UPDATE, 4-17-2014, 10:00 p.m.: Today, the Atlanta Silverbacks posted a press release to their team’s website, officially confirming the three-game ban imposed on the Atlanta Ultras supporters group. In the release, the club attempting to clarify that this suspension was imposed by the club, not the NASL. The release states that “the league was not involved in the sanctions.” The release also states that team president Andy Smith verbally informed the Ultras of these sanctions within 48 hours of last November’s Soccer Bowl, but that a written reminder was delivered to the group earlier this week.
In a post yesterday to their website as well as social media, the Atlanta Ultras, a supporters group for the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League (NASL), stated that they have been banned from group activities for the next three Silverbacks home matches. The first is this weekend when the Silverbacks host the San Antonio Scorpions.
According to the website post, which purports to quote passages from a letter to the Atlanta Ultras group from the Silverbacks’ front office, the three-ban was imposed “due to incidents that occurred at the Soccer Bowl.” Last November’s NASL Soccer Bowl championship between the Silverbacks and New York Cosmos was played at Silverbacks Park in Atlanta.
The post also outlines prohibited activities during the suspension. While members may tailgate outside the stadium prior to kickoff, they may not congregate as a group inside the stadium or anywhere visible from the stadium. They may not march together, sit together as a noticeable group, use banners or flags, or sit as a group in section 101, their traditional location during matches. Members staging individual “protests/acts” during games will be escorted from the facility.
Moreover, the purported letter from Silverbacks management quoted in the post appears to state that even after the ban is lifted, the Atlanta Ultras will not be allowed to use profanity, smoke bombs, flares or other pyrotechnics.
The ban also comes on the heels of a numerous complaints lodged against the Atlanta Ultras last year, particularly during the spring season, by supporters groups for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Fort Lauderdale Striker and Carolina RailHawks. The complaints were prompted by acts committed against traveling members of those supporters groups, allegedly by members of the Atlanta Ultras, during gameday visits to Silverbacks Park. The alleged wrongdoing ranged from theft to acts of physical violence, accusations that the Atlanta Ultras have and continue to deny. According to correspondences provided to INDY Week, at least some of these complaints last year were directly relayed to officials for the NASL and Silverabacks.
Also, as indicated in a March 23, 2014 post by the Atlanta Ultras to their website, local police escorted some of their traveling members out of the stadium during a March 21 scrimmage at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
“The ban is a result of rumors and alleged misconduct for which we were blamed,” the Ultras’ post from yesterday reads. “We were given no due process, and were left out of the loop in regards to the ‘specifics’ of the ban until 4 days prior to the first home match. The fact that the actions in question were done by individuals and not the AU does not seem to factor into the equation.”
One matter of confusion is which entity is responsible for imposing this three-game ban. The Atlanta Ultras’ post, again quoting the purported letter from the Silverbacks front office, indicates that the NASL itself imposed this ban: “The league has mandated that we sanction your group. If you do not respect this ban, the league will take action against our club.”
However, speaking to INDY Week yesterday evening at a RailHawks fan forum in Raleigh, NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson said in no uncertain terms that this suspension was decided and imposed by the Silverbacks club, not the league.
“The league didn’t have any role in it,” Peterson says. “That was a team decision. I spoke with the president [Andy Smith] right before we came here, actually, and I think what’s being misunderstood is that he said, ‘Look, we have problems, we’re going to address those before it becomes a problem that the league addresses.’ But the league has had no involvement or discussion about any suspension.”
Peterson admits that the league has long been aware of the complaints lodged by various supporters groups around the league against the Atlanta Ultras. However, he reiterates, “We were not involved in any sort of punishment with their supporters group.”