the way so people like Arthur Blank can cash in today. I'm sorry I’m a bit cynical. A little bitterness there, you know? John Latham and Robert Glustrom. Guys like that. Vincent Lu, even. He didn’t do a great job, but he kept the team going. He kept soccer going on here, you know. Guys like that. Or Johnny Imerman. I salute all those guys, you know. They're the ones that really...when it was dangerous and difficult and ugly, they were the ones who stepped up.
POB: Tell us more about the early days after Boris Jerkunica became an owner.
KB: The original season that Boris took over, they had local radio DJ Southside Steve doing color commentary and they had a hot tub with girls in bikinis. They had other girls selling beer, you know, in the walkways or whatever. They tried all kinds of angles, you know? It's weird, looking back in those days. It's like they kept trying for all these gimmicks that worked for the N.F.L. and the N.B.A. And, to digress a little bit, the rules of the actual game of soccer were even Americanized. You had these weird point systems. It was like 5 points for a win and you never had ties. And the fans were pushing for a more traditional approach, “Just go with 3 points for a win, one point for a tie.” You know? No points for a loss and goal differential. Just stick with the basics. It works, it works. And it took a long time. They eventually got away from the weird team names like Clash and the weird colors. All that crazy stuff and basically, you know…soccer in general in the U.S. is more similar to the world game because it works. It works. No, but it took us a long time.
POB: Not similar enough, but it’s getting better.
KB: Yeah. It's a lot closer than it used to be. Trust me. I do want to throw this out: Southern Derby Cup.
POB: One of the first supporter cups in American soccer culture. How did that get started?
KB: I'm on the U.S.L. discussion boards basically standing up for the honor of Atlanta Silverbacks. And there were some folks from Charleston Battery we're all smack talking and they basically said, “You know, we should have our own cup.” So it was a couple of Charleston Battery fans who came up with the idea. And they said, "What would it be like if we just did three points for a win one point for a tie? We count the home and away games that are already in the season schedule. And we use goal differential as the tiebreaker and to make it interesting we will create our own cup trophy.” So here I am writing and sending a check to some people in Charleston I've never met.
POB: This is before the Cascadia cup and all that?
KB: I believe this is even prior to the Cascadia Cup. This may have been the first fan-based cup in the U.S. This was completely organic and it was like, “Let's just do this.” So, I sent him some money and sure enough they're legit. They go and buy this beautiful, I mean it is a beautiful trophy. And we basically just we kept track of the points and passed it along to whoever won. You had to ship the cup to them. And you know they would award it to their team. Charleston didn’t win it for like the first three, four, five years. Even though it was their idea, they did not win. Everybody else won it. That competition was the only one that the Silverbacks have ever won except for that Spring championship in the N.A.S.L. When we first won, it was one of my best moments. A North Carolina team won the first year and nobody told them to do this, but they engraved their name on the cup. And so I was like ,“OK, well we're going to engrave our name on the cup!” So, it kinda ends up being like the Stanley Cup in hockey. Where you engrave the name of your team and the year you won. This was all just kind of organic; it just kind of happened. The Silverbacks won it three times. Whenever we won, I would polish it up and get it engraved. The club would let us go out at half time on a game day an announce something like, “On behalf of the governing committee of the Southern Derby Cup, we declare the Atlanta Silverbacks Champion of the Southern Derby!”
We even got interviewed by the Fox Soccer Channel about it. We were all hanging out at a tailgate in Charleston and Fox Soccer shows up and turns on the cameras and goes, “You wanna do an interview?” We ended up winning that game. It was awesome. It was one of the best nights of my life. Because we always lost to Charleston and we won in Charleston that night, it was on Fox Soccer Channel. And Fox Soccer showed the Cup - they featured it, they made a big deal out of it. And I was just thinking ,“God that was a risk taken that paid off big time.” And again, you know furthered the cause of the true fans, you know? Of the guys who love this game. As fans, we're not here because our kids like to play soccer. We're here because we like this game.
