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Josef Martinez mural a symbol of Atlanta’s love for soccer

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Castleberry Hill’s newest piece of art is proof Atlanta is a soccer city.

James Klotz Photography

“I have never experienced the affection like I have here.”

Josef Martinez told the world how he felt about Atlanta in an article for the Players’ Tribune in November 2018.

Fourteen months and three trophies later, the love story between Josef and the city has done nothing but grow and grow.

The Venezuelan has shown nothing but admiration and respect for his adopted second home, so much so that he signed a long-term extension with Atlanta United just two months after that article was published.

That’s why it was no surprise when images of a Josef Martinez mural somewhere in Atlanta popped up on social media last week.

As soon as photos of the mural hit the internet, it spread like wildfire. So much so that it caught the attention of its subject in no time. In just a matter of days, the former MLS MVP had already visited the site of the city’s newest monument.

But where in this sprawling city did a Josef Martinez mural, with obviously a lot of effort put into it, spring up randomly? And for what reason? As it turns out, this breathtaking tribute to Atlanta’s goal-scoring king was anything but random.

The where is easy.

Once dubbed the “epicenter for local eats and inspiring art galleries,” in Atlanta, Castleberry Hill is a neighborhood known for its vibrant cultural influence. Within that community of eateries, pubs, galleries and shops is a growing number of hardcore soccer fans.

Josh Calvin, the owner of Bottle Rocket Fine Food and Beverage, who partly commissioned the work, told Dirty South Soccer that Castleberry Hill’s relationship with the beautiful game became undeniable during the 2014 World Cup when crowds would congregate for watch parties during non-business hours. That interest translated to the club game with the arrival and success of Atlanta United.

The why is a bit more complicated.

This particular idea has been in the works for nearly two years. In fact, Josef Martinez wasn’t even the original inspiration for the artwork.

Castleberry Hill Athletic Club have been involved with different aspects of soccer for many years, including working on various community projects with Soccer in the Streets. The sport has had a huge impact on the neighborhood and they wanted an addition to the many works of art around the community to commemorate that.

The Athletic Club have been working with artist Matt Letrs for the duration of the project, commissioning him to bring their broad idea to life as something truly meaningful.

James Klotz Photography

At first, the mural was intended to be very generic. They didn’t know if Atlanta United would approve the use of their trademarks or likenesses. Letrs, who runs his own Art brokerage and managing company called All City Murals, said as time went on, the idea to turn the mural into a Josef Martinez tribute materialized from the online community’s campaign to build a statue for the Atlanta striker.

“At first it was just a soccer mural,” Letrs said.

“But it was just a random player doing a scissor kick mid-air. You really couldn’t see his face or anything. I made the decision based on a few things. Looking at a lot of the chatter online, specifically about the ‘Josef statue’. Everyone wanted a Josef statue in Atlanta. That was a big factor. It was also a big factor in my choice to use the grayscales, to almost make it look like a stone sculpture.”

Thankfully, Atlanta United have thrown their full support behind the completed project.

The #BuildTheStatue movement stems from Martinez jokingly stating in the past that he’s waiting for someone take the statue of the Falcon outside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium down and build one of him.

While obviously in jest, Josef’s loyalty and service to the city of Atlanta warrants a reward of that stature. It may not be a statue in front of the stadium, but Letrs says the subject of his mural was more than worthy of the honor.

“I’ve heard great things about his personality,” Letrs said. “I’ve heard that he just loves Atlanta. That he had the chance to leave and do bigger things and he decided to stay. All of those factors led me to really appreciate this person, not only as an athlete but as a human being. And I thought he was really deserving of it.”

According to Letrs, Martinez got quite emotional upon visiting the mural. Seeing his iconic likeness painted onto a wall in the city he loves so dearly was enough to bring the humble-yet-confident superstar to tears. Josef embraced the artist and thanked him for the gesture.

This token of Atlanta’s love and respect for Josef, Atlanta United and soccer in general is exactly the message Castleberry Hill was trying to send with this project.

“This symbolizes what everyone in the neighborhood is proud about right now,” Calvin told DSS.

“I’ve already watched several people jump out of their car, hold up their scarves, and take a picture. It’s a great feeling.”

It’s refreshing to see that long-term relationships like Josef Martinez and the supporters of Atlanta can still exist in this age of constant roster turnover. Even after the striker’s career in Atlanta comes to an end, things like Castleberry Hill’s mural will be lasting evidence of the impact Josef and soccer has had on the city and its people.