Ed Mulrenan is a season-ticket holder for the Elm City Express, and he was the first person to show up for the inaugural game between Connecticut’s newest pro soccer teams.
“I got here at four o’clock,” Mulrenan said, standing outside New Haven’s Reese Stadium. “I wasn’t sure when other groups were coming for a tailgate. You get to know people. Soccer fans tend to grow on one another.”
Saturday’s game was billed as the inaugural “I-91 Derby” between Hartford City FC and New Haven’s Elm City Express.
On the other side of the rivalry were The Agents of Hale, the support group of Hartford City FC. They brag that they can sing for their team for all 90 minutes of the game, and they showed up in a 20-foot RV that fits about 10 people.
It belongs to Andrew Thurston’s family. He calls it the bucket.
“We want to bring people to games,” Thurston said. “If they can’t get there and they want to come with us, hop on in.”
Mike Kane is the president of the group. He was holding a Foster’s can of beer, wearing a club scarf around his neck, and a Yard Goats hat on his head, as he explained the importance of the game.
“This is actually our first foray into a genuine away game,” Kane said. “It’s a rivalry game.”
Elm City owner Zack Henry was too nervous to join the 1,250 people watching the game in their seats. When he eventually came down to the field, I asked him what the game- -- Elm City’s home opener -- meant for the team. His response came just as his team scored its only goal.
“It gets us a goal, is what it gets us, right there!” Henry said. “That’s what I’m talking about. That just happened, so excuse my dramatic pause, but I saw it taking shape.”
The Express dominated much of the game, but Hartford didn’t give up, and it tied the match on a free kick just before time ran out, leaving the first-ever I-91 Derby tied at 1-1.
The next one is scheduled for June 24 in New Britain. In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes: Hartford’s Agents of Hale sang for the whole game -- and then some.