Detroit City Football Club enters their second season of play this May. Detroit FC plays in the NPSL, National Premier Soccer League, in a division with other clubs from around the Great Lakes Region. Detroit FC plays their home games at Cass Tech High School Stadium in downtown Detroit.
When it was announced that Detroit would have a NPSL team in the winter of 2012, Gene Butcher and his brother Ken decided to form a supporters group for the new club. They named the supporters group the Northern Guard.
The Supporter’s group is exclusively a DCFC group that attends all home matches and occasionally away matches. The Northern Guard attempt to create a frenzy for the club, and surround the club with a fun, passionate atmosphere similar to what you would find in a city such as Portland or Seattle. The Northern Guard gather at Harry’s Bar in Detroit before and after DCFC home matches. “We typically start the shenanigans and chanting 3-4 hours before kick-off and then march a few blocks to the home pitch” Butcher said when asked of the Northern Guard’s pre-game festivities.
As soccer grows in the United States, so do supporter groups. Many of these emerging supporter groups look for inspiration from abroad. According to Butcher, the Northern Guard tend resemble supporter groups from Eastern Europe and South America. Flairs, drums, banners, flags, and 2-sticks are all commonplace at DCFC home matches. Along with trying to win the division, DCFC will seek to win the Rust Belt Derby. The Rust Belt Derby is a competition between Detroit FC, AFC Cleveland and FC Buffalo, similar to the Cascadia Cup that MLS sides Seattle, Portland and Vancouver compete for each year.
The landscape of Detroit soccer has changed since last year’s NPSL season. Detroit will be home to a second NPSL club, Sparta Michigan. The Northern Guard is staunchly against this expansion. Butcher explained his expansion thoughts regarding Sparta Michigan, “This is not growing the sport in the area it’s saturating and trying to divide a market and region.” Sparta Michigan will not play in downtown, but rather in Berkely, Michigan.
For many Michiganders the eventual goal is to gain a MLS franchise someday. A common misconception that Butcher points out is that a “MLS franchise would mean the death of DCFC.” This is not to say the Northern Guard is against MLS expansion in Detroit, rather it is a complicated issue in which there are many varying opinions. However, it can be agreed that in order to one-day gain a MLS franchise Detroit must prove it is indeed a soccer city with a multitude of passionate and enthusiastic supporters.
ESPN FC recently posed an interesting question, can you call yourself a soccer fan if you don’t support MLS? In a day and age where many fans in the United States follow the bigger European leagues such as the EPL, Bundesliga, and La Liga, many ignore the game here in the United States. Butcher and the rest of the Northern Guard have no problem with those who choose to support a European club, but stress the importance of supporting your local club.
DCFC underwent some offseason changes in which they hired a new coaching staff for the 2013 season. Butcher described DCFC’s play last season as “90 minutes of balls out play” saying many of DCFC’s players would rather “plow through a tackle than take a dive.” This type of play makes for fun and exciting soccer. He expects much of the same heading into the new campaign, which kicks-off May 12th against new rival Sparta Michigan.
The Northern Guard is a welcoming group of supporters who are passionate about the game, love soccer, and love DCFC. Butcher says the club does not charge a membership fee, and never plans to, and also do not keep a log of who is Northern Guard and who is not. The Northern Guard also are involved in the community, starting a charity in August of 2012 called Hooligans for Heroes, which helps wounded US military personel and marched in this past weekend’s St Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Detroit.
If you are one of the many Michiganders who feels neglected by MLS expansion efforts, or simply cannot wait until college soccer starts in the fall, head down to downtown Detroit this summer for a game.