Soccer fans in Atlanta: D.J. Jarrett

Continuing the series of features that will publish on the Atlanta United topics page on ajc.com. The series is dedicated to some of the first fans of soccer in Atlanta, those whose allegiances to the sport started with the Chiefs, the city's first pro team that began in 1967. If you have a suggestion, email droberson@ajc.com.

The series:

ExploreShawn Kowalewski
ExploreWill Hinton

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The colors in the photograph are starting to fade, but D.J. Jarrett’s memories of the moment are still vivid.

He’s standing on the runway at Atlanta’s airport. Victor Rouse, wearing what now looks brown but was a red blazer adorned with a Chiefs patch, has his right arm around him.

Jarrett was one of the fans who welcomed the Chiefs home following a win over Cleveland in the NASL playoffs in 1968.

Like Jarrett, Rouse was a goalkeeper. Unlike Jarrett, Rouse managed “Atlanta’s first soccer team” from 1969-72.

“He was my guy with the Chiefs,” Jarrett said.

In addition to being one of the fans of that first team, Jarrett played in the Atlanta’s first youth league, the Soccer Youth League of Georgia, in 1967. It was started by the man who lived across the street from Jarrett, Walter Gray.

The league began with around 45 people and four teams, all named after Native-American tribes: Sioux, Apache, Cherokee and Comanche. Jarrett, who is now 60 years old, played on the Sioux.

Because there were no goals, Gray asked some plumbers to make some. He went to a local Army-Navy store and bought camouflage netting to hang over the pipes.

The teams, whose players ranged in age from 8 to 12, practiced at a school on Candler Road near a landfill. Heat in the summer would bake the refuse and cause the air to stink.

It wasn’t much different than his memories of what the Chiefs were subjected to.

They played in the Braves home at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, usually after the baseball games. The trash that accumulated during the Braves contests wouldn’t yet be cleaned up when the Chiefs would take the field.

“The Chiefs were treated as second-class citizens in a way,” he said. “We were wallowing in the cups and trash and everything else. We didn’t care. It was great.”

In addition to befriending Rouse Jarrett became friends with others associated with the team.

“The guys that they had, they made a huge impression on me,” he said

When he wasn’t playing soccer or watching the Chiefs, Jarrett said he would try to listen to games being played in England on his shortwave radio.

He had to travel to watch games because the only soccer he remembers seeing on TV was if ABC’s Wide World of Sports picked up highlights from the FA Cup tournament in England.

To watch the 1970 World Cup, he had to go to the Atlanta Auditorium, where he paid $5 to watch Brazil play Italy.

“The place was packed,” he said. “People that loved soccer, we were soccer starved.”

Jarrett no longer has that problem.

“Now you can see every English game, every MLS game,” he said. “Finally getting to where most people thought we would be.”

Now Jarrett has an MLS team to root for, Atlanta United. He has already purchased season tickets.

“It’s been 50 years since the first NASL team in Atlanta,” he said. “I don’t think anyone thought it would be 50 years to get where we are. Everyone is extremely excited about it.”