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Detroit City Futbol League

405 W Grand Blvd
Detroit, MI 48216

Sean Mann

By Tunde Wey
March 21, 2012

“Being a soccer fan in America is being a contrarian,” says Sean Mann, as he sits in a former warehouse not far from his home in Southwest Detroit. Funny, some might say the same thing about being a Detroiter.
Truth is, Mann is not so much a contrarian as he is forward-thinking. He doesn’t oppose majority opinions, he presages them.
At 31, Mann is the founder and Commissioner of the Detroit City Futbol League (DCFL), a citywide adult co-ed recreational soccer league. Comprised of teams representing Detroit neighborhoods, DCFL is “a new way to bring neighbors together, a new approach to developing neighborhood identity.”
The DCFL hosts games on Belle Isle and at Fort Wayne in the city. The games, which have at times drawn over 1,000 spectators, are now a big part of many Detroiters’ summer fun.

The DCFL runs a 12-week season that culminates in COPA Detroit, a championship tournament crowning the best team in the league. To further reinforce the recreational and neighborhood focus, DCFL awards points for teams’ community service and holds a weekly happy hour at a local bar. This segue from rivalry to wholesome revelry, rooted in local community involvement, captures the ethos of the league.
After graduating from college in Kalamazoo, Mann moved to England to work at the House of Commons. While there, his interest in public affairs and policy led him to pursue a postgraduate education in international relations. Mann also pursed another interest: soccer. Interestingly, he shunned following any of the big name soccer teams, giving his allegiance instead to a middling professional football club, Fulham FC -- like Detroit, a perennial underdog, but with considerable talent and potential.
After returning to Michigan, Mann worked in Lansing and got involved in projects to promote positive physical change in Detroit. Guided by an interest in cities and urban areas, he helped launch Let’s Save Michigan, a citizen engagement and advocacy platform led by the Michigan Municipal League to support the creation of the necessary infrastructure (both physical and social) to create vibrant cities.

Mann says he sees the need for the “human aspect of urban revitalization” and a more concrete focus on “the social fabric of a place.” So instead of waiting on major infrastructural investments to provide attractive urban amenities such as comprehensive regional transportation or reliable municipal services, Mann launched the DCFL in 2010. He counts at least two dozen people who have moved into the city as a result of their experience playing in the league. With them, Mann says, comes “disposable income now spent in the city, apartments now being filled up,” as well as relationships that produce collateral investment and impact.
Mann might be contrarian, but he is also pragmatic: “The league can’t be a panacea for Detroit’s neighborhoods,” he says. He knows that soccer, often called “the beautiful game,” is still only a game. However, Mann draws a difference between organized sports leagues, which are not a novel idea, and what the DCFL is doing: “demonstrating what the city is and can be” and inspiring people to “be here and involved.”
Mann is himself an example of this involvement. He bought a home in the historic Hubbard Farms neighborhood, he volunteers for the Clark Park Coalition and he helped draft the Detroit Declaration. He is also now a co-owner of Detroit City FC, Detroit’s first minor league soccer team, to play its inaugural season in 2012 in the National Premier Soccer League’s Midwest Division.
The aggregate of small, people-powered involvements -- a soccer league here, a community garden there -- is what Mann sees as the surest and most reliable way to strengthen the city. “Simple, positive, small-scale projects all banding together will start to slowly change the narrative of the city,” he says. These are “the best investments the city can partake in.”

Portrait by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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