POB: And that cup is still being contested right? In the U.S.L?
KB: Yeah it's in the U.S.L. Obviously, we dropped out.
POB: Any other stories from the era before the club moved into to Silverbacks Park?
KB: OK, yeah. Here's a good one. I embrace and am proud of the fact that the Silverbacks were often like the Bad News Bears. You know, the little team that isn’t perfect. But the true fans - you end up going, “Ah, what the hell,” you know? And you embrace it. Back in those days, in the early days, we would all act as media. So, we would be fans, but we would also act as impartial media and report on the club for soccer fans in general. So, I’m doing interviews and stuff and I go…“You know I noticed, on our roster for the upcoming season…” I want to say this is like ’99 or 2000. “We don't…we don’t have a goalkeeper on our roster.” And they were like, “Yeah, we’re getting one.” “Great.” “OK. Let me know when he gets here.”
So the days go by and finally, it's opening day. I mean, the first game of the season and they still haven't announced who the goalkeeper is. And the opening game is in Greenville, South Carolina - it's the Greenville Shamrocks or something. So I travel… go over to the Greenville game. I wanted to see the goalkeeper and I want to see the opening game of my team. Back in those days - there is no security, you know? They're doing warm-ups before the game. I just walk out there onto the field. I'm also press. I am, you know! That's my job: to provide press service to the other fans, because the regular press services aren’t going to do it. So, we've got to do this.
So, I walk out in the field. There's a guy in the goalkeepers uniform...warming up. And I walk over to him and I go, “How you doing? I’m Kurt Braunsroth. I’m the drummer. I’d like to conduct an interview.” And he’s like, “Yeah sure no problem.” I say, “So, tell me about yourself. Where’d you play before?” He gets that kind of awkward look and goes, “I'm a baseball player.” He’s a baseball player. He goes, “They signed me for a couple of games until they get a real goalkeeper.” What? Oh, my God. Are you kidding me? But, you know what? He played a good game. You know, some of the stuff that happened back then….maybe this is a little over the top, but it reminds me of the early days of America. You're talking about Jamestown and Plymouth and you know. People were unprepared. They didn’t have no clue what of they're getting themselves into, but they're determined, you know? I look at those moments like that. I don't look at it like, “Oh, that… they're just so stupid. I can't wait till something better comes along.” No. That's how something better does come along, because somebody has to dive in and take the chance and take the lumps, you know? And yeah, I mean, that's why... again, I can't stop. I can't go to Atlanta United and abandon the Silverbacks, not after all they've been through. The guys who… you know Iggy Moleka and all them. No, I can't. They were there when it was... when it was like Plymouth and Jamestown. And they were the ones who hung in there.
POB: Wasn’t there a game where the ball got kicked over the soccer goal, bounced off a football field goal post and came back and they kept playing?
KB: Yeah. If we won that game, we would have gone to the playoffs. Beforehand, our coach was basically given an ultimatum – win and make the playoffs, you'll have a contract next year. Lose and we're not going to renew your contract. But you can imagine, there's some serious crap on the line here right now. The players know and, let's face it, you and I both know soccer. Now when the coach goes, it means a bunch of players are going to go. So, everybody knows this is it. OK, so they're playing the game. And this is a testament, again, to how bad the refereeing was back in those days. It's late in the game, score’s tied, but it looks like we're going to pull this out. We actually have the upper hand, you know? We're getting more chances than they are. You get the sense that we're going to pull this off, right? Charleston takes a shot. It misses the goal completely, but there's the gridiron football uprights directly behind the goal. The ball falls behind the in line, hits the gridiron goal, and bounces back onto the field of play. The Silverbacks stop playing, the Charleston Battery stop playing, the linesmen stop what they're doing. All the fans stop cheering because we all saw the ball go out of bounds. Everybody goes, “Eh, ball went out of bounds.” Everybody except the center judge. And the center judge looks around and goes like, “What are you guys doing?” He makes the signal for play. Well, the ball just happened to be at the feet of a Charleston player.
