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1973-1974 Connecticut Wildcats

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Connecticut WildcatsAmerican Soccer League (1973-1974)

Born: November 1972 – ASL expansion franchise
Folded: Postseason 1974

Stadium: Dillon Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner: Paul Ingram

ASL Championships: None

 

The Connecticut Wildcats were the first of several pro soccer clubs to set up shop at Hartford’s Dillon Stadium during the mid-1970’s. The club formed in November 1972 as an expansion franchise in the 2nd Division American Soccer League.

Paul Ingram, a former All-American soccer player at UConn, founded the Wildcats and served as General Manager. Fielding a team of mostly American players, the Wildcats put up an 8-3-3 record in their debut season. The club was solid at the box office too. The ‘Cats drew 4,200 fans for their inaugural game in the spring of 1973. 10,000 more showed up for the season finale at Dillon Stadium against the Boston Astros. The ASL named Paul Ingram its Executive-of-the-Year for the 1973 season.

Benny Brewster led the team in scoring in 1973 with 10 goals and 4 assists. The Wildcats best-known player, in retrospect, was the young goalkeeper Tony DiCicco. DiCicco went on to become one of the greatest coaches in the women’s game, leading the U.S. Women’s National Team to Olympic gold in 1996 and the World Cup in 1999.

As the Wildcats second season approached in the winter of 1974, Ingram asked for a renegotiation of the team’s rental agreement at Dillon Stadium. He stated the team’s rental rate and lack of revenue sharing on concessions were among the worst deals in the American Soccer League and that the team might need to relocate to Springfield, Massachusetts.  In the event, the Wildcats did end up returning to Dillon in 1974, but it proved to be the club’s final campaign.

The Wildcats were replaced on the ASL’s 1975 schedule by a new Hartford-based club, the Connecticut Yankees (1975-1978). Hartford also got a 1st division expansion club in 1975 with the formation of the Hartford Bicentennials (1975-1976) of the North American Soccer League.

Connecticut Wildcats founder Paul Ingram was inducted into the Connecticut Soccer Hall of Fame in January 2004.

 

Connecticut Wildcats Shop

American Soccer League Logo T-Shirt by Ultras

 

Links

American Soccer League Media Guides

American Soccer League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

October 24th, 2016 at 1:06 pm

November 29, 1969 – Hartford Knights vs. Pottstown Firebirds

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Hartford Knights vs. Pottstown (PA) Firebirds
ACFL Championship Game
November 29, 1969
Dillon Stadium
Attendance: 8,700 (est.)

Atlantic Coast Football League Programs

 

 

Back in the 1960’s, you could head east from the Ohio Valley mining towns to the port cities of the Eastern seaboard and, if it was autumn Saturday night and you had nothing else to do, you might stumble upon a professional football game at the local Depression-era municipal stadium.  It was good football too.  The minor bus leagues of the 1960’s produced some terrific players who went on to All-Pro careers in the NFL during the 1970s, players like Coy Bacon, Otis Sistrunk, Bob Tucker and Jeff Van Note.

Two of the strongest teams of the late 1960’s were the Hartford Knights and the Pottstown (PA) Firebirds.  The Knights had a working agreement with the Buffalo Bills of the AFL and the Firebirds were aligned with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.  In 1969, the Knights were the defending champions of the Atlantic Coast Football League (1962-1973) and, at one point, had a twenty game winning streak stretching back to early in the 1968 season.  But the Firebirds drubbed the Knights 48-14 in the 1969 ACFL regular season finale at Pottstown on November 22, 1969, exactly one week before this championship game at Hartford’s Dillon Stadium.

Minor league football was exactly thriving at the dawn of the 1970’s, but this game was compelling enough to merit a small write up in The New York Times.   An estimated 8,700 fans turned out and, to the extent they were there to support the hometown Knights, they went home disappointed.   Running back Claude Watts scored twice for the Firebirds, once on the ground and once on a pass from Benji Dial.  Both scores came after turnovers forced by the stifling Pottstown defense which held Hartford to just 33 yards in total offense for the game.

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The two teams would meet again the following year in the 1970 ACFL championship game with similar results.  The Firebirds shutout the Knights 31-0 to capture their second straight title.

During the early 1970’s the Firebirds became a minor cult phenomenon thanks to Steve Sabol and NFL Films.  Sabol took an interest in the small town Firebirds and produced an hour-long documentary – Pro Football, Pottstown, PA – which was broadcast on national television prior to Super Bowl VI in 1972.

In addition, author Jay Acton followed the Firebirds through their 1970 championship season and published his behind-the-scenes chronicle of that season, The Forgettables, in 1973.  (Acton would later become a notable minor league baseball investor during the 1980’s and 1990’s).

Ironically, the Firebirds weren’t around to enjoy any of this newfound fame.  Ed Gruber, the local underwear baron who owned the Firebirds, shut down the club after the 1970 championship season.  The Knights hung around a little bit longer, folding along with the rest of the Atlantic Coast Football League in 1973.

