So quick bright things come to confusion. – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act I, Scene 1
Photo by Tony Long (@tony_long17), all rights reserved
Friday: Detroit City 3 (Dargent 30, Lawson 78, Otim 82), Grand Rapids FC 1 (Timmer 28)
Sunday: Indiana FC 1 (Ahmed-Shaibu 9), Detroit City FC 3 (Lawson 7, Goodman 49, own goal 63)
The Northern Guard Supporters and Detroit City Football Club have developed a delicate symbiosis with each other: NGS bring passion and spectacle, our creativity and rage channelled into something invisible yet palpable, a rare alchemy in a mundane world. The Club exists in that mundane space, enacting the contests and bottling that alchemical product for sale worldwide; like all rare things, its value climbs as word of it spreads. The weekend was a potent reminder of both the power of this symbiosis and of its tenuous nature.
Friday saw more (many more) than five thousand folks turn out for an American semi-professional team mired near the bottom of the table, saw the thousands-strong supporters group again create a cauldron of cheerful smoky menace. But if all that is familiar – and it is, incredibly; it is very familiar indeed – then so, increasingly, is the kind of thing that happened on Sunday. And it’s Sunday’s events that should remind us to cherish, and zealously guard, the incredible symbiosis of passion and freedom we enjoy.
In summary: The game down in HoosierTown was played in a very small facility, one obviously not used to travelling support (or, really, any support at all). As NGS began working its way through its song list, apparently the guy who owns the place and possibly the team became very agitated about profanity, eventually issuing an ultimatum that the next bit of profanity would result in removal of all of NGS. Threatened by the naughty words of fellow adults, he threatened to call the police. Someone called a member of NGS a ‘jagoff’ over the PA system, if that gives you some idea. It was a mess.
This, increasingly, is what away days are like for the Rouge Rovers – we are presented with an ever-growing list of ‘don’ts,’ a list that usually ends with the magical phrase ‘terms subject to change without notice.’ This is the thing to understand about our fallen world: When something says ‘subject to change,’ it sure don’t mean by you or by us. It means by They, by Them. By the Owners. And the changes they make almost always make the alchemy more difficult, if not entirely impossible.
They’ll say “Hey we’re all for channeled tribal passion but maybe with clean, non-tribal-passion language hehhhhhh?” like that makes sense, and you swoon a bit because you don’t want to explain the complex historical and cultural reasoning behind the swearing and the deaths-head get-ups and everything else that outsiders demand justification for, since this cornfield Mussolini is just going to go, “Ayuh, and there’s children here, too” and then your head will explode rather than argue any longer with a guy who doesn’t really give even half a fuck about what you’re saying, because he’s the Owner, goddamit; he told you to do something and that means you do it.
That’s where it gets tricky, because Do we? Do we really? All of this happens in about 15 seconds of real time, generally – some dude we’ve been mocking suddenly stands up and declares a bunch of things verboten.. And yeah, fuck that guy, yeaaaaah, but also we have to exist in the world somehow, and all of us have lives outside of transforming into a foul-mouthed columns of smoke. But how do we react? Do we explode in defiance, KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!, and up the ante, daring them to kick us out, singing “DO YOU HEAR THESE ASSHOLES SING? WE DON’T HEAR A FUCKIN’ THING!” in defiance, just light the fuse and watch the whole damned thing burn, fuck you fuck you fuck yooooooouuuuuuuuu … do we?
Next road game, it will be some other proto-fascist’s chance to make up rules ex tempore then threaten to use local muscle to enforce them. They do this, I think, not for any real concern over ‘the children’ above and beyond a general allegiance to a mealy-mouthed ‘unspoken code of conduct,’ but because they perceive Northern Guard’s posture, words and iconography to be exactly what they are: Dominance challenges. And because they confuse our behavior – which is focussed on supporting our guys’ sense of well-being and undermining their foes’ – with a dominance challenge in the real world, we must anticipate a whole spectrum of power displays, outbursts, or demonstrations of privilege. Because whatever we are in NGS, we’re surely not the Owners.
This is a thing we haven’t settled, entirely, I think. Our leadership has done an incredible job of defusing even the most ham-handed security buffoons and preventing drunk, committed supporters from following their ids into some kind of Green Street Hooligan fantasy. But in a situation like Sunday in Indiana – where an owner who issued no tickets could point to no listing of rules being broken, and yet NGS modified chants and dropped amplification to get along – the halftime performance of the Hokey-Pokey and a quick game of Duck-Duck-Goose were the perfect antidote. We’ll go along to get along, NGS said, but you don’t own even the tiniest bit of us. I love the MC5, too, but Bugs Bunny was a better anarchist.
The actual football
Tweaks, not revolutions: The crazy thing about the entirely more-successful soccer on offer this weekend is how little changed it was from the previous approach – the pressing was still there, the quick transitions, the high line – just all moderated slightly, every edgy choice pulled slightly back toward the center. As a consequence, there were fewer stretches of dominance for Le Rouge, fewer periods during which the ball stayed pinned deep against the opponent’s goal. But the happy effects vastly outweighed the sad; the deeper positioning of the team overall meant the team’s cadre of very pacy attackers had more space behind to exploit, while the defense seemed to relax and play more expansively when not tasked with holding a terrifyingly high line.
There’s a great moment in Bull Durham where Kevin Costner’s wily old catcher tells Tim Robbins’ clueless wunderkind pitcher, “Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.” I feel like Ben Pirmann finally stopped asking Detroit City to strike everybody out this weekend, and the democratic approach worked like a charm. More like this, please.
The attackers: I see that my man Andrew has anointed Shawn Lawson, and I’d like to just add my voice to those chanting prayers over Lawson as the oil soaks into his … game? I’m not sure how far I’m willing to go with this metaphor. Here’s what I see with Lawson: He’s a real striker, a guy who’s got a few tricks and whose every movement is trying to get at goal. He’s not combining for combining’s sake if there’s a shot to be had.
Combine Lawson’s quickness with the outside duo of Tyrone Mondi and Derrick Otim – each of whom has the speed to get behind and the skill to make a play once they’re back there – and this is an intimidating attack to play against. Expect to see anyone who’s scouted City to play deep and narrow and hope to bang one in on set pieces.
Plus ça change: Encouraging to see the more-vigorous rotation over the weekend result in quality minutes for a lot of guys. Louis Dargent showed he’s a real option in the back line, and the midfield didn’t immediately turn into a sinkhole filled with broken dreams in the absence of Dave Edwardson, which surprised this reporter just a smidge.