Some Perspective from a Northern Guard Supporter
Northern Guard Supporters (NGS) love Detroit City FC and the community we represent. However, this is about more than just a soccer team in Detroit…
I’ve been involved with community building and organizing in different ways for the last 10-15 years. The majority of my organizing has involved building bridges across race and culture. However, it has extended beyond this. In my experience, community building can be a messy process. There are a lot of community dynamics, years of history, conflicting interests, and more to consider when you are trying to pull different communities to discover and build on common goals and interests they have. You often have to navigate a lot of personalities that can carry what some might minimize as “baggage.” I would simply say that people (and communities) have wounds that need to be considered, some that need to be healed, but never need to be ignored. Often the hurt is wrapped up into complex relations pertaining to power, privilege, and oppression. However, it is possible to build equitable bridges; it just takes time and patience. From my experience, developing community is fundamentally about spreading love. It is about creating a collective identity that embraces those within that community. By this, I don’t mean we should hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” Spreading love isn’t synonymous with passivity from my perspective. Now, there’s nothing wrong with holding hands and singing Kumbaya if you fancy it, but in my opinion, it’s not always pragmatic because it doesn’t appeal to everyone and doesn’t always prepare you for what can often be a cold world. Love can be tough, it’s not always “soft.”
In years past, I’ve experienced organizations, workplaces, and departments request my presence to help them build community, usually after conflict. They usually want to throw some money for a “diversity training” session so they can check it off their list after HR (or whomever) recommended it. Unfortunately, I had many colleagues who willingly built their careers off of doing this. They would receive big checks for conducting diversity training, knowing damn well that the issue wasn’t going to be adequately addressed by doing what they were doing. Some might not have realized it. However, you can’t build community by writing a check for a training session. You just can’t. Conflict in a community is usually deep. You can’t adequately resolve it in an hour or two. Building community is a longer and messier process. However, it is a more rewarding process that develops a strong foundation if done right. If this is done out of love for community rather than to profit and/or check it off a list of diversity requirements, it will more likely last. You have to cultivate community by spreading love thoughout. Like I said, love isn’t opposed to being tough. Just ask a mother with a few rug rats acting up.
I don’t mean to impose my beliefs on anyone. However, as a Christian, when I think of love I often turn to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. It provides me a necessary “list of love”:
- It is patient
- It is kind
- It does not envy
- It does not boast
- It is not proud
- It is not self-seeking
- It is not easily angered
- It does not keep record of wrongs
- It does not delight in evil
- It rejoices in the truth
- It always protects
- It always trusts
- It always has hope
- It always perseveres
Detroit City FC and the Northern Guard Supporters are engaging in building community in the midst of years of community conflict in the Detroit region. We’ve bumped heads in Metro Detroit in multiple ways for years, particularly across class and racial lines. Sports can be used as a catalyst to build community across multiple lines. Soccer, with popularity that extends globally, has particular potential in being a catalyst for this. The sport alone won’t do it though. The economy it generates alone won’t do it. Artificially manufacturing a Detroit sports team can’t fix us either, socially or economically. We need to build community through slow, steady, and intentional doses of love. My inclination, having recently stepped into the Northern Guard Supporters family, is that the above explanation in my “list of love” is exactly what we (NGS) are about. I don’t mean to suggest that everyone is Christian because we are not. I’ve met people of multiple faiths and those without any. We are open and accepting to all. Unless, of course, you like to sacrifice children or something. In that case, we’ll happily bury you alive up to your shoulders with your head sticking out of the center of the pitch at Keyworth (smirk.) The truth is, we are bonded in our love for Le Rouge before, during, and after the match and that is what matters. In order to understand what this means,though, we have to consider what Le Rouge is about beyond being a semi-professional soccer club on the rise. In addition to reading what I’ve shared here, we can rejoice in learning about our uniqueness over a pint of City ale. It’s not that we don’t see our differences because there certainly are many of them. It’s that we accept those differences and embrace them.
Due to these many differences within NGS, there might be things that some Supporters do not understand about other Supporters. However, give it time as we step into that darkness and shine our light on one another. We greet one another with love, although some of us might express it differently than others. For example, one guy I met grunted. It was strange, but it was love man, it was love. A special kind of grunt it was. From the outside of NGS, it is easy to see an intimidating mob of skulls, smoke, flags, drums, horns, yelling as we’re coming your way. We are a festive bunch and certainly, a good amount of us use……festive and brightly colorful language (smirk.) We also have creative ways to express that we curse a bit (smirk.) I encourage those aspiring NGS folk to step in as you are. For those who’ve already stepped into NGS, it is important for us to not lose focus of what we are about at our core. I certainly don’t speak for everyone. The fact is I’m one of the new guys around here. I have many miles to walk to reach the 500 we chant about walking for our club. However, I do believe in the relatively short time that I’ve been a part of this family that I’ve been able to gauge the heartbeat of it. Let me lend a perspective on that based on a few items from the “list of love” above.
