The news has finally sunk in: Atlanta United’s beloved Darren Eales won’t actually be with the club much longer.
July 15th brought the revelation that Darren was leaving Atlanta for his home country and a pretty sweet gig at Newcastle, and fans have been coming to terms with the fact that the most relatable MLS president is halfway out the door ever since. Whoever steps into the president role clearly has some huge shoes to fill, and supporters will certainly be hoping the replacement has the business acumen to continue to lead the club towards dynasty status. But who’s to continue the relentless trolling of other MLS teams that has become a staple of Darren’s tenure? Unfortunately, it’ll probably be a while before those questions are answered.
Regardless, the flavor that Darren brought to the club will be sorely missed, from his propensity to find himself chugging Malibu at tailgates, chatting with any and all fans at matches and events, singing karaoke at club holiday get-togethers, spitting out cryptic news tweets, and of course, trolling.
When Darren started building Atlanta United he likely didn’t expect to become as endeared to the fanbase as quickly or strongly as he ultimately did, but the same could be said for the city of Atlanta and the beautiful game itself. The Five Stripes rocketed into the MLS scene in 2017 and took the league by storm, and Darren was presented with a unique opportunity to not only embrace the fans, but cement himself in Atlanta United lore.
Fans warmly welcomed him in return, with “That time I met Darren...” stories popping up everywhere. As a matter of fact, our Dirty South Soccer Twitter Spaces show the day the news broke had multiple folks, myself included, sharing those sorts of stories. The most memorable Eales moments began appearing rapidly as opening day approached, but perhaps none were more widely known than his mischievous actions aimed (mostly) at other teams. Like Darren Eales himself, his capers helped build the early Atlanta United persona that has continued until present day. It’s something to be celebrated, so in the spirit of encapsulating an era and bringing it to a close, here is our countdown of Darren Eales’ top 10 trolling antics.
10. Darren’s Whiteboard
Over the years Darren has done some interviews from his office, and eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed some interesting items written on the whiteboard in the background. Back when Kanye West was living inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium and working on his “Donda” album, one of the notes on Darren’s billboard was a to-do list reminding him to “turn up Kanye’s bed.”
Earlier in 2022 his whiteboard had three notes, “Plan tour dates with Waka,” “Ask supporters for a different....” and “Liga MX friendly.” A few other notes over the years have included mentions of “potential” transfer targets, like Ronaldo, Messi, and Gareth Bale.
Wrapped up a video call with Atlanta United president Darren Eales -- and whoops, his list of top transfer targets is still on the white board behind him! Some guys named Gareth Bale and Messi (no first name??) seem to be priorities. pic.twitter.com/RmwXzO2YWM— Justin Felder (@Justin_FOX5) June 22, 2020
9. Ender Inciarte/Venezuelan Josef Rumors
Back in 2017, well before chants of “Build the Statue” were ever heard around Atlanta or across the airwaves, Atlanta United was only rumored to be bringing star Venezuelan Josef Martinez to the Dirty South. Mercedes-Benz Stadium wasn’t even fully built yet, but that didn’t stop Darren from taking a picture with fellow Venezuelan Atlanta player (albeit baseball) Ender Inciarte as he “showed him around Mercedes-Benz Stadium.”
Though perhaps not the egregious trolling fans eventually came to know and love, this was still an early example of how Darren loved to go out of his way to exhibit some shenanigans. He clearly put some thought and planning into this entire experience and tweet, which became a hallmark of his throughout his Atlanta tenure.
8. Darren’s Alternate Universe “Hand of God” No-Goal at Azteca
Darren is a proud Englishman, and if we’re rating football moments that will make that country red with fury, you can bet Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” is near the top of the list. When Atlanta United traveled to face Club America in the Concacaf Champion’s League moments before the pandemic in 2020, Darren made his way onto the famous pitch at Estadio Azteca and recreated his version of what “should’ve” happened.
