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Detroit City FC: The football team rising from America’s biggest ruin

Detroit City FC: The football team rising from America’s biggest ruin

Detroit City have joined the National Independent Soccer Association – part of the third tier of the America’s football pyramid – for the 2020 season

Trevor James has seen a lot in his footballing life.

In the 1980s, he played for the LA Lazers, a short-lived indoor soccer cousin to the famed LA Lakers, attracting a similarly glitzy Hollywood crowd to the city’s Forum arena.

In the 1990s, as part of Sir Bobby Robson’s scouting network, he picked apart England’s World Cup 1990 opposition before being deployed to watch Brazilian phenomenon Ronaldo in preparation for Barcelona’s then world-record £13.2m purchase.

In the 2000s, the arrival of David Beckham transformed the LA Galaxy team he helped coach from global non-entity into a travelling circus.

He has even barked orders at the likes of Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Andrew Ridgeley as manager of Stewart’s LA Exiles – a team of ex-pat musicians, actors and artists who have made California home.

But he has never seen anything like Detroit City.

“It is a unique club,” he tells BBC Sport.

“There is a mentality that is Detroit against the world. They want independence because that is what Detroit is. Detroit City FC is an independent club.

“Some really good things come out of that. And occasionally we’ll do things that upset people.”

“People are desperate! There’s no work out there, man; they’re selling everything! It’s down to a dime on the dollar.”

That was how a hitch-hiker described the situation in Detroit to journalist Hunter S Thompson in his 1972 book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.

Nearly half a century on and now Detroit’s demise is news to no-one.

The journey from the richest city per capita in the whole United States in 1960 to the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country’s history in 2013 was propelled by the decline of the American car industry, as jobs, people and money – public and private – haemorrhaged away.

In many parts all that was left behind was a mausoleum to America’s motor age.

In the depths of that depression, one of the few modern growth industries involved sightseeing tours to Michigan Central Station, whose vaulted marbled ticket halls lie strewn with rubble, or the United Artists Theatre, an elaborate 2,000-capacity Gothic- style cinema that sits silent and sunlit through a shattered roof.

Detroit’s Michigan Central Station, pictured in 2008, is now owned by the Ford Motor Company and is being refurbished

Perhaps most poignant were the everyday scenes; libraries lined with books, classrooms filled with desks and police stations with evidence still pinned to the walls – everything essentially in place, but long devoid of human life.