POB: Oh man!
KB: And he just pokes it right on in. Just a toe poke, because he's just a couple yards out. And the referee points to the center spot and blows the whistle and everybody's like, “Oh, my God. No!!!.” But, yeah. That's what happened. You can sit there and poo-poo on the Silverbacks, but honestly the obstacles in their path… again, think Jamestown, Plymouth, harsh environments like that. You know, it’s like The Monty Python, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  The guy who's talking about building a castle in the swamp. I've actually compared the Silverbacks to that in the past. “I built a castle in a swamp, and it sank. I built another one, and it sank.” I mean...those were those days.
POB: Let’s move on to the Silverbacks Park era.
KB: Silverback Park was a dream come true for me, because I had been talking to the owners… You know, you do what I do for long enough, the owners know you. Boris was like, “Yeah, we're going to... maybe you're going to get a stadium someday.” And one day they finally said, “Yeah, you’re actually going to get a stadium.” I was like, “This is it. We're going to have an actual soccer stadium.” I mean, back when we were at Adams Stadium, the slope on field the was so pronounced that the ball, even sitting still, would start rolling towards the sideline.
POB: Are you serious?
KB: Yeah. So going to a brand new stadium was, like, “Finally!” you know? A professional environment, in the proper width, and it was flat. And, you know, the goals will not be the little temporary goals. We won’t have the gridiron and the football lines on it. I mean, that was a big deal. You know, back in those days even M.L.S. teams quite often played on these crappy, narrow fields with gridiron lines. And so, to have a real soccer stadium was a big deal. And it was like, “Oh, my God. We've done it.” Here's a little factoid. There's no seats in section 109 in the very first row. Every other section? There’s seats there. But in 109, there's no seats in the very front row and that's because of us. We specifically asked them to leave room for the drums.
POB: Did the club get a boost in publicity with the new stadium?
KB: Of course. But... you know it's classic Silverbacks. Tons of people show up like, “It’s a soccer stadium, for god’s sake. I want to see this!” Right? They didn't spend the money for enough bathrooms.
POB: That's still a problem. Even today.
KB: Proper width. Flat. Real goals. Nice stands. You assume bathrooms. Yeah, I'd invite people to visit the Charleston Battery stadium. That’s even more along the lines of what I was hoping for. They've got a sports bar in the stadium, which was unheard of back in the 90’s or early 2000’s. And a museum for club memorabilia. This was better than, I think, just about all the M.L.S. teams. It was like a pilgrimage you know, to go to Charleston. And you'd sit there and go like, “God. Why can't we have this?” And yeah, but here we were, getting our own stadium. And we show up all fat, dumb, and happy and... You know, I mean... “Where’s the bathrooms?” So, of course that ended up being a sticking point with a lot of the, you know, not so enthusiastic fans. But that was still a big moment. Getting that stadium was huge. That was emotional for me - touching the seat going, “This is my seat. I am in a soccer stadium,” you know.
POB: Is that when somebody from the club would just drop by and give you guys a 12-pack of beer?
KB: Oh, it was more than 12-packs. We would start singing, (to the tune of "Ole Ole Ole")“Free beer, free beer, free beer, free beer. Free beer. Free beer.” And the owners...I want to say John Lathum, mostly…. would show up and drop off a couple cases. I’d say about two cases, usually. And he’d just say, “Here!” We’d go like, “YEAH!” and we'd start popping beers out of the box and just handing them out.
As a group, were really getting traction at this point. I want to say we had 50-60 regulars showing up by that 2007 season, which was unheard of back then. You know, for a U.S.L. team? 50-60 regulars and they were organized. That was always a moment for me. Because I’d be so busy jumping I couldn't keep up... and my wife would go, “You do realize you got most of the stadium behind you now?” And I’d go, “What?” She goes, “Yeah, that chant you were doing? People across the stadium and sections down were singing with you.” It wasn’t just 50 or 60 of us, it was like 1000 of us singing all at one time, you know. For a brief while.