Azteca stadium, 22 June 1986, England V Argentina, 51st minute...— Darren Eales (@DEalesATLUTD) March 11, 2020
...the biggest soccer injustice in world history (well according to this Englishman! )
Just think if there was an alternate universe... #NoHandOfGod #3LionsDontStop pic.twitter.com/b7RTlA89kD
Leave it to Darren to take such hallowed ground and use it to right a wrong the moment he had a chance.
7. The Scoreboard is Working
While Mercedes-Benz Stadium was still being built, the club obviously had to test the functionality of certain portions of the venue. One such piece was the line-level scoreboard. Who else would be the recipient of the away team scoreline test if not Orlando City?
The best part is this came just days before Atlanta’s first ever two matches against the Lions. That inaugural match became historic for tons of reasons, and you best believe it’s going to get some love here, too. Maybe Darren can one day explain if there was any significance to the 36:15 time stamp. Trust me when I say I’ve tried to figure it out, but perhaps Eales has foresight and predicted Jackson Conway (#36) and Andrew Gutman (#15)?
6. Trolling After Atlanta United’s Riotous Run Against New England Revolution
2017 was wild. Barring the obvious fact that it was Atlanta United’s first season, the fact that the team entered the league and immediately had some monstrous performances was unheard of. One such moment occurred in September of that year when the team tied a singe match scoring record when they defeated the Revs 7-0. Eales couldn’t help himself, especially after the other team that occupies Mercedes-Benz Stadium left Atlanta fans with a really bad taste in their mouth just a few months prior.
Touchdown indeed, plus a good PAT.
5. Orlando’s Empty Stadium
A theme clearly exists here. Darren Eales loves trolling Orlando City and supporters can only hope he manages to throw Atlanta fans an occasional Easter egg when the Five Stripes match up against the Lions, even after he leaves for Newcastle. This one may have gone under the radar a tad because he posted it to the club’s Snapchat during the 2018 MLS Combine. But is he wrong, though?
4. Champagne Supernova
Not gonna lie, this one got me feeling some things. Atlanta United famously won the 2019 U.S. Open Cup, a trophy they would go on to champion until this year due to the subsequent iterations of the tournament being cancelled because of the pandemic. The match was against Minnesota United, and it turned into a knock-down, drag-out final few minutes as Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez earned a red and Atlanta had to hold down a 2-1 lead to keep the match from going to extra time. The good guys were ultimately successful and the celebrations commenced.
Notably, Minnesota plays the song “Wonderwall” by Oasis after they win matches. Therefore, what better way to celebrate beating Minnesota for more silverware than blasting another Oasis song that is infinitely more fitting: “Champagne Supernova.”
whoever played “Champagne Supernova”...you’re going to hell, but whatever. mad props to your elite-level shade! #USOC2019 #USOCFINAL #ATLvMIN #ATLUTD #UniteAndConquer @ATLUTD @MNUFC pic.twitter.com/p3BrXVbZfX— Ben Nicoara (@BenNicoara) August 28, 2019
My favorite Oasis song is Champagne Supernova. pic.twitter.com/umTSNDP2kb— SuprM4n (@SuprM4n1) June 7, 2021
Darren may not have ever claimed this one, but it sure has his fingerprints all over it.
3. The Launch of Trainy McTrainface
We’re still very disappointed Atlanta’s new “mascot” hasn’t joined Blooper, Harry the Hawk, or Freddie Falcon in any other sports shenanigans, but the way Trainy McTrainface was revealed will forever be Atlanta United legend. Perhaps one more appearance is in the works before Darren heads off to Newcastle?
A new era begins...— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) April 1, 2022
“And the magic of Charlotte FC...their mascot, it’s real innovation, it’s like a soccer ball with a face on it. Just incredible.”
2. Trolling NYCFC After Winning the Prestigious AmFam Cup
NYCFC won the 2021 MLS Cup, but no one in New York City would ever know this fact if they were to try and locate the championship banner at Yankee Stadium. When the team revealed the banner earlier in 2022 most people thought it was a joke because it was admittedly about the size of a postage stamp. Clearly they got a deal at VistaPrint.
