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Falling on Juneteenth weekend, the Henny Derby — one of American soccer’s favorite rivalries — becomes a celebration of Black history and culture

Kyle Carr, April Kigeya and Chris Fox, co-founders of Featherstone Flamingos. Photo supplied.

What started in a Twitter message between Black fans of third-tier soccer teams will become a nationwide celebration of Black liberation and culture this weekend.

The 12th renewal of the Henny Derby – the game between Forward Madison FC and Richmond Kickers – is set for Saturday, which also happens to be the day much of the country is celebrating Juneteenth, the day in 1865 that the last enslaved people in the US learned that they’d been freed.

Featherstone Flamingos, the Madison supporters group that celebrates Black culture, is taking the opportunity for a road trip. Cofounders April Kigeya and Chris Fox will be joined by a few other fans leaving Madison Thursday, connecting with Black Fires (the Chicago Fire’s Black supporters group), staying a night in Tennessee then joining Black soccer lovers from Chicago, Atlanta, North Carolina and elsewhere for a celebration Friday night and tailgate Saturday, all leading to the 7 pm match at City Stadium in Richmond.

Along the way, they’ll be using the Featherstone Flamingos’ Twitter and Instagram accounts to share “the whole cultural history of Juneteenth, what it means for the Black community, and then also on the importance of Black culture in soccer and hoping to promote and increase Black supporters throughout the country,” Kigeya said.

They’ll also need lots of music for those long hours in the car, and are welcoming playlist suggestions via Spotify.

Featherstone Flamingos co-founder Kyle Carr will meet the group in Richmond. Carr, Barr and North Carolina FC supporter Eboni Christmas co-host the Walkin’ 90 podcast, which covers the entire league; the trio will host a special edition of the podcast in Richmond Friday night.

It’s unclear whether this match was specifically scheduled for Juneteenth, or if that was a happy accident. A league spokesman said it remains, however, one of the rivalries the league works to promote.

A rivalry as old as the league

Kyle Carr and Elliot Barr, originators of the Henny Derby. Photo supplied.

The rivalry started with a Twitter message from Richmond Kickers fan Elliot Barr to Forward Madison supporter and Featherstone Flamingos cofounder Kyle Carr in 2019. Barr is the host of the River City 93 podcast and a supporter of the club since 2014; Carr is cofounder of Featherstone Flamingos, an all-inclusive Forward Madison supporter group dedicated to celebrating Black culture.

The two had never met, except through Twitter discussions surrounding the then-brand-new USL League One. Richmond, established in 1993, had essentially moved down a division to join the new league, while Forward Madison was playing its inaugural season. Finding common cause in Black fandom, and enduring a long losing streak to start the season, Barr decided to raise the stakes on the first-ever match between the sides.

“I told Kyle, ‘Look, I got nothing else to lose this year, we’re not making the playoffs, how about we just bet a bottle of Hennessy on the game?” Barr recalled in a 2021 interview. “A friendly bet.”

Carr wasn’t about to pass up that opportunity.

“Like the true Black Wisconsinite I am, I’m going to want to do a bet involving Hennessy,” Carr said.

Why Hennesy?

“It’s literally the Blackest … not the Blackest, but it’s a staple of Black cookouts,” Barr said. “If you go to a Black cookout someone’s bound to have a bottle of Hennessy. Honestly, I don’t think this derby would have worked if it was anything else but Hennessy. It wouldn’t have worked if it was vodka or tequila.”

Now in its fifth year and 12th matchup, “it’s kind of surreal” that it’s still going, Barr said. “I never would have imagined something that started as a bet five years ago would still be going on now.”

“I’m surprised at how embraced it’s been by both clubs,” Carr said. “Even the players, they’re holding it as a celebration, celebrating like it’s a legit trophy.”

Forward Madison is even supporting the road trip financially.

“It’s something that goes just beyond soccer. And I think that’s what we all want,” Barr said. “It is really cool that we have this niche thing in soccer that two Black supporters started as a rivalry is now a safe space for people of color and Black people to come into the sport and enjoy the game.”

Carr said Black support in American soccer has been strong for years.

“There hasn’t really been that much growth,” he said. “I just think in terms of the content creation that Black soccer supporters are doing, that has definitely grown in the last couple of years.”

He cites Walkin’ 90 as one example, with several other Black-run podcasts, websites and blogs dedicated to specific clubs or leagues cropping up in the last few seasons.

But what about the game itself?

Former Madison forward Don Smart fights for a ball in the first-ever match between Forward Madison and Richmond Kickers, August 10, 2019. Photo by Will Jenkins.

It’s one of the league’s most even rivalries; in the past 11 matches, Madison’s won five, Richmond’s won five, and there’s been one draw. All but one game have been decided by a single goal.

Both Barr and Carr predict a 2-1 result, though they differ on which team will come out on top.

“Richmond is one of the better teams in the league. Forward Madison seems to do a lot better (against higher-ranked competition),” Carr said, noting that Madison just beat first-place NCFC after two consecutive losses to last-place teams. “If Richmond was at the bottom of the table, I’d be very concerned.”

“Hopefully, we’ll come back with that trophy and it’ll be a fun weekend,” Kigeya said.

The match will be televised on ESPN+. Forward Madison will host a free watch party at the Forward Club at Breese Stevens Field.