This goes back to my original theme: we're the guys who are showing people that it's OK and even fun to make noise, bang drums sing, etc. Don't just sit there with your kids and go, “Isn’t that nice,” and golf clap. Groups like ours helped make it OK for all these supporter groups today. I think they kind of take it for granted. I don't want to…I love them. I respect them deeply, but...groups like ours made it all possible, acceptable. The way the owners went from…because they use to kinda tell us, “Hey. Keep it down. We don't want to upset the moms,” and stuff like that. When the police would be looking at you. And we helped get it to where it was like, “Hey, we want you to come out. Please come out. Please bring your drums. please …”
POB: “And here’s a few cases of free beer.” [Laughs]
KB: “And here’s free beer.” Exactly. We want you here. You are an integral part of the game and... and yeah, I'm proud of that part. I'm extremely proud of that and again, that's the Silverbacks. For whatever they've done wrong, they were the pioneers in the Atlanta area of that kind of fan culture. And again, you know I respect Atlanta United, they're a fine team and all. But I feel like they just kind of swooped in after all the hard work and risk had been taken.
POB: So from 2004 to 2007 the culture is really growing. There's 50 or 60 regulars in the stadium behind you. And in 2007 the club contends for a championship for the first time in Ruckus/Silverbacks history since 1995, right?
KB: Yeah, yeah. And we end up going to Seattle for that game. Before we get to that. I gotta share this. There was a semifinal against Portland and I want to say this was that last season. I want to say...I’m pretty sure this is right. That’d be the 2007 season. And I, you know, I-I've got a limited budget. I'm still working and I've got only so much time. And so we don't go to the semifinal, we're going to watch it on T.V. But it's on T.V., which again is unheard of back in the very early days. Remember I told you we were kind of part time press reporters? We were all, like, publishing in real time on U.S.L. discussion boards. And, literally, fans like me are sitting at home on the discussion boards hitting the refresh button. And there's this guy I've never met before who is advocating, who is going to post scores, and, you know, action as it happens. So this is game actually on T.V. which is like, “It’s gonna be on T.V.! It’s amazing! We’re gonna watch our team play an away game in real time.” And in those days, it's very hard to win on the road in the playoffs. But promised myself that if they win this game I'm going to go to Seattle. I'm going to go to the championship. ‘Cause, again, I’m used to the Silverbacks not even making the playoffs, you know? Remember...remember the goal, that crap ass goal that Charleston scored on us and eliminated us from the playoffs? That's the kind of season I'm remembering, that it's all too common. So I’m like, we're actually doing good. I mean we've got a good team this year! You know that table soccer game Subbuteo? I actually sat down and created that year’s team in miniature form on those plastic players? They have the right numbers, and even their hair and faces. And they’re only, like, an inch tall. So that's that team there. That team is epic to me. They're like Greek gods to me.
So they're playing in Portland. We’re sitting at Twain's, which is a sports bar in Decatur, Georgia. I'm looking back and thinking of the days where it was me and maybe a handful of little twelve-year-old kids coming over and want to cheer with me and bang a drum or something. And now here I am, at Twain’s. It's a semifinal game. I actually counted ‘em - there were like 92 people in Twain's watching with me and I was like, “Oh my god.” There were 92 people watching a U.S.L. semifinal and it's like... this… again, this is back when soccer’s still not cool, you know? And we put out the word - Westside 109’s going to be at Twain's. We’re going to have a watch party. People didn’t have watch parties back in those days, at least not for soccer. And so we're doing a watch party and it's a tense, tight game. It’s one of those games that go back and forth and… people almost score repeatedly. You're like, your heart's in your throat: “Oh no! We didn’t score!” “Oh! We almost scored. OK! We’re still in it!” You know? And then late in the game, late in the game, I wanna say like seventy-something or eightieth-something minute, Elena scores on a very good goal. And Twain's BLOWS UP. I’m misting up right now thinking about it. It’s a brilliant moment. I'm watching 92 people screaming at the top of their lungs for the Atlanta Silverbacks and you’ve got all these other people in Twain's…playing pool and throwing darts and whatever else. And they're like “What the hell is going on?” And you're like, “It's the Atlanta Silverbacks.” “Silverbacks! Silverbacks!” You know, we’re all blowing up. And yeah, that was a great moment, for not just the Silverbacks but, again, for professional soccer in this area in general. Special moment for me.
