The recent record soccer attendance at The Big House for the Manchester United v Real Madrid match has again caused gaggles of distant commentators to wonder as to how soccer and America are truly madly deeply bonding this time around. And rightly so. Over 109,000 is a very large killer statistic and it ought to be noted – but one swallow on its own, even a very large one, does not a summer make. Some have said that the large crowd was the exception to prove the ever true rule that Americans and soccer do not go together. Others have said that whilst Florida, California, New York and New England have had many opportunities over recent times to see the global Galacticos of soccer, Michigan, despite its size and population, has been starved of a glamour match and that the large attendance was just a result of years of pent-up support overflowing in one huge exaggerated crowd. Others have cynically pointed at the questionable nature of announced attendance statistics in soccer over the years and hinted the 109,000 is merely a cynical manufactured PR move by US Soccer soon after the World Cup excitement. It ought to be remembered that in the UK, attendances were serially under reported fifty years ago as a tax dodge. That, of course, was in the dark days before sponsorship became a forensic science and huge revenue stream for clubs. However, the on-the-ground truth is that association football is very much alive in Michigan and has quite a story to tell. Nowhere more so than in Detroit. Bankrupt, broken, blue collar, spit-in-your-eye Detroit.
In the 4th tier of the US Soccer pyramid, Detroit City FC play in the Great Lakes West Conference of the National Premier Soccer League. Despite its lowly ranking, Detroit City not infrequently achieves gates of 3,000 and is known for its raucous, hostile and uncompromising home game atmospheres, After investments in Melbourne City FC and New York City FC, the cognoscenti at the Etihad could do worse to look to the MidWest of America for perhaps the most dynamic and exciting “City FC” at moment. Flares, mass crowd dancing in the stands, hilarious vitriolic chanting that would make most wholesome MidWesterners blush – this is Oakland Raiders fan club meets Millwall with a nod to college band choreography. The drive behind this are the Northern Guard Supporters group, who boasts more than 95,000 Twitter followers and who combines passion for the city and the sport with one of the best social media strategies in soccer.
It is impossible to categorize this Club and their supporters. They surprise at every turn. Based in perhaps the most hard-nosed city in America, yet the team has a French nickname “Le Rouge”, despite the fact that the kit is not really red. It is claret. Or maroon. Or wine. But perhaps nobody in Harry’s Detroit bar knew the French for maroon when the decision was made. The ‘No-one Likes Us, We Don’t Care’ attitude of the Northern Guard is mixed with a strong vein of social philanthropy. In May 2014, a soccer referee from Westland, Michigan, in a town soccer match, was attacked by a player and died from his injuries. Four weeks later the Northern Guard sold red cards to raise money for the deceased’s family, Over $3,280 was raised and at the appropriate time, the Northern Guard all as one raised a red card in protest at his death. The DC FC front office matched every dollar, making it $6,560 for the family. This is local protest at a wider social phenomenon by a vibrant group of supporters finding an activist voice for good. Furthermore, the Club has had a match day this season promoting LGBTQ inclusion in sport and the Northern Guard recently started another fundraising campaign for a member who had tragically lost a child shortly after childbirth. Who said soccer was irrelevant in America?
Over recent years, Detroit had to hear a lot of fancy-pants, distant commentators spout a lot of unpleasant cliches about the people and the City. More than one article was written citing the uncaring and selfish nature of some of the decisions and choices that Detroiters had made. Out of that bankrupt mess has risen DCFC. If one needed evidence of passion and care, go to a DCFC game. Follow the Northern Guard on Twitter.
The future for soccer and Detroit is bright. The future is Rouge.