Founded in late 2011, the Atlanta Ultras (AU) are the fastest-growing Atlanta Silverbacks supporters group. Known for their unmistakable passion at Silverbacks home games, the Ultras are looking to make a statement in 2013. With the club’s preseason set to begin in about a week, atlantasilverbacks.com caught up with Ultras President STEVE GURLEN to talk about the group’s plans for the upcoming season.
How much fun have you had assembling the Ultras supporters group and seeing it grow over time?
“It's been fun, no doubt. It's pretty exciting for us all to see it grow and become more organized. We’re still a new group, but we have grown well in a short time. We’ll only continue to grow over time and we all can't wait to see what happens over the next few years.”
How would you best describe the Ultras supporters group and its members?
“We’re a group that is extremely passionate about supporting the club as well as the city. We very much view this as our home and our stadium and we let people know that. We have members from all over the world who now call Atlanta their home and call the club their own. We’re very proud of that. We like to stand and sing for 90 minutes at matches and display our passion in other ways as well. We’re accepting of any and all types of people, as long as they’re willing to show the same sort of passion for the club that we do. We’re like a family and all members, both new and current, who show their dedication are treated as such.”
What is a typical match day like for the Ultras?
“On match day, we always host a proper tailgate. We usually meet up several hours before the match at the park, where we grill out and share drinks together. Usually about 30 minutes prior to kickoff, we do a "march" into the stadium and into our section. From then on, the main focus is on the game and supporting the club as well as whatever special preparations we may have for the match.”
Who is your most hardcore member?
“I would say that the majority of group shares a similar mentality and passion, but we do have some that express it a bit more noticeably. I can’t narrow it down to just one, though.”
What is typically on the grill at an Ultras tailgate?
“Most of the time, we go with burgers, hot dogs, and shrimp. Anybody can really bring whatever they want to cook, though.”
What is the drink of choice at an Atlanta Ultras tailgate?
“Beer and water. You gotta stay hydrated!”
What are some of the things the Ultras have put in place this offseason to formalize and professionalize the group?
“For the first time, we have instituted an official AU membership, so that is the biggest and newest change this offseason. We’re excited to see everyone’s interest in it and certainly hope that it continues.”
Have you gotten to know any of the other supporters groups from around the NASL?
“For the most part, we don't involve ourselves with other supporters groups and to be honest, we’re not really looking to form friendships with opposing teams’ supporters.”
Is there a particular team in the NASL that you guys especially love to heckle or root against?
“We always try to get in all of their heads, but we do tend to focus more on the clubs in closer proximity to us such as Tampa Bay and Carolina.”
How much of a challenge has it been trying to get Atlanta’s hardcore soccer fans to join the Ultras?
“It's definitely been a challenge to get our name out there, but the hard work is starting to pay off. It’s tough because there are so many fans of the game here in Atlanta that only seem to care about MLS or leagues abroad. I think they just somehow need to find a way to redirect some of that passion towards their home club to help it grow and get bigger.”
From what you see, what is the most frequent hesitation among those who aren’t sure whether or not they want to join the Ultras or even come to a game?
“Most of the time, people will look at us from a distance and feel hesitant to come over because they aren’t sure if they’re allowed or aren’t sure if they will fit in. ANYBODY is allowed to come over with us if you share the same passion we do and want to show it.”
If you could say one thing to an Atlanta area soccer fan who hasn’t been to a Silverbacks game before, what would you say to try to get them to come out?
“Just come to the match, stand with AU, and you won’t regret it. I promise.”
Why do you think so many Atlanta soccer fans are so fixated on the idea of MLS coming to the city?
“Good question - I don't really know why. I just know that if people put all that aside and just came to support our CURRENT pro team, they may be surprised at what may happen down the road. I can tell you that our group's loyalties will remain with club regardless of what happens in the future.”
Do you have anything special planned for opening night on April 13?
“I can’t give the details, but just make sure you get in the stands early. It’s going to be a great night with a ton of emotions. We all can’t wait.”
The Ultras are currently in the process of trying to fulfill a challenge that was issued to them by the Silverbacks front office. Back in the fall, the Silverbacks gave the supporters group a goal of accounting for 225 season tickets for the 2013 season, and if the Ultras meet that goal, the club will purchase a set of bleachers that will be situated behind the south goal at the stadium.