POB: What was the road trip like to Seattle?
KB: Well it was me, Kevin ,who I mentioned earlier, and some girl. I never met her before or since. We’re on the U.S.L. discussion board and she goes, “I wanna go, too.” I don’t know who she is and she doesn't know who we are. I mean, there's this random girl. I was like, “Well, we're going to get a hotel room.” Now, think about this. Some random, young, twenty-something girl. “Come share your hotel room with these guys you maybe have met at a soccer game.” Maybe. You don’t even know our name. And she’s like, “Yeah.” And we all went. Everything went fine. I mean, everybody was gentlemanly and nice. But it was the three of us. We go to the Seattle game and we're the only three Atlanta fans there. We said, “We just want to sit on the end near the goal”. And I brought a drum.
We were treated very nicely, you know, by the Seattle folks. But you know, they expected to win, and they did. But it was a very close game. I remember one time we had a shot on goal that just trickled outside, and that was before Seattle scored. And if that had gone in, I mean, that could've changed everything. We could've won, you know.
POB: Do you remember anything about the Ruckus contending for a championship in 1995?
KB: Yeah, it was also against Seattle and I’m watching it on T.V. and... are you ready for this? The ball went out of bounds and into the trees by the stadium. It’s a championship game. They didn't have another ball. They had to stop playing, go in the woods, and look for it. [Laughs] So, again, you can sit there and make fun of the Silverbacks by talking about how rinky-dink they are, but all soccer was rinky-dink back in those days.
POB: So things were building organically in a really healthy way up through 2007, and then the shutdown happened.
KB: Well, kinda came as a surprise to us. We thought, “Hey, we made to the final. Next year’s going to be great!” You know? “We're going to have tons of people and we've had so much fun!” You know, I mentioned the moment at Twain’s. “I can only imagine what 2008 is going to be like!”
POB: A brand new stadium, too.
KB: Yeah, exactly. And then they just said, “Yeah, we’re gonna be ceasing operations.” And we’re like, “Where’s that coming from? But, you know I look back at it now and I think about it. That’s right before the housing bubble pops, you know?
POB: Yeah. Boris said he wanted to assess the economic landscape or something like that.
KB:.Yeah, and I think he basically was restructuring before the housing bubble went poof, you know? And that was part of it. Again... I can sit there and go, “How dare you?” But honestly, guys like Boris and John Lathum and Robert Glustrom and, again, Vincent Lu...all of them. Johnny Imerman. You know what? I can't get mad at them. They were writing big checks. They had no reasonable expectations of turning a profit. Again, it's the Jamestown and Plymouth thing. I try to give the benefit of the doubt and look at things from a positive point of view as opposed to jumping on the first negative explanation for the events. Again, I've been around long enough to go, “You know, these guys are not stupid and there are circumstances that I do not understand that they're not even gonna share with me.” I mean, I'm sure they're making mistakes, but again this was totally uncharted ground. And guys get out there and have to make hard decisions really fast. And yeah, mistakes are made, you know? But somebody's gotta do it. You know. I just thank them for the fact that we still have a team.
POB: Was it announced as, “The team’s over,” or was it, “We’re going to take some time off?”
KB: It was just a suspension of operations, but everybody said, “They're not coming back.” But then they did, you know?! Nobody was expecting that they’d actually come back. And we restarted, but it was a big blow to the momentum, obviously. My dream was to fill 109 with real strong people. And I think if we’d kept up in 2008-2009, by 2010 we’d have had it. We’d have had that whole section filled with organized people.
POB: That 2010 world cup was a real, kind of, turning point in American soccer culture.
