The history of pro soccer in Atlanta is a bit muddled, but for any of you who doubt its continued existence, I’m here to let you know that it is alive and well. Founded in 1995 as members of the Division-2 A-League, the Atlanta Silverbacks have weathered many a storm to keep playing today.
Bouncing between leagues and stadiums for years, the club (and its many auxiliaries – which includes practice squads, women’s squads and youth rec leagues) found a home in 2006 in Chamblee, Ga. A brief hiatus held them back in ’09 and ’10, but for the 2011 campaign the team triumphantly returned to action, now in the North American Soccer League.
So yes, much like the city when Sherman burned it during the Civil War, the Silverbacks have come back. But does that alone mean it’s worth going to a game?
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
For an American minor league soccer park, the 'Backs do a bang-up job of offering variety at a good price, and that would stand even if the beer selection was a fraction of what it is (see below).
At the main stand, the "Match Day Menu" includes burgers, fries, nachos, soft pretzels and hotdogs - in other words, all of the main sporting venue food groups - plus tacos (chicken or steak!), a pulled pork sandwich and chicken tenders (which looked and smelled darn good). Better yet, the majority is $5 or less, with only the burgers reaching the $6 and $7 mark.
But that's not all; for those who didn't find anything to their liking, there are stands for Buck's Pizza, bottomless popcorn and Marble Slab Creamery in various locations around the rest of the park. And once you have found what you're hungry for, a seating area sits behind the west goal, providing a field-level view of the action.
Finally, there's the aforementioned libations, none of which are more costly than $4.50 for 12 ounces ($6 for 24 in a couple cases) and also include wine and Jack Daniels cocktails. They had me at Yuengling, but the addition of Tecate, Dogfish Head and Magner's Irish Cider makes this one of the best lineups I've seen outside a bar.
Keeping an audience rapt with attention across a 90-minute game is a delicate balance, considering the match is boring if there's either too much scoring or not enough; but I was impressed with how well the stadium's support staff kept the focus on the game.
To elaborate a little further: There were distractions for the kids, like a moon bounce behind the east goal, but there wasn't a bunch of obnoxious auxiliary noise while the ball was in play, either. The folks who want to goof off can, and the fans who want to concentrate can; and after all, isn't that what we're always hoping for when we see a game?
The announcers did a great job of calling out subs, goals, clock readings and cards, but never spoke unnecessarily. This adds to the experience, but never adds so much as to detract, if you follow me; again, striking a balance.
Still, I do have to mention that between the open concourse and the hill that borders on the east side, there is a lot of room to wander, and between those going out for a smoke, heading to the bathroom and grabbing a snack, there was always some amount of movement on the periphery. Covering these walkways likely would have added to construction costs and time and perhaps cluttered overall appearance, but that's the only way I can think to completely streamline the presentation.
More on this in "Access," but the area of the I-85/285 spaghetti junction - while heavily trafficked during many a journey around Atlanta - is rarely considered a destination. At least the park is removed enough from the interstate so as to minimize road noise and prevent visual interference, but the still-extreme proximity means that local establishments are mostly gas stations and apartment complexes.
In terms of restaurants, one is very close to the Buford Hwy. corridor at this exit, which means more hole-in-the-wall one-off eateries than you can shake a stick at; I can't profess to say I've tried them all, but there are some delightfully authentic Chinese, Mexican and Cuban places worth trying.
Respectively, give Chef Liu, Inc.; Taqueria Ixtapa; and Little Cuba a try, and then let us know what you think!
Going back to what was previously stated in the "Atmosphere" section of this review, I like that at Atlanta Silverbacks Park, the fans who want to be into the game can be into the game. There are distractions for younger attendees should they have a little extra energy to burn and space for those just making an appearance to mingle.
But like I said, the people here for the RIGHT reason have a home. The diehards hole up in the Ultras or Guerillas sections; I loved how rowdy the latter got, at one point throwing a smoke bomb on the field to celebrate a goal. The crowd that showed up for the visiting Puerto Rico Islanders was also impressive, bringing along drums and songs that rivaled (but did not trump) the hometown hooligans.
Overall, I approve of the Silverback supporters' behavior - decently insane without being rampantly destructive - but at the same time couldn't help but feel like those in the upper reaches of the seats were missing out. Oh well, that's largely their own fault.
This sort of proximity to I-85 - literally, one gets off at the Northcrest exit heading southeast and turns into the complex - kind of narrows the choices for approach. Yes, that makes things simpler, but it also leads to a total mess of traffic around game's beginning and end.
I will mention that the Doraville MARTA station is just across the overpass, so those without vehicles of their own still have a decent (and in some cases, potentially frustration-saving) option; I never thought I'd ponder taking MARTA to go out of town, but in this case, it almost made sense for an intowner like me.
To me, it was hilarious that practice squad players were acting as parking attendants. They came straight from a scrimmage, sweating and all, to direct incomers to the "spots," all of which are on the surrounding turf practice fields. The fact that there's only one entrance made the whole approach pretty tedious (and assistance from the players pretty unnecessary), but they've got to do what they can with the space provided.
You would think that by being outside the I-285 perimeter, Silverbacks Park avoids the typical navigation pitfalls, but by being right on the verge of suburbia, it's stuck in a strange transitional space that doesn't suit a stadium very well either.
Four different price points exist, though in my mind, only one need be considered. It's $26 for a seat in one of the three midfield "Black Sections" - not bad for a true football fan, but not the best deal.
The $19 "Red Section" seats are where it's at, as they provide an excellent view of the game at a decent price cut. There are also the $13 "White Section" seats and the $40 "Platinum Section" seats, but the former basically shoehorn you into a corner while the latter are largely for season-ticket holders (and simply provide an opposite viewpoint from the much cheaper Black Section).
One here goes simply for a chant that I heard rise from the stands a couple times during the match. Fans broke into a chorus of "FC Willie B" on a couple of deep penetrations, and an Atlanta hometowner had to smile and even get a bit misty - see, Willie B was a Silverback gorilla at Atlanta Zoo that lived more than 40 years and still stands as a symbol of the city (thus this team's name).
I found this too creative and apropos to not join in with.
Another point for Socrates the Gorilla, the team mascot, who was just constantly messing with folks and getting off scott-free. Who doesn't love a mischievous ape?
Another point for the friendliness of the staff, and that extends to the practice players/parking attendants. Just as an example: I dropped my camera case heading out, and one of them jogged up to return it to me with a smile. Now that'll win you over.
And finally, a nod to the first halftime banana race that has ever made any sense.
Get it? Bananas? Gorillas?
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5283 Buford Highway NE
Doraville, GA 30340
3352 Chamblee Tucker Rd
Chamblee, GA 30341
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