Nick Puñal closed his office door, hung up his Atlanta United flag, turned on a video camera and began to softly sing a self-penned chant about the MLS expansion team:
Unlike most of the videos posted by supporters who are trying to create new game-day song, Puñal didn’t create his anywhere close to metro Atlanta. He’s not even remotely close to the club footprint established by the TV deal with Fox Sports South.
Puñal, and his office, are more than 9,000 miles and 16 hours away in Sydney, Australia.
Though Puñal, 44, can’t be counted as a holder of one of the more than 27,000 season-tickets sold for Atlanta United’s inaugural season, he can lay claim to being the team’s most unique and far-flung supporter.
“The more I look into the way Atlanta United FC have been doing things so well, such as establishing and nurturing the Academy, engaging with the fans, the attention to detail in every aspect, not to mention the new incredible stadium, it was not hard to make the decision,” he said in an email.
Puñal started an Atlanta United supporter’s club in Sydney. It has just a handful of members, but they will be gathered at Cheers Sports Bar on March 6 (our March 5), lifting a glass of Australian “Little Creatures” beer, and watching on TV the team’s opening game against New York Red Bulls at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Puñal became a fan for two reasons. After finishing university in his native England, he lived in Atlanta for a few months in the summer of 1995 as part of an international program. He resided in a Georgia State dorm, worked the Log Flume at Six Flags, and became a lifelong fan of the Braves, going to his first game that July 4 against the Dodgers.
They were the only sports team in North America that he followed as his life took him to Australia, where he works for the New South Wales government.
Though he loves soccer, he wasn’t a fan of MLS until November, when Atlanta United unveiled its primary jersey in a party at The Tabernacle.
The black and red stripes called to Puñal because the look reminded him of one of his first favorite team, AFC Bournemouth, which plays in England’s Premier League.
To explain, Puñal isn’t just a fan of teams. He is a FAN. He had already started a supporters club for AFC Bournemouth (over four years ago), and one for another one of his favorites, Spanish club RCD Espanyol (almost 10 years ago), so he decided to start another for Atlanta United.
He just needed a springboard to start the grassroots effort. He turned to yet another team that wears red and black.
“I thought what better platform in attempting to get the new Sydney ATLUTD Supporters Club off the ground than using the amazing Falcons’ run in the NFC / NFL?” he wrote.
He organized a viewing party at Cheers, where he met some Atlantans who were visiting Sydney. One of them, Alberto Polanco, gave Puñal his Atlanta United Founders’ Club flag.
“All I can say is this flag is going to get used a lot during our inaugural MLS season (and beyond!),” Puñal wrote.
He plans to complement the flag with a Braves baseball cap and a red-and-black AFC Bournemouth shirt.
Though he would love to attend an Atlanta United game, the cost is prohibitive. So, because he is friends with the management of Cheers Bar, he will try to watch as many games as possible at the bar. Sunday games are tough because they are the Monday workday in Australia. He said Saturday games will work well in his attempts to grow the Atlanta United supporters club.
Puñal is still learning the intricacies of MLS and sports in the U.S. He called the MLS SuperDraft “a new experience” and didn’t know that the league is divided into two conferences, Eastern, home of Atlanta United, and Western. When explained during a Skype call that the conferences and playoffs are similar to the leagues in Major League Baseball, he instantly grasped the structure, predicting that Atlanta United will be one of the six teams to make the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“Getting people that work and think with each other, play for each other, fight for each other on the pitch will be crucial for the success of the team,” he said. “They’ve already achieved success even through its the first year, getting the team there and creating the buzz it has.”
Australia isn’t the only home of far-flung Atlanta United supporters. The team also has at least two followers, Gaspar Canavase and Martin Eliceche, in Argentina, who use the Twitter handle @ ArgtlantaUtd.
“We are fans because we love to see the MLS and their style, and Atlanta has an Argentinian coach in Tata Martino and other South American players such as (Miguel) Almirón, (Yamil) Asad, (Hector) Villalba, (Leandro) Pires, etc.,” they wrote in an email. “The board shows great style and work with the signings and a very nice communications area on social media. Also, we like Arthur Blank’s style with (the) Atlanta Falcons. We think they will be a such great team.”
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