The city of Atlanta, Georgia finds itself as the cultural and economic capital of the South (sorry Nashville). Since the 1960’s, the metropolis has experienced unprecedented investment with companies ranging from Coca Cola to Delta Airlines building their headquarters in Atlanta. If you’re a young professional looking for the perfect place to start your career, Atlanta is the place to be. However, industry isn’t the only thing rapidly growing in the Gate City. Atlanta’s latest boom: professional soccer. With an average attendance of 46,318 fans per game, Atlanta United FC puts some of Europe’s top clubs to shame (*cough Monaco*). This statistic is even more impressive when you realize the club has only existed for 3 years, with 2016/2017 being its first season of actual play.
The story of Atlanta United has shocked American soccer critics across the world and has arguably established the club as the most impressive expansion side yet. Recently, I was given the chance to talk to members of Atlanta United’s latest supporters group: the Faction. With a reputation of hosting wild, yet family friendly, tailgates, this is definitely the group you want to party with on gameday. From organizing events at pubs in Atlanta to volunteering throughout the community, these supporters do it all. Checkout my interview with the Faction’s Jay Riddle, Anibal Roldan and Kevin Kinley down below!
Nick: Atlanta United’s front office currently recognizes four main supporters groups: Footie Mob, Resurgence, Terminus Legion and the Faction. How did the Faction get its start and from where did the name originate? Please tell me it’s not The Faction punk-rock band from the 80’s.
Kevin: Four of my adult soccer friends all lived near each other in the area a few years back. Our wives were friends and our kids were all roughly the same age. While hanging out one time, we were watching the 2015 Women’s World Cup final and decided we wanted to form a group that would tailgate soccer games in Atlanta. With Atlanta United FC on the way, we started to organize our own kick-ass tailgates with families and friends. We eventually reached out to the club and asked to begin the process of becoming an official supporters group. January of this year we became an official SG, after months of working with the club. With regards to the origin of our name, we wanted to differentiate ourselves from the other SGs. Our name came from the Divergent movie series, where people were split into different factions. The word means “a group within a group with different ideas.” It was perfect. The name stuck and really resonated with our members.
The Faction’s supporters, such as the infamous (and sleeveless) Jay Riddle, have been incredibly active with the Cooligans on Twitter. From the hilarious Alexis goal-celebration pizza memes to Jay photobombing Alexis and Christian during their Atlanta United TV interview, it’s been an interesting relationship to say the least. How you guys first hear of Cooligans?
Jay: I don’t remember how exactly I came across the Cooligans podcast. It was probably from looking at soccer-related Tweets and podcasts. Once I listened to them, I was hooked. I grew up in Connecticut and spent my childhood Summers in Jersey, so their New York style of humor clicked with me. Their podcasts were a unique product of combining MLS with humor. It was exactly what I was looking for in a podcast.
It’s always a pleasure having the Cooligans Twitter feed dominated by Jay Riddle’s soccer memes (sorry Alexis). With 113 Cooligans episodes currently released, what’s your favorite podcast moment? Dax McCarty fruit bowl saga?
Jay: Besides the whole fruit bowl ordeal with Dax, my most recent moment has to be when the lamp fell on them in their brand new studio. They were so proud that they finally got their studio going and then a lamp just falls over during their podcast/youtube recording. That moment led to so much photoshop material for Cooligans Twitter memes. I photoshop that picture and still use those faces all the time (like my edit of the Cuban kid with Christian’s face).
We all know the South has a fine tradition of turning up during tailgates. In the state of Georgia you guys have teams like the University of Georgia Bulldogs and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, each hosting college football tailgates every weekend. How lit are the Atlanta United tailgates and how are they different from other Atlanta teams?
Anibal: Growing up watching college football, going to UG games specifically, the tailgates have always been crazy. But the cool thing about the Faction is that you can tailgate but it’s much more organized. Everything you could possibly need is provided by the supporters group and if there’s any problems they’ve done a great job of managing the group. For a single guy like myself, a dude who likes to go out with his friends and drink, it’s solid. But the kids still have a positive environment where they can hang out, eat good food and play soccer. People are always having a good time at Faction tailgates.
Making the playoffs in Major League Soccer is never easy. And it’s only getting harder. With the league expanding, the level of play improving and the sport growing in popularity, some of MLS’ most storied clubs are failing to make the cut. Atlanta United qualified their first season. What message does their accomplishment send to the rest of the league?
Kevin: It sends a message to the league that you can always do things differently. A few foreign coaches have come in with expansion sides in the past and haven’t been successful. With Atlanta United, that trend has been busted. You see it with figures like Tata Martino and Darren Eales and the structure they have been able to bring to the club. The experience they have proves, even with league salary caps, that you can build a strong staff with the right management. Our youth academy proves that we can compete despite our short history. We got the job done on the field and that’s where it counts.
The first time Atlanta United played Orlando City SC, the Orlando fans chose to hang a controversial tifo. The tifo featured The Walking Dead’s character Negan, a ruthless apocalypse survivor, about to smash the heads of Atlanta United players with a baseball bat. The tifo read “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe.” How real is the Atlanta-Orlando rivalry and how much do y’all really hate Orlando fans?
Jay: First of all, we need to start with their tifo. That was a very creative tifo and it shows their experience as a group of supporters. They view themselves as having a lot of history from their USL days although their team was originally purchased from Arizona. They feel like they’ve put in the work and, all of the sudden, there’s these new kids on the block getting all the publicity. But they also got their fair share of attention, like all the MLS videos about their rise as a club. Memories are short when your neighbor is getting all the attention. The rivalry started on social media and grew as the teams prepared to meet for the first time. The last straw was the Atlanta United billboard the club put up in Orlando near the stadium (courtesy of Darren Eales the soccer troll). That kicked off a storm.
Guys, I cannot thank you enough for this interview. Our last question today is the following: What is the relationship the supporters have with Atlanta United’s owner, Arthur Blank? When the Cooligans were in Atlanta they saw Faction members eating cake with Blank and his wife, so I’m guessing he’s pretty cool.
Jay: Uncle Arthur is paramount. He breathes accountability, transparency and respect into the people around him. People trust this guy. He’s improved the Falcons since taking control of the team and he knows how to fire the right people. He doesn’t micromanage his staff, he lets them do their job. The supporters have a fantastic relationship with him. We even ate cake with him on his birthday at the stadium, as mentioned before. He is always on his feet and loves the family atmosphere his club brings to the people of Atlanta.
If you enjoyed this, check out the live podcast Alexis & Christian did in Atlanta with Julian Gressel, Bobby Boswell, and Brittany Arnold.