Abigail takes the train up from New Haven. Jeff drives in from the western edge of the state. Diego travels from just minutes down the road.
Outside Dillon Stadium in Hartford, you’ll meet people from every part of Connecticut.
That’s because Hartford Athletic represents more than just the immediate Hartford community. In a state with few professional teams to call their own, Hartford Athletic is a point of pride for supporters.
“We’re all one family,” explained Jeff Henderson, who commutes an hour from Richfield County in the western part of the state. “It doesn’t matter which part of Connecticut you’re from, Hartford Athletic represents everyone.”
Every matchday, the parking lot outside Dillon Stadium has the feeling of a large-scale family reunion. Hours before kickoff, cars stream in from all parts of the state and people bounce from tailgate to tailgate to catch up with one another.
For many in attendance, matchdays are the only opportunity they have to spend time with one another each year. Fans arrive early and linger late to soak up every minute at Dillon Stadium.
Shared Abigail O’Keefe, one of the capos from the Elm City Casuals supporter group, “We have people coming from all corners of the state to support this club and that’s really special. It has created a new sense of community for so many of us.”
Their fandom knows no bounds either. Just as many of the supporters drive long distances for home matches, the Hartford Athletic fans are known to do the same for away days.
Three years ago, Jeff rounded up some of his fellow supporters to make the eight-hour drive to Ottawa, Canada for a match against the Ottawa Fury. And after the game ended, instead of driving straight back to their respective homes, the group’s first stop was the Hartford Athletic training facility. A little dreary-eyed and hoarse from the match, the supporters waited for the team bus to arrive so they could cheer on the players and coaches upon their return.
“We love this club and we want to be sure our players see that support, whether it’s welcoming them back from a road game or greeting new signings at the airport,” explained Jeff.
With six recognized supporter groups, the atmosphere inside Dillon Stadium is one to behold.
You have the Elm City Casuals and Mad Hat Massive, who hail from the southern parts of the state and boast about the region’s pizza prowess in gameday chants. Then there’s Raza Brava, a group that brings the Latinx supporter experience to Dillon Stadium. East Side Rising calls themselves a ‘family of fans’ from the eastern stretches of Connecticut. And the supporters from The Boonies are largely from the west while their counterparts from the 19th Regiment make up the immediate Hartford area.
Together, they make up one cohesive supporter coalition that brings the noise at the east end of Dillon Stadium for all 90 minutes.
“This is what soccer and Hartford Athletic is all about. Coming together with your community to sing, dance, and have a good time,” explained Pete Carcia, another one of the capos on gamedays.
For leaders of Raza Brava like Diego Sanhueza, it’s also a way to showcase the Latinx supporter culture in Hartford.
When he’s not losing his voice during Hartford Athletic matches, Diego is traveling all over the world to support his beloved Chilean national team. And ‘support’ is probably putting it lightly.
If you’ve ever seen an entire block filled with red smoke when a Chilean team bus passes by, or giant crowds singing Chile’s national anthem outside the team’s hotel before a big match, chances are Diego had something to do with that.
He understands that fans can be the difference-maker for big matches and takes pride in organizing supporters and motivating his favorite teams. Which is why he went out of his way to get the biggest drum you’ve ever seen for the Hartford Athletic supporter section.
“I have been doing this type of stuff with the Chile national team for a long time, so when Hartford Athletic first started I was excited to bring a lit bit of that style to my hometown team,” said Diego.
Together, Diego, Jeff, Abigail, and Pete make up a small fraction of the passionate supporters in Hartford. They march as one and lead the way to create a special atmosphere for the fans and players in Dillon Stadium.