 

==Downloads==

1969 ACFL Championship Game sources

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Written by AC

October 27th, 2012 at 11:56 pm

1975-1977 Hartford Bicentennials / Connecticut Bicentennials

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Hartford Bicentennials soccerNorth American Soccer League (1975-1977)

Born: January 14, 1975 – NASL expansion franchise.
Moved: September 1977 (Oakland Stompers)

Stadiums:

Team Colors:

  • 1975: Yellow & Blue
  • 1977: Red, White & Blue

Owner: Robert Darling

Soccer Bowl Championships: None

 

The North American Soccer League (NASL) awarded an expansion franchise to Hartford, Connecticut in late 1974 to begin play in the spring of 1975.  During the same expansion round, the NASL created the Chicago Sting, Portland Timbers and Tampa Bay Rowdies franchises, which all became iconic teams in the early history of American pro soccer, fondly recalled by many middle-aged soccer fans today.  The Hartford Bicentennials did not join them in that club.

The Bi’s ramped up for the 1975 campaign by raiding the roster and front office of the minor league Rhode Island Oceaneers, defending champions of the lower division American Soccer League (ASL).  Hartford signed the Oceaneers’ star 21-year old American goalkeeper Arnie Mausser and also lured away Head Coach Manny Schellscheidt and General Manager Mike Bosson.

Rudi Schiffer – Bicentennials General Manager

The Bicentennials were owned by Bob Darling who I knew from Simsbury. Our kids played soccer together. Darling was a nice guy, but kind of naïve. He was very wealthy and he wanted to own a soccer team.

Darling picked that Bicentennials name in 1975 because 1976 was going to be the American bicentennial, right? I said: ‘What about after 1976? What are we gonna be then? The 19-seventy-seven-tennials?’

It was a terrible name. Not much meaning to it and too long to fit in the headlines. So we became known as the ‘Bi’s’ in the papers, which I didn’t care for because it sounded like the team was bi-sexual.

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Meanwhile the Bicentennials faced local competition from an ASL franchise in their own city – the Connecticut Yankees who already played in Dillon Stadium.  When the ASL and NASL released their schedules in early 1975, there were five dates when the rival clubs had both scheduled home games at Dillon.  The resulting glut of pro soccer helped to depress attendance in one of the NASL’s smallest markets.  The Bi’s averaged only 3,720 fans for eleven home matches.  The team’s minor league approach also left the team uncompetitive  on the field.  Hartford finished the 1975 season with a 6-16 record, tied for worst in the 20-team NASL.

In 1976, Connecticut Yankees owner Bob Kratzer moved his ASL club to West Haven, alleviating the scheduling logjam at Dillon Stadium.  The 1976 Bicentennials were also improved on the pitch, fielding a reasonably competitive .500 team (12-12).  But after two seasons in Hartford the Bicentennials soured on Dillon Stadium, where the club averaged fewer than 4,000 fans per game.  By comparison, the NASL’s top draws in cities such as Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle all claimed average crowds in excess of 20,000 during the 1976 season.

Connecticut Bicentennials soccerIn 1977, the Bi’s moved 45 miles down Interstate 91 to New Haven’s 70,000-seat Yale Bowl.  The club dropped “Hartford” from their name and went by the “Connecticut Bicentennials” for the 1977 campaign.

Unsurprisingly, the Bi’s drew their best gate of the 1977 season when the Brazilian superstar Pele and his New York Cosmos came to town for the home opener at the Yale Bowl on May 8th.  The teams treated the club record crowd of 17,302 to a dramatic finish, as the Bi’s rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the final eight minutes to tie the match, only to lose when Keith Eddy of the Cosmos beat Bi’s keeper Gene DuChateau on a penalty kick with less than two minutes remaining.

After the novelty of Pele’s appearance wore off, Bi’s attendance returned to Hartford-esque levels.  Among other factors, owner Robert Darling cited the lack of professional grade lighting at the Yale Bowl, which limited the Bi’s to afternoon and early evening start times.  The team’s lackluster talent couldn’t have helped – the Bi’s regressed to a league-worst 7-19 record.  Dave Litterer’s American Soccer History Archives website puts Bi’s average attendance at the Yale Bowl at just 3,848 for 13 home matches in 1977, also worst in the 18-team NASL.

Rudi Schiffer

We used to cut the grass so high in the Yale Bowl that the other teams had trouble playing. It was like two or three inches high.

One time we were playing the Los Angeles Aztecs in New Haven and they had a bunch of foreign stars including Georgie Best. They came into town early in the week and were staying in a motel about ten miles away. Our Head Coach Malcolm Musgrove says ‘Rudi, go over there and see what they’re doing.’ I went over and sat next to the pool for most of the week and they were just drinking themselves to death and sneaking out every night, you know?

I came back and told Musgrove ‘Coach, we’ll kill these guys! They won’t be able to make the second half. They’re all drunk.’ They beat us 5-3. Musgrove said ‘You should have found out what kind of whiskey they were drinking.’

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In September 1977, Bi’s owner Bob Darling sold the team to Milan Mandaric, owner of the NASL’s San Jose Earthquakes, for an undisclosed amount.  As part of the transaction, Mandaric divested himself of the Earthquakes and established his new club – renamed the Oakland Stompers –  just across the Bay at the Oakland Coliseum.

After one season at the Oakland Coliseum, Mandaric sold the team to Edmonton Oilers hockey team owner Peter Pocklington, who moved the franchise to Alberta where it played four more seasons as the Edmonton Drillers before folding in 1982.

 

Bicentennials Shop

Rock n’ Roll Soccer: The Short Life & Fast Times of the North American Soccer League by Ian Plenderleith

 

Bicentennials Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Bicentennials owner Robert E. Darling passed away in October 2009 at the age of 72.

 

Downloads

2012 FWiL Rudi Schiffer Interview Transcript

Hartford/Connecticut Bicentennials Sources

 

Links

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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