Adventures close to home: Kicks just keep getting easier to find

(Editor's note: J. Anton Blatz and Rene Wymer are serializing loosely-connected tales of city life in the form of an illustrated, non-fiction novel. Read the last installment here.)

Chapter 5: Growing a League, Just for Fun

Here is a puzzle. Create a program that can achieve the following results:

1) Rally hundreds of motivated, young Detroit residents around a single cause. 2) Highlight 22 different historic neighborhoods throughout the city, and create unique branding for each. 3) Get the crowd out to a different bar, in a different neighborhood, each week. 4) Double the number of participants by the second year. 5) Get 10 people to pack up and move to Detroit.

This sounds like a job that will need a lot of financing, committees and sub-committees, and months planning with a large team in place to implement, right? Wrong. This is what happens when you start up a soccer league in Detroit.

League Commissioner Sean Mann started the Detroit City Futbol League last year as a way to bring city residents together, to celebrate the rich fabric of neighborhoods that make up the city, and to bring the 18-and-over crowd together over something other than frustrating politics.

The league has one goal: have fun. This is sometimes easier said than done. After all, soccer will always be a competitive sport, no matter how you spin it.

What exactly do you play for then, if you're not out there to win? That was the million-dollar question when the Detroit City Futbol League started last year.

At first, players who were familiar with the game were left scratching their heads, trying hard not to focus on winning, but making damn sure their team did not lose. Meanwhile, newbies who jumped at the chance to play at a sport with baby teeth were often seen sprinting for the sidelines like a guard dog was nipping at their heels.

I believe the Cass Corridor team answered the question of purpose first, with the following response: panache. They call it shenanigans, but I believe it's more than that. Sure they pull their share of pranks -- from hoisting their team's trademark 'Suck It' flag up the flag pole at Belle Isle, to the team song (a reworking of the tune 'Nobody Likes Us'). But slapping a gold boom box onto a black tee shirt as a team jersey, blasting tunes from the sidelines during games, and making break-through banners before each of their major rivalry games ('Suck It, Midtown!', 'Suck It, Woodbridge!') shows some serious attitude.

The Cass Corridor is a tough neighborhood. The bartender at the Bronx wears a shirt that reads 'Shut the F##k Up You F##king F##k.' Enough said. It's only natural that their team takes things one step beyond the world of pranks.

But other neighborhoods play for different reasons. Indian Village, East English Village and West Village boast some of the city's finest mansions, stretching out along sleepy tree-lined streets. When their fans started showing up to games last year with portable martini bars, players from 'The Villages' (the all-encompassing neighborhood squad) took some heat. But the heat just fueled the fire. The team stepped up to embrace its bourgeois brand. Before the start of the second season this year, they hosted a Prime Rib dinner for the league. For their teams' post-game bar night, they have invited everyone to the Detroit Yacht Club for a swank pool party. I have a feeling their team's official drink -- the martini -- will be flowing from marble fountains.

What else do you do when you don't play to win? Maybe you get your neighbors together to bike to the games. The city is super bike-friendly, and a steady cruise out to Belle Isle is a great warm-up. A legion of Corktowners biked across town to all their games last year.

Or you use your team's identity to ramp up some neighborhood pride. Lafayette Park designed the freshest jersey (in my unbiased opinion) with giant stacked type that simply reads 'LAFAYETTE PARK.' The team has sold over sixty shirts to non-player residents in just two weeks. Get ready to see multiple generations of Detroit's modernistas proudly sporting LP shirts on their strolls around the park.
Other interests come out of the league like: Where to host your bar night? What does that say about your team? Corktown showed a bit of the rock & roll culture that Michigan Avenue is famous for by hosting a night at PJ's Lager House, complete with a surprise performance from the Detroit Party Marching Band.

Last year, I played in a game between Mexicantown and Hubbard Farms at Riverside Park, at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge. This special game was set up to bring the two teams closest to this financially unstable city park out in large numbers. Local TV crews filmed us as we showcased this public gem.

To start this year's second season, Amy Kaherl, from the Cass Corridor, organized 'Fancy Footwork,' a dance party at the Old Miami. The night brought out players from most of the league's 22 teams, coming together, sans jerseys, to get down to the sounds of DJ Amy Dreamcatcher & DJ Homeskool, and celebrate the league's rivalries and camaraderie. Players cut a rug and mingled with folks from all over the city, and quietly talked trash across the backyard fire pit.

The following Tuesday, May 24 to be exact, games began at Belle Isle and Fort Wayne. Season two's first bar night showed what impact the league's doubling in size truly has when players drank Andrews on the Corner out of nearly every type of beer in the bar. By 9 p.m., all you could order was a Miller Light. The bartender pushed outside through the crowd at one point for a break, frazzled yet beaming. It's not every day that 400 young people walk into his bar thirsty from a soccer match.

The season's under way and we hope you'll come out and watch your favorite neighborhood(s) play. Find the schedule here.

J. Anton Blatz is not afraid to get his feet dirty in a neighborhood pitch near you each month in Model D.

Illustration by Rene Wymer.

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