KB: Yep. Now you’re dead on. All this time I’m supporting the national team, too. By the way, my honeymoon was the original Dos a Cero in Columbus. ‘The Cold War’ in Columbus where Josh Wolff and Clint Mathis scored the two goals, right. Who came in as subs. Yeah, that was my honeymoon.
Anyways, so 2010. Up ‘til then, you know, you spent a lot of time trying to explain soccer to people. Even when the World Cup would come around and I would be trying to talk to people at work about it, they’d just kind of laugh. “Whatever, it’s soccer. It's silly.” So at work I go to the break room to try and catch part of a 2010 World Cup game. And this was the first time I noticed it wasn’t just me watching. There were other people at work, just kinda timing their lunch so they could watch the game. And there’s noise ‘cause they’re all reacting. So my boss comes to me and says, “Alright, you’re disrupting the work environment. I know it’s you Braunsroth. You’re the soccer fan!” And it’s like, “You think I made all that noise by myself?” And she’s like, “There will be no more noise from you!” And I’m like, “OK.” So I promise her, “OK. I’m not going to make anymore noise. You have my word.” And I’m an honorable guy. So along comes that game against Algeria that we had to win. We had to win to break out of the group stage and Landon Donovan, remember, scored that late goal. So they’re live streaming that, right? I got some friends with the IT folks. I figured out a way to monitor the game. But I'm keeping my word to my boss. I'm quiet, I’m doing my job. And then Landon scores that goal, THE goal. And everybody blows up. Remember that YouTube video that shows watch parties blowing up across the country? It was the first time where you could see the whole country coming together behind the team. It’s late in the game and you can't believe it. I kept my word about staying quiet, but I was so excited I literally fell out of my chair. And I'm laying on the ground on my side and, from break room, I hear this, “YEAAHH!”
POB: Oh, they were all in there watching it.
KB: A bunch of guys [Laughs]. And I’m going, “That is totally not me! I never said a word!” I mean, I’m hitting the ground, my arms are moving and my legs are moving, but not a sound comes out of me. And I saw my boss, I could hear her stomping up the hallway and screaming at the guys in the breakroom. [Laughs] And I was like, “Wasn’t me. Wasn’t me.” Then later I’m walking home from my job and I’m watching a homeless guy running up and down the street going, “Landon Donovan! Landon Donovan!” That was the moment. That was the moment I go, “All that work and risk taking we’ve put in all these years... from ‘96 ‘til now, the 14 years, you know? Going to all those games and spending all that money and banging those drums and just hoping that people would start to love this game.” That was the moment when I said to myself, “Pro soccer is here to stay.” That was the moment.
POB: That really was. It was a turning point and the Silverbacks were not there for it, in typical Silverback fashion. Any stories from the N.A.S.L. era?
KB: Obviously the 2013 Spring Championship we won. That was another great moment. That was a very memorable team.
POB: Where you guys at a watch party for that game?
KB: We were, at my house. Keep in mind that every single season, except for the 2007 season, pretty much ended in a major disappointment. So we were used to disappointment, you know. And we’re watching that game’s like, “If they ever do pull something out, by God I want to be there.” I'm not going to go through all this and then there's a game where something awesome happens and I miss it. And I love ‘em, obviously. So we were doing a watch party at my house and they're amazing. We're taking it to Minnesota. I mean, amazing plays. That was quite possibly one of one of the best, if not the best, performance I've ever seen from any Silverbacks team or Ruckus or whatever. Defense, offense, everything is just perfect, you know. The goalkeeping - Joe Nasco, right? And he's making amazing saves and and it's just inspiring to me. When they won that game, that was a special moment. We ended up going down to Atlanta airport to greet the team on their return. I’ll never forget Joe Nasco and the rest of the team coming up the tunnel, and they were not expecting this. You could tell they were totally not expecting this. And here were people greeting Atlanta Silverbacks FC coming up that tunnel. And I'm shaking Joe Nasco’s hand and telling him how inspiring his performance was. That was very moving to him, you could tell. That's one of the factors of lower division soccer that I gotta say is attractive. The players appreciate you, they know you. And you make a difference.
