hamtramck — If you turned on ESPN Plus on Tuesday night hoping to see Michigan’s rowdiest sports environment, you would have been disappointed for the first couple of minutes.
In protest of new “arbitrary and capricious rules” at Detroit City FC home games, the Northern Guard Supporters went completely silent from the time leading up to kickoff in a Round of 32 US Open Cup match against Louisville City FC until the moment the clock hit the five-minute mark.
Detroit City FC caused a stir on social media at the end of last week when it twice posted that profane apparel and chants would not be allowed at Keyworth Stadium. NGS posted a statement to social media on Sunday night saying that they planned to “punch back” at Tuesday’s game.
Information sheets were passed out amongst supporters at the Fowling Warehouse on Christopher Street detailing the protest.
“This is not just about our ability to swear. This is about being able to maintain the creativity and the passion that has allowed us to build on one of the greatest supporter communities in the world,” the information sheet read.
More: DCFC, supporter group at odds over profanity ahead of US Open Cup match
The NGS section typically features dozens of signs and banners in support of various causes, including LGBTQ+ rights and anti-fascism. On Tuesday, only two signs were hung: One that read “We stand against US Soccer censorship” and another that read “Only fools fear swear words.”
And the pleas from DCFC brass did not stop NGS from using a number of chants that include the F-word.
Louisville City FC supporters remained silent throughout the duration of NGS’ protest in solidarity. Louisville supporter Carl West, part of a supporter group named Louisville Coopers, said that he believes “supporters should be able to say what they want to say, on and off the pitch.”
“We wanted to show solidarity with our other (supporter groups),” West said. “If other supporter groups are seeing that controversy, I want to be able to support them.”
NGS capo Mark Navarro, speaking to a gathering of people during NGS’ march to the match, said that the supporters were intent on showing the US Soccer Federation that DCFC’s support is not a marketing tool.
NGS has long spoken out against USSF and its various legs, including Major League Soccer. NGS fears that DCFC’s rise through the soccer ranks will ultimately “sanitize” a supporter culture that has massively aided DCFC’s ascension in the first place.
“The United States Soccer Federation has made it very clear, through threats and ends to our club, that they do not like how we support. And here’s the thing: It’s not just about the swear words, it’s not just about smoke, it’s not just about the middle finger,” Navarro said. “It’s about 10 years of support and culture from the ground up. What they want to do is take that and make a version of that that they can sell.
“They’re more than happy to take the nice pictures of us chanting and drumming and smoke and all the things. … Well guess what: Tonight, we’re going to show tell them that our support is not for sale.”
Detroit City FC captain Stephen Carroll said the feeling of playing in dead silence at Keyworth was “strange.”
“Everyone was hyping each other up on the field and in the locker room,” Carroll said after DCFC lost in penalty kicks. “We kind of tried to get ourselves up mentally as much as we could on our own. But yeah, we were just focused (on the game), and when the five minutes came up, you definitely heard them come in.”
Joe Novak, a leader in NGS circles who wrote the protest information sheet, said that the protest was not intended to be a communication tool with DCFC’s front office or ownership — or even the USSF, for that matter — but rather, the other supporters.
As DCFC continues to attract new fans that become apart of the supporter culture, the “old guard” wants to make sure that new supporters are aware that it’s “not just about soccer.”
“It’s important to us that the other supporters who aren’t as engaged understand what is going on. A lot of people just show up to cheer for the team, and they don’t understand what the greater community is about,” Novak said.
“Every year, more and more people that just come for the games get involved. We want to make sure that they’re engaged.”
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.