We are patient: This group has patience. We have no problem taking the longer route to do something if it will build a better foundation. This goes hand and hand with the creed of Detroit City FC. Developing a strong, community-focused club takes patience. It’s just like when my wife uses a slow-cooker. It might make me antsy and induce my mouth to water as she’s cooking, but I’ll tell you what… this woman knows how to cook and the slow cooker does the trick baby! DCFC knows how to slow cook as well. We make sure the right ingredients are there as the pot is brewing. That’s why you saw what you saw at our Keyworth opener on 5/21/2016. It looked nice. It smelled nice. I can still taste it. We absolutely shattered our current league’s regular season attendance record because we did it the right way. We used the slow cooker. You see, there was love for the community from the jump when our five owners came together in that little dive bar in Detroit. They knew it would take patience. Love is patient. Community is love. Love perseveres
We are kind: Northern Guard Supporters are some of the kindest people I’ve connected to in recent years. The other day, I was just delivering news to one of the leaders of NGS that a young girl playing soccer for Hamtramck HS had encountered a very bad injury in a recent match. There was immediate concern, sympathy, and interest in pooling our resources as Supporters to help somebody who (despite never having met them) we consider a part of our extended family (possible fundraiser on the way.) Our players have the same kindness. Hell, one of our Detroit City players even serves as the coach for the team that young girl plays for. Papa George loves the kids! Again, I understand from the outside-in, that at times during the match we might not seem friendly. However, please understand that we’re big boys and girls who have passion for our club and express it in our particular way. The ownership of DCFC are similar in this love they carry. From what I’ve seen, a fundamental philosophy of our club’s growth is one of smothering the community (Detroit) it represents with love, kindness, and compassion. And yes, Detroit does include Hamtramck despite what some territorial folk might say. We’ve had too many decades of territorial conflict in our region. With love, we can rejoice in the truth, but we don’t keep record of wrongs of the past. It’s time to embrace a more equitable regionalism now for the sake of us all. DCFC is providing an example on how to do that without leaving communities that are most vulnerable behind. It is a movement grounded in that kindness and compassion.
We do not envy: Northern Guard Supporters do not envy. For example, we do not have resentment for clubs who might have more resources. We take pride in embracing the spirit of Detroit and working collectively to build something from the ground up. This isn’t just a money-making venture. This isn’t just something to entertain the masses. It’s not that we don’t want our club to grow economically, produce jobs for and entertain the community it represents. It already entertains. In time, it will produce more jobs and stimulate the economy even greater. When those jobs and economic activity comes, it will be more stable because it won’t be rug that can easily be pulled up from under us. It will have a broad support base that makes it more difficult to pull up from under. Money is useful, but big money, in and of itself, from a couple of people can’t build a solid foundation for the club and community. Why? As I said before, you cannot develop community by simply cutting a check. As a club, we take pride in the fact that when you come to a Detroit City match, you will sit on a rouge bench painted by one of us or even one of the owners of our club (they grabbed brushes too, ya know.) We don’t envy a club built off a big check. Rather than envy, we respect and appreciate those higher-tier clubs who have built themselves up by embracing the community and supporter’s culture that comes with it. Furthermore, we don’t envy the league that any club is in. Despite popular acceptance of the corporately written and guarded narrative, MLS is not the mountain top. Personally, I have nothing against MLS. I think Detroit City can help it quite a bit. However, there is not envy there. For us, Detroit City is the mountain top and the mountain top is growing. We love our club because we love our community and this mountain top will climb as our community expands, standing on the shoulder of giants (ie. the community)
We protect our community: The Northern Guard and broader Detroit City supporters love our community. Therefore, we protect our community. As we were hauling wood and painting benches on a Sunday afternoon at Keyworth a week prior to the opener, I asked one of our club’s owners, “I’ve been very involved in community building and organizing for years. If there is anything more I can do to support the club in that capacity, please let me know.” His response was that Supporters be sure that the surrounding neighborhood is taken care of. One aspect of this was on match days. As the Northern Guard and broader supporters, we might indulge in a few beverages before, during and after the match. There is acknowledgement that this can increase the likelihood of a few knuckleheads doing what knuckleheads do while walking back through the neighborhoods. Moral boundaries can shift under the influence and people can treat a neighborhood in a way that they would likely not treat their own. They temporarily forget that this is a part of their community. After the home opener, I personally witnessed a Northern Guard Supporter reminding us all to make sure we clean up after ourselves. Not to leave a mess of the neighborhood by littering. We love our club and we love the community we represent. Therefore, we make sure to protect it. This is grounded in love. We will have trust in our community by embracing it. He have hope in our community. We have a responsibility to our community. That’s love.
I could go on and on and this would be a lengthy perspective to cover all fourteen points of love that I mentioned early in this reflection. Who knows, maybe I will write a book about it one day as a garner more journeys with the Guard and DCFC. That’s not the point of this though. The point of this all is that what we have is quite different than what people generally enjoy in professional soccer in the U.S. and elsewhere. What we have is quite different from what others have in U.S. professional sports overall. This club will be professional one day. This club will be a top tier club in the American soccer pyramid one day. This club will lift itself through hard work and we surely will lift up whatever league we find ourselves in at any time. However, this club is not self-seeking. Our concern isn’t focused on money and status (which league we are in.) With hard work and community commitment, that will come. It is a must that the community is lifted up because only then, does the club get lifted. Why? We are one. We are the community. We are the club of the people.
In closing, to maintain my street cred as a Northern Guard Supporter, I must request that you kiss my arse. Okay, okay…now, give me a hug and let’s grab a pint.
FEA and UTFC,