The size of NYCFC's MLS Cup championship banner pic.twitter.com/anhFjaffu0— B/R Football (@brfootball) March 12, 2022
Of course Darren couldn’t hold back from taking advantage of such a terrific opportunity after Atlanta United then went on to the win the inaugural American Family Insurance Cup. Obviously another banner needed to be added inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium for such a prestigious trophy, right?
Not every MLS club gets to know this feeling... pic.twitter.com/x0gQHJQp0j— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 19, 2022
It’s probably a safe bet that banner isn’t coming down. It’s made of New York’s aspirations, after all.
1. The Orlando Billboard
Heheheh. Commence with your evil laugh, you’re already smiling. This is the one you’ve all been waiting for.
If there is one moment in Atlanta United’s short history that encompasses the lengths Darren would go to troll teams, it’s this billboard that was installed DOWN THE STREET from Orlando’s stadium before the two sides ever even met. Quoting one Jonathan Spector, who was at the time an Orlando defender and is now Atlanta United’s chief scout (funny how things work) in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel back in 2017, “I drive past it every day. I don’t really care, to be honest. It’s an important game for us because they’re one point above us and we’re both fighting for a playoff spot. That’s what makes it important, not what they want to put up on I-4 in some stupid billboard. That’s irrelevant to me.”
Spoiler alert, Orlando fans sure seemed to care A LOT.
If it’s not a rivalry why are your fans constantly in Orlando City’s mentions lol. Plus your club was the one to put up a cringy billboard Downtown Orlando. Yikes.— Brian (@ORLtragic) August 22, 2019
Atlanta United would then go on just days later to start their Orlando domination thanks to a Hector Daniel “Tito” Villalba 35-yard thunder strike that won Goal of the Year in 2017. Adrian Healy said it right, “The Atlanta United ‘wow’ factor rolls on.” And what a throwback to see a younger Anton Walkes and our buddy Miguel Almiron.
Cryptic tweets were Darren’s bread and butter. He’d bring out all sorts of riddles and incite chaos moments before big news dropped, usually because of a player announcement. However, back when Alex de John was announced, he blurred the lines between cryptic tweets and trolling his favorite victim, Orlando. The fact that de John was arriving from central Florida made the announcement that much sweeter.
Oh what Friday fun, see clues below:— Darren Eales (@DEalesATLUTD) March 12, 2021
First Paul says “you can call me” this,
You’re divorced, bye to wedded bliss,
On the end he’s a DJ-now you know?#5StripesDontStop
Kudos to the man for figuring out a way to create a riddle that pointed to de John’s arrival while also beginning each line with the letters to spell out “OFYO.” In case you don’t quite know what it means, consider us honored to enlighten you. Just listen in to the crowd at home matches against Orlando and you’ll learn really quickly: “Ohhh, F You Orlaaaaando.”
Finally, how many club presidents have been in rap videos? Not many, but Darren Eales can absolutely say he’s not only been in one, but starred in one alongside Waka Flocka. The video features the two of them going in on Waka’s “Dreads Shakin’” anthem which was filmed entirely at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground. The club’s media team produced the video which includes Eales swinging plenty of flares, driving across the training ground at night in a golf cart, and throwing back plenty of alcohol. Bless this man.
Darren Eales has certainly embedded himself in Five Stripe history for plenty of great reasons. He’s been very in-tune with Atlanta culture since he was hired to build the team, and the bar is set extremely high. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, but hopefully it epitomized Eales well and took you down memory lane for a moment. Perhaps it’s only fitting that strings are pulled so El Presidente gets to hammer the Golden Spike at his last home match in a couple of weeks? At this point, all we can say is best of luck back in the Premier League and thanks, Darren, because you helped give this beloved city something incredibly special.