As news came out that the Atlanta Silverbacks were in talks with potential ownership groups, it made me think of all the work being done by supporters to keep the team alive. In fact, with the exception of the head coach via Skype experiment, the most entertaining thing about recent Silverbacks sides has often been their supporters.
When first hearing the club's name my first thought was 'how awful'. One of the things that tends to drive me nuts is a poorly thought out club name, as that name is likely to stick around for a very long time. What do Silverback Gorillas have to do with Atlanta, after all?
Despite the seemingly awkward name, the imagery often used by ASFC fans was breathtaking. They expressed their fandom with extremely memorable avatars and tifos. The avatars were often of scary as hell gorillas with menacing expressions – and often in extreme close ups just to emphasize their intimating nature. It took just seconds of seeing these photos and illustrations to make a complete 180 degree turn and love the Silverbacks moniker, despite not understanding how that moniker came to be.
As it turns out, there is a very interesting story behind the name, as well. ASFC was founded in 1994 as the Atlanta Ruckus, and started play in 1995. Following a couple of tumultuous years the team came under new ownership and in September 1998 it was re-branded. The world first came to know the Silverbacks name at a press conference at the Zoo Atlanta (not to be mistakenly referred to as the Atlanta Zoo), wherein the club declared it would be named in honor of Willie B. - the zoo’s star attraction.
Willie B. was a Silverback gorilla that lived at Zoo Atlanta for 39 years, and was a visitor favorite. Over 8,000 people attended his memorial ceremony in 2000, and the zoo is still home to his offspring. In addition, the zoo displays a life-size bronze statue of him which contains 80% of his cremated remains, the other 20% were returned to a jungle in Africa.One last interesting bit, Willie B. was named for former Atlanta Mayor William Berry Hartsfield, a local favorite.
Coupled with this great backstory, I really began to appreciate the Silverbacks name. With that understanding of both how the club came to be, and how the name came about, it's easy to pull for the Silverbacks' survival. That's something which supporters are working diligently to ensure, and to that end, they have created the NASL Atlanta Trust. The goal is to bring attention to the support the club has in the community, in hopes of catching the eye of potential new ownership. The supporters would love to own the club themselves, but this is not allowed under current USSF mandated requirements for division 2, or division 1 for that matter, were the league's application to be surprisingly accepted.
As a person that has never stepped foot in Atlanta, the story of the Silverbacks pulls at my heartstrings. It is a story about everything that is beautiful with the game – a team with history, a team beloved by its supporters, and a team where its fans are not just sitting back because someone came into their city with a bigger marketing budget. No matter what anyone tells you, fandom is not about stadiums or logos, it is about the love of the supporters. Battles like this with the Silverbacks are increasingly occurring all over the country, and whether you support a franchise model or the promotion and relegation system, one thing is certain, you can’t claim to support soccer and then turn your back when someone’s club is being threatened.
Go check out the NASL Atlanta Trust, not just to donate money, but also lend your voice to the supporters in the battle to keep their club. Every little bit helps.