Soccer Down Here
Datagraphic Soccer Club: Champions on and off the field
One of the great clubs of Atlanta’s rich soccer history will be honored at Sunday’s Atlanta United match. The Datagraphic Soccer Club won the city’s second national championship in the sport and left a legacy of excellence on the field and a commitment to growing the game for all.
George D. Baker founded the printing company Datagraphic, Incorporated in 1964 in Rochester, NY and opened an Atlanta plant in 1969. Baker moved to Atlanta in 1978 and soon after, he launched the amateur soccer club bearing the company’s name- his experience with the North American Soccer League Rochester Lancers helping with building something from the ground up.
The club was led by player/captain/coach John Staniforth. A former apprentice for Oldham Athletic in England, Staniforth worked with former Emory star and pro player Jeff Solem to put together the best amateur team Atlanta had seen. Baker agreed to sponsor the club to give them resources to challenge the top clubs around the country.
Only one year into their existence, Datagraphic Soccer Club did the ultimate and won a national championship. Established in 1923 by the United States Soccer Federation, the National Amateur Cup is only predated in soccer competitions by what is now known as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It had never been won by a club south of Washington, D.C. when the qualifying began for the 1979 competition.
Staniforth and Solem put together a very competitive roster that boasted quality in every position on the field. Solem told Soccer America magazine in 1979, “What we wanted to do was to form a team of dedicated players who would work hard, weren’t injury prone and were willing to give their time to help with coaching clinics and such to upgrade all amateur soccer in the area.”
High school soccer had exploded in the state after the arrival of the Atlanta Chiefs. With only a handful of programs predating the launch of the Chiefs in 1967, the early 1970’s saw programs in DeKalb County dominate the state. Many of the players chosen for Datagraphic were former stars from schools like Clarkston, Druid Hills, Columbia, Lakeside, and Henderson. Many went on to play in college before returning home to join the new club. They were bolstered by players from England, Chile, Spain, Gambia, and Bermuda.
They entered the Atlanta District Amateur Soccer League and won the title in their first season. They also won the state championship and became the first ever team from Georgia to enter the National Amateur Cup. The Region III title was next- placing them into the national semifinals. In the state and regional tournaments, Datagraphic won seven matches by a combined score of 25-1.
In the semifinal, they had to travel to Baltimore to face Casa Blanco. It took two overtime periods, but Datagraphic advanced after a 2-1 win.
Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was chosen as the site for the 1979 national final and it was the San Francisco Glens who made the trip across the country to face Datagraphic July 1 in a match played prior to the Atlanta Chiefs match against the Tulsa Roughnecks.
Mike Shue gave the hosts the lead in the third minute when he knocked in a rebound from a corner kick. A strong defense led by Staniforth and local products Kenny Williams, Sam Webb, and Chris Heyburn protected the slim advantage. Goalkeeper John Smith kept the clean sheet and Datagraphic had arrived as a powerhouse and a national champion. In their first season of competition, the club went 50-1-3 in all competitions.
Ultimately, it was the only national championship won by Datagraphic. They reached the final on two other occasions in 1980 and 1987 and the Over-30 team also reached that national final in 1994 and 2000.
Datagraphic Soccer Club was more than just a champion on the field though. As Solem told Soccer America, giving back was part of the selection process for their inaugural roster. It was a goal of Baker as well, and a major reason for his involvement. He said in 1979, “If we can help the local coaches increase their knowledge and ability it will help them to give better instructions.”
The club arranged clinics for youth players, even bringing over World Cup winner and Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton in 1989. They launched a junior team quickly and reached the national U19 semifinals in two of their first three years. At their peak, Datagraphic Soccer Club fielded over thirty teams per year. They even built a home, the George Baker Soccer Complex, named after their benefactor. Baker passed away in 1993, but the club continued for many years before eventually disbanding in 2000.
Across all adult competitions in their short history, Datagraphic Soccer Club won eighteen state championships, eleven regional championships, competed in five national finals, capped by the National Amateur Cup victory. Founded with many players who were inspired by the original Atlanta Chiefs, Datagraphic went on to influence and develop another generation of Georgia’s soccer leaders. So many of the players who came through the club at the youth and adult levels went on to be successful players, coaches, and administrators. The club kept pushing Atlanta soccer forward and strengthened the foundation from which today’s successes were born.
It has been 40 years since Datagraphic Soccer Club brought a national championship to Atlanta. Their successes and legacy continue to resonate today in the parks and stadiums around Georgia.
(photographs courtesy of Chris Heyburn)