Here’s another story along those lines, but from the opposite perspective. This is back in the…Ruckus days? It was either Ruckus or A-League Atlanta. It was real early. It was me and one other guy, his name was Hunter Sheraton. I remember his name and just two of us were in the Blue Army section that day. On the field for the opposition was Geoff Aunger, a Canadian International. Used to play for Tampa Bay Mutiny in M.L.S. He was a tough defender and ended up injuring Josh Wolff on a on a rough play and got cut. He'd already had a bunch of yellow cards and stuff. And he got picked up by the Seattle Sounders in U.S.L. They’re playing Atlanta that day. We were bad. Oh, god we were bad back then. And so here they are, they're coming out here, you know they're awesome. Seattle - they're always awesome. And we're not losing. We hang in there and we hang in there. But they've got Geoff Aunger. He's dominating even offensively. Then we start to get into his head. Me and one other guy. We’re banging that little drum and every time Geoff Aunger is on the ball, we start chanting, “Aunger, you’re a hack! Aunger, you’re a hack! Aunger, you’re a hack!” His touch is getting heavier and heavier. He’s slow to react defensively, increasingly. I mean, he’s... it's getting to him and we hang in there. We hang in there. They should have beat us, like, 5-0. They end up beating us 1-0 and it was late in the game when they got their goal. And here's the thing, we’re there on the opposite end of the field when they score. Geoff Aunger, the Canadian International, runs sixty yards. The length of the field, and stands on the sideline directly in front of us and points at us, like, “There! Showed you!” He wasn’t even involved in the goal. We just laughed. “We totally got in your head, dude.” I mean, two of us. Two guys. We messed up your star player, Seattle. You know? We made a difference.
And then much later there were the women’s games. We also supported the Silverbacks women’s team. And both the men and women players would come to our tailgates. Mac Kandji, possibly one of the best players in the Silverbacks. He ended up landing in Colorado and was brought in as a sub in overtime and scores the winning goal in the 2010 M.L.S. Cup. And blows out his knee in the process. But, everybody’s cheering him and all. He would come by our tailgates. There were these condos over by Silverback Park. The Silverbacks would put the players up in there. You would see players emerging from the woods and they would stop by our tailgate and thank us.
Oh yeah, here's one. How can I forget this one? One of those moments. There was a back up goalkeeper. And he knew he wasn’t going to play. And we had a little habit where we’d always offer the players free beer. “Hey, want a beer?” [Laughs] And of course, they’d always say, “No. I’m a professional athlete!” So this one guy goes, “Ah, I’m not playing. Yeah, give me a beer.” [Laughs]
POB: That’s hilarious.
KB: Oh, there was another guy. Chain smoked during games. OK?
POB: During games? While he was playing? He smoked on the field?
KB: Yeah, he would smoke during the games, if I remember right. But he was an awesome player. If he has taken better care of himself he would have easily made M.L.S., but he ended up with Rochester. We had some good players. I mean, we had some good players. And you’d get to see these guys as human beings. We had special cheers for each one of them. And their family members would come and sit with us and cheer with us and stand with us. And again, it was always about that pioneering thing, where we were showing people it's cool to make noise.
There were many times when people came over say, “Thank you. You make these games better.” And, to me, that is synonymous with with the Silverbacks. Because I feel like I'm an integral part of the Silverbacks. Yeah, I wish the Silverbacks could be thanked like that.
You know, those owners I mentioned earlier really deserve credit. Anything that Atlanta United is doing now, I think, really would not have happened - could not have happened without guys like those guys doing what they did.
POB: More importantly than Atlanta United, they deserve credit for keeping the Backs around until today.
KB: That 2010 World Cup moment we talked about? That 2010 World Cup moment we talked about could not have happened without lower division owners and fans paving the way. Yes, M.L.S. is a big part of it, but they're not the only part. There's so much more happening.