The 12th Man – Game Day With The Northern Guard

There is no doubt that soccer fans (or football fans as many of you may call it) are some of the most passionate and dedicated sports fans on the planet. They eat, breathe, sleep soccer. Dedicated soccer fans that attend games are often referred to as the “12th man”, as there are eleven field players and the fans are designated as the 12th player for helping their team be successful by creating an exhilarating atmosphere that pushes them towards victory. One group of ultra fans that best represent the “12th man” is the Northern Guard Supporters (NGS) who support Detroit City FC (DCFC). Their unrelenting spirit for their team is shown on a daily basis; however, their pride and passion is most visible on game day.

The Northern Guard

The Northern Guard during a match vs Lansing United. Photo by @TheDukeNGS.

The Northern Guard follow a very similar routine for every home game. The day starts off at Harry’s Bar in Detroit where the supporter group gathers to get ready for the match, and maybe drink a couple of cold ones. After a couple of hours, they all gather in the parking lot and get ready for the march down to the stadium, which is a tradition that many ultra fan groups participate in. The march consists of chanting, singing, waiving giant flags, carrying banners, and lighting off smoke bombs, all while walking through neighborhood streets. This is where the excitement and  build-up to the game starts getting heated.

When the Northern Guard arrives at Cass Technical High School’s stadium, or Estadio Casstecha as it has been dubbed by the group, the march stops and NGS gathers outside the away team’s locker room behind the main bleachers. At this point they start chanting “Can you hear (team name) sing? We don’t hear a f••king thing.” Besides being a great tactic to unsettle the opposing team, this also gets DCFC fans excited for the game. Considering that the Northern Guard is behind the main bleachers during all of this, you can’t actually see them; all you hear is their loud thundering voices. If you happen to be sitting at the top of the main bleachers and you look back over the edge, you will gaze upon a sea of rouge, gold and black.

The atmosphere that the Northern Guard create during the match is one that can only be rivaled by supporter groups in Europe. This group sits in the smaller bleachers, opposite of the main bleachers, and hang their banners, hailing messages to their warriors, over the railings. Throughout the entire match you can hear the rapid beating of drums and NGS leaders screaming orders to chant and sing into a megaphone. There are certain minutes during each match where the Northern Guard will sign the same song, like singing the “Detroit Alouette” in the 60th minute, and they are often joined by other fans who have learned the song just from hearing it at the games. Finally, no match would be complete without the traditional lighting off of smoke bombs. The Northern Guard usually will light off smoke bombs right after Detroit City scores a goal, or to motivate the players to give it their all, often engulfing the edge of the field in a thick white cloud.

So why do all this? For the love of the sport and the deep running passion for your team. The reason the Northern Guard have the same game day routine for every home match is because each added step and each added element adds excitement before the match and during the match. Many supporter groups believe that the atmosphere they create helps their team perform and carries them to victory. The Northern Guard is just one example of a soccer supporter group that embody what true and passionate soccer fans are all about. To conclude and capture the emotion that these kinds of soccer fans live with, I leave you with a quote I have seen time and time again:

“It’s not just a kit, it’s our skin. It’s not just a stadium, it’s our home. They are not just eleven, we are millions. It’s not just for 90 minutes, it’s a lifetime. It’s not       just passion, it’s an emotion. It’s not just an audience, it’s our family. Football is not just a game, it’s our life.”