The Northern Guard Doesn’t Understand what “SG” Means

I’m going to preface this entire piece by first singing the praises of Detroit City FC’s “Northern Guard SG.” No, I haven’t been hacked (sorry, no free PS5s here) and yes, I am feeling fine.

The Northern Guard accomplished something that is fairly unprecedented in the history of American soccer — they managed to generate actual fan interest around a semi-professional sports team. Think about that for a second. In a country where even professional soccer has struggled to catch on in multiple places, the Northern Guard helped create an incredible buzz and fan experience around a team made up of mostly unpaid college kids being played in a suburb of Detroit. Here in Cincinnati, we actually had a team in the same league as Detroit — the NPSL’s Cincinnati Saints — playing on the exact same spot where TQL Stadium now stands. The team’s SG was called the “7 Hills Crusaders,” which was an incredibly appropriate name considering that exactly 7 people gave a fuck about the existence of the Cincinnati Saints. We, a city who set attendance records for the USL and kicked the door in to MLS in under 5 years of existence, couldn’t accomplished what the NGS has done in Detroit.

There are many problems with the Northern Guard, however — too many to list in a single article — mostly centering around the fact that their belligerent and toxic behavior online (true story — when the Chief was engaging in some banter with DCFC supporters prior to our 2018 USOC matchup, at least one of their supporters called my shoot place of employment and asked to speak to my boss about my online comments). They’ve been militantly opposed to Major League Soccer and the US Soccer Federation, accusing both groups of ruining soccer by being opposed to their vision of purity (i.e. your typical Ted Westerveldt nonsense of open pyramids and ignorance of the fact that every league in the world is bought and sold by the ultra-wealthy). To be fair, they were also adamantly opposed to the United Soccer League as well, coming after FC Cincinnati fans with both barrels in the early years for “selling out” and not supporting the aforementioned Cincinnati Saints in a “true” / “non-franchise” league. But that shit changed real quick when they got a new secret owner (which is wild, and way too deep of an issue to get in here) that bought their way into the 2nd division.

Currently, the Northern Guard is embroiled in a fight with their own front office and current league over a rule prohibiting them from wearing clothing with the word “Fuck” on it.

Yes, you are reading that correctly. A group of grown adults is mad online (and in person, I guess) because they aren’t allowed to display the F-word on the clothing they wear out in public to sporting event. Clothing bans for profanity are standard rules around the sports world for any number of reasons — ranging from “it’s fucking tacky, grow the fuck up” to “you do know kids attend these games too, asshole?” In this case, the ban seems mostly to stem from the fact that DCFC games are now being shown on ESPN, a network owned by MouseCorp and decidedly not down for TV-MA or “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” label on the broadcasts they do. But for Detroit City FC supporters? They're just another example of THE MAN coming after what they do.

In the last 24 hours, NGS has attempted to double down and make this about something bigger than saying Fuck — which is in directly keeping with their playbook of:

1. Say / do some stupid shit
2. Get dragged online
3. Double down on stupid shit
4. Get dragged harder
5. Pivot to make themselves the victim

To them, this is a holy war against censorship and born out of certainty that eventually the USL / USSF / MLS will come for their other signs and banners showing support for causes they believe in. They view this as some blizzaro Niemöllerian tragedy (“First they came for the word ‘Fuck,’ and I did not speak out…”) that will ultimately end with them being forced to stand  and politely applaud during matches, their individuality beaten out of them like a Borg assimilation. This is, of course, total bullshit. It’s a classic example of a slippery-slope argument whereby compounding worse consequences must necessarily follow from some starting action (fyi — it’s rare I get to flex having a philosophy degree). The problem here is fairly easy to see: just because you can draw a line connecting two steps doesn’t mean those steps are related in any way or will be taken. You could just as easily construct an argument about firearms in the stadium thusly — “If they won’t let me bring a gun to the stadium, what’s next? I won’t be able to bring my scarf because I could strangle someone with it?!” (Actually, this argument would be super on-brand for a city/state that gave us noted dipshit and firearm fetishist Ted Nugent).

So, instead of making themselves the victim here, the Northern Guard has made themselves the stooges. Congrats. But, I’m not mad at the Northern Guard for this. Far from it — I’d say my feelings toward them are more like pity.

The Northern Guard has become so enamored with their own bullshit — the smoke, the cursing, the skeleton gloves, the middle fingers, the Hot Topic discount club membership, etc. — that they’ve forgotten why they exist in the first place. They’re, allegedly, a “Supporters” group, meaning that their whole existence is to support their club (Detroit City FC) and the players taking the field. The whole reason for their existence is to up the lads and help the club reach greater heights. You can make a cogent argument that being the center of attention fulfilled the reason when the on-field product at DCFC was semi-pro shit, played mostly by unpaid college kids with no shot at a real career in the game, and the show in the stands drove ticket sales. But, things change.

Now Detroit City is a professional club playing in a professional league. They’ve stepped up in weight class to a league that has relationships with major corporations, major investors, and ambitions to challenge MLS as the first division of American soccer. As part of that league, their edgelord fans are an active hindrance to Detroit City selling the product on the field to new fans and a television audience — and the only people who haven’t realized that yet are said edgelords in the Northern Guard. They’re not in it for the growth of Detroit City or the players on the field, they’re in it for doing things their way and their way only. If they were, they’d be eager and excited to accommodate the changes growth has brought their club. They’d be willing to engage in dialogue about how they can support drawing new people to DCFC matches (who, spoiler alert, may not want to see the word “FUCK” written everywhere) or how they can help get more DCFC matches on television. They’d be willing to grow and change with their club. But, instead, they’ve chosen the predictable path of “Our way or get fucked.” And if that’s your position, you’re no longer a “supporters group” — you’re just a bunch of entitled assholes with tickets to the game.

Because being a supporter means it isn’t about you. Forget that at your own peril.