Soccer in Motown: ‘Passion for our city, passion for the game’

Source: Michigan News

A typical scene at a Detroit City Football Club game. The motto of the minor league football team is “passion for our city, passion for the game”.

Standing on the sidelines at Detroit City Fieldhouse, Matt Hale beams with pride as his son Jeremiah deftly changes tempo with the football and maneuvers around defenders.

Jeremiah, 11, moves closer to the soccer net and kicks the ball inches from the goalkeeper’s outstretched arms. When Jeremiah celebrates the goal with his teammates, Hale — a married father of five — sometimes considers watching his son’s game near his Detroit home rather than traveling to the suburbs.

Jeremiah, 11, deftly changes pace with the soccer ball, maneuvering around defenders at the field house operated by DCFC.

Plus, he says, it’s easier on the wallet: The cost is thousands of dollars less than what he would pay for many suburban club teams.

“When[the youth program]came along, we were just thrilled to find something in town that a lot of our neighbors were playing for,” said Hale, who works for a Detroit nonprofit.

Located at 3401 E. Lafayette St., the Fieldhouse is operated by Detroit City Football Club, a facility that brings residents together with their professional team, leagues and community investments. The club was founded in 2011 by University of Michigan alumnus Alex Wright and four partners.

More than 200 children represent the club in the in-house “City Select” youth teams, plus a further 2,500 youth in the partner programs. Hundreds more have access to clinics and courses held at the Feldhaus during the colder months.

Detroit’s interest in youth football has steadily increased over the past decade as the club’s programs run alongside leagues run by the City of Detroit and the Police Athletic League. Wright says the club provides families of City Select players with affordable access to the team by using proceeds from alcohol sales from the men’s and women’s semi-pro games at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck.

The DCFC was founded in 2011 by University of Michigan alumnus Alex Wright and four partners.

“It connects kids and families from all over the city who love the game,” he said.

Many league participants also support the club’s professional men’s and women’s teams. It’s not uncommon to see fans of all ages enthusiastically chanting and marching to Keyworth Stadium less than a mile from Fowling Warehouse, a bar that combines football and bowling.

“The energy of the crowd is something you just don’t see in American sports,” said Stephanie Munier, a club fan who moved to Detroit from Ann Arbor about six years ago. “It’s what you expect at a rough football game in the UK or Mexico or Europe where people put their hearts, voices and souls into it.”

Some fans are also giving back to the community by donating clothing, medical supplies and other basic needs to the homeless and other vulnerable populations near Detroit’s Cass Park.

“We respect the club … and we respect each other and recognize how we support each other as we grow,” said Hamtramck councilor Amanda Jaczkowski, who was a longtime season ticket holder with family members.

Amanda Jaczkowski, Hamtramck council member who was a longtime season ticket holder with family members.

Involving the community in the team is what Wright — an accomplished local TV producer — and several friends were hoping for when they discussed starting a club more than a decade ago.

“It was an idea whose time had come,” he said.

The partners formed Detroit City FC, a minor league football team whose motto is “passion for our city, passion for the game.” The club’s mission was to meet the demand for football in downtown Detroit, represent the city in a positive light, and build community through “the beautiful game.”

The team originally played at the Cass Tech High School football field, where more than a thousand spectators turned out for the first game. In the third season, the game attendance exceeded 3,000 people, which required a major build-up. Team owners found it at Keyworth Stadium in 2015 and coordinated a fundraiser from 527 investors who donated $741,250 towards the site’s renovation.

In 2018, the owners converted an empty 75,000-square-foot field house into a practice space. The site, which was occasionally used by the Detroit Red Wings from the late 1990s to the mid-2010s, features two soccer fields, club offices and a bar.

Being a team owner wasn’t what Wright envisioned growing up in Detroit and Plymouth. Although he loved sports, his interests included traveling and screenwriting, which led him to the University of Michigan. Wright, who holds degrees in Italian Studies and Film/Video Studies, credits his mentor, Jim Burnstein, director of UM’s screenwriting program, with developing his creativity.

“The goal of each semester was to write a screenplay, which was tough, but what drove it all was Jim’s motivational gift,” Wright said. “I’ve never felt more confident about the idea of ​​writing than when I walked out of one of his lectures. You can also tell he’s a sports fan who has this big run-through-a-wall energy.”

Burnstein praised Wright for his achievements.

“Here was a visionary kid who saw the world through different eyes, and when he had his chance, he shaped something special in a city he obviously loves,” Burnstein said. “He just wanted to make a big difference in Detroit. And I think that’s something kids learn at UM and in our program, no matter where they go.”

Detroit City Football Club DCFC

As he reflects on the club’s next 10 years, Wright said he sees the men’s and women’s teams continue to thrive on the field and grow among fans in the region and beyond.

“This is the club I want to take my grandchildren to and with them a generation that has come to love the sport of red and gold,” he said.

The men’s team, known as “Le Rouge”, ended 2021 as third division champions of the National Independent Soccer Association. Before the end of the year, they announced their intention to join the second division of the USL championship.

In addition to the men’s team, the club established a semi-professional team for women in 2020. The team only played three games in the season curtailed by the COVID pandemic. Last summer, they finished third in the Midwest North division of the UWS League. They’re playing in the USL-W League this spring.