Le Rouge Life
A from-the-bleachers look at Detroit City Football Club’s loud, proud fans
Photographs by Jon Doboer
At my first Detroit City Football Club game, there was an unscheduled delay in the action. Not due to the weather or an injury — or even a controversial call. It was more like a smoke break.
During a long deadlock against Lansing United, Detroit City FC — nicknamed “Le Rouge” for their red uniforms and the Rouge River — finally scored a goal. The crowd, erupting in cheers, chants, and the beating of drums, lit off so many red and yellow smoke bombs, it created a haze over Cass Tech Field.
Almost half an hour later, when the air finally cleared, I could see the field — and the love the fans had for their team.
As much as I wanted to be a part of it, I was too intimidated to join them in the bleachers.
But not for long.
After my second game, I jumped into the rowdiest section of fans and fell in with the Northern Guard — Le Rouge’s boisterous contingent of diehard supporters. To my surprise, I was welcomed with open arms, and now, like hundreds of others, I’m proud to wear the rouge and gold.
For the uninitiated, Detroit City FC is a semi-professional soccer club that plays in the National Premier Soccer League. Since joining the “fourth tier league” of the American soccer pyramid in 2012, DCFC has become one of the most talked-about teams in the league, not to mention the state.
Le Rouge has unleashed a local passion for “the beautiful game” that has far exceeded previous attempts to import the internationally beloved sport the rest of the world calls “football.”
Sure, the game itself is packed with excitement. But it’s the fans, especially the culture of the Northern Guard Supporters, who make attending a game so unique.
“There’s jumping, dancing, stomping … but no one is seated,” says Gene Butcher, president of the Northern Guard. “We’re supporters, not super fans. If our team is losing, (we are) cheering louder than when we are winning to give them encouragement.”
Butcher started the group with a few friends in 2012 to provide support for the team in their own, unique ways. Detroit City FC let them do just that, smoke bombs and all. “I don’t think we are too wild, not at all,” he says. “It’s not an ignorance thing. This is what happens in Europe a lot. We are loud, but even my children go.”
I understand why some people might be intimidated by the Northern Guard — like I was at first. Between the chants, smoke bombs, and overall exuberance, it can be difficult for a new fan to find her place. But the Northern Guard and the rest of the DCFC fanbase are very inclusive.
“If you’re a newcomer, you’ll love the game and leave with friends,” Butcher says.
The games can indeed get rowdy. But the festivities actually start about four or five hours before the game. Similar to an American football tailgate, there’s plenty of drinking, eating, and partying at local eateries. But about 40 minutes before kickoff, the Northern Guard marches down Cass Avenue all the way to the stadium, collecting “Rouges” (that’s fans like me) along the way.
When the game is over, it’s wild and loud with confetti and water balloons flying everywhere.
It’s a party, and the number of people who attend it is only increasing.
Last season, Detroit City FC far exceeded Cass Tech Stadium’s 2,500 capacity with an average attendance of around 3,500 fans per game. According to Sean Mann, one of DCFC’s five co-owners, that growing attendance is what prompted the team to seek a new home.
In response, the Northern Guard, along with other supporters, began raising money to renovate Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck, an 80-year-old, 6,000-seat arena still in use by Hamtramck High School and local youth teams.
Over a span of 108 days, the campaign raised over $740,000, with all 527 investors coming from Michigan. According to Mann, the new stadium will open in mid-May.
“I’m very excited for the new stadium and think everyone will be happy to call it home,” Butcher says. “I think the word-of-mouth is going to spread and we’ll get supporters to Hamtramck.”
This year, Detroit City FC will be one of 15 teams representing the National Premier Soccer League in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a major competition in U.S. Soccer. At press time, the location of the match was yet to be determined, but no matter where it is, you can bet the Northern Guard Supporters will be there, cheering them on.
And of course, as a proud Le Rouge supporter, I’ll be there, too.
As for the home games? We’ll have to decide whether to march down Joseph Campau Avenue or Conant Street instead of Cass Avenue.
The Detroit City Football Club season begins on the road on May 13. The first game in their new home is scheduled for May 20. Visit detcityfc.com for more information.