Detroit area Tottenham supporters opt to spur on English Premier League club among their own

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News
Tottenham soccer fans (from left) Sarah Johnson, Casey Copp, Correy Sarver, Antonio Munaco, and Brennan Richtes, of the Detroit Tottenham supporters club, cheer their Premier League team Tottenham score a goal during a watch party held at the Mercury Bar in Detroit on Sunday, September 1, 2019.

Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

Detroit — A British expat once noted people can change spouses and even switch their citizenship, but they’ll always remain wedded to the same football club.

Tweak the terminology to soccer, and what transpires on weekend mornings at Mercury Burger Bar, as well as at a growing number of Detroit area establishments, all begins to make sense.

"You can never change it," said Nick Neighbors of Royal Oak, a diehard Tottenham Hotspur supporter for 19 years, buying into the theory. "It's like part of your DNA. Once you pick, and if you genuinely pick, you'll never change it." 

Neighbors is among his tribe. The financial planner is one of the leading figures in Detroit Spurs, a supporters group for English Premier League Tottenham, which has claimed the Corktown establishment as their patch.

The fierce North London Derby (pronounced dar-bee) between Tottenham and archrival Arsenal has Metro Detroit Spurs fans crammed into Mercury's covered patio area, sitting at picnic tables and huddled nearby as a gentle rain falls outside.

Other Spurs fans sit along the bar in Mercury’s main dining room and in the eatery downstairs.

A crowd of 70 or fans have turned out, which is higher than the 30-40 average denizens due to the antipathy between the London teams, which is on par with Michigan-Michigan State rivalry.

On the patio, Tottenham supporters decked out in array of navy blue and white regalia zoom in on two large-screen TVs where NBCSN’s commentary can barely be heard above the din.

Kyle Youngblood, of the Detroit Tottenham supporters club, speaks to fellow members during a watch party held at the Mercury Bar in Detroit during a match between Arsenal and Tottenham on Sunday, September 1, 2019.

Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

“C’mon you Spurs!” someone bellows, if only to reinforce the congregants why they are there.

A few blocks down Michigan Avenue, a similar scene plays out at McShane's Irish Pub & Whiskey Bar, where members from Arsenal Detroit regularly convene.

Detroit's soccer culture

It all points to vibrant soccer culture, which continues to blossom amid withering hopes of the city ever landing one of the remaining Major League Soccer expansion slots.

Detroit City FC continues to attract international acclaim as a fourth-tier club that regularly draws 4,000-5,000 fans while luring pro-flight opponents — Mexico’s Club Atlas this Saturday being one — to Keyworth Stadium for friendlies. The community owned club is making the transition to a full-time professional outfit when it joins the fledgling third-division National Independent Soccer Association in spring 2020.

Aside from Motor City-based Spurs and Arsenal groups, the area boasts a thriving Liverpool supporters club that meets at Thomas Magee’s Sporting House & Whiskey Bar in Eastern Market.

A Chelsea group Motor City Blues assembles at Royal Oak Brewery and a Manchester City contingent, under the banner of Metro Detroit Blues, also calls Royal Oak Brewery home.

Only a few years ago this area's EPL fans of all persuasions fit under one roof. Jon Brodeur used to run “Soccer Saturdays” at the Red Fox English Pub in Royal Oak, which since closed.

Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal supporters would all show up there to watch their respective teams play on TV.

Charlie Rinehart (right), of the Detroit Tottenham supporters club, uses some body english to cheer Premier League team Tottenham during a watch party held at the Mercury Bar in Detroit during a match between Arsenal and Tottenham on Sunday, September 1, 2019.

Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

Whichever team had the largest representation would have the sound turned up on their particular match, Brodeur said. Liverpool (Magee’s) and Arsenal (McShane’s) supporters spun off and found their own pubs.

Brodeur left Red Fox and became a manager at Mercury Burger Bar. Tottenham’s contingent, which formed in 2010-11, moved to the Mercury.

“I think they want to be surrounded by fans who are their own fans so they can commiserate together and they can have joy together,” said Brodeur, who is a Manchester United fan despite repeated efforts by Tottenham’s faithful to convert him, “Because a lot of times you have another club that's there and you are playing that club.

“So if it's Chelsea and even guys from the Chelsea group always got along with the Tottenham group, you just don't want to hear it when they go down two-nothing.”

Tottenham springs ahead 2-0, which has the crowd buzzing. When Harry Kane's penalty gives Spurs a two-goal advantage in the 40th minutes, fists punch the air while high-fives and hugs follow. The patio crowd begins singing, "Harry Kane ... He's one of our own!" 

Even the most casual observer can't get help but caught up in the euphoria.

Subsequently, when Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette pulls one back six minutes later, the oxygen is sucked out of the surroundings. 

Shouts for fouls, simulation and other injustices punctuate the air. When Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang slots home the tying goal with 19 minutes left, a pall comes over the patio.

The mood switches from rueful to hopeful as Tottenham goes back on the attack, though. The match ends in a 2-2 stalemate.

"Ah, we'll take it," someone shouts.  

Hooked on Tottenham

Liz Alonzo of Birmingham was the Detroit club's first female member "who wasn't attached to another man.

"I'm not here because of a husband or a significant other," said Alonzo, who works in sales for Carhartt. "I was a true Tottenham fan from the beginning."

Members of the Detroit Tottenham supporters club gather at the Mercury Bar in Detroit during a match between Arsenal and Tottenham on Sunday, September 1, 2019.

Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

Alonzo fell in love with the club in the mid-2000s during the Dimitar Berbatov era when working in London as a product manager for UK retail giant Tesco.

She went to a match at the club's former ground White Hart Lane and was hooked. Tottenham moved into a new 62,062-capacity stadium this year.

When Alonzo returned stateside, she began watching Tottenham matches at the Red Fox and joined the Detroit Spurs. She plays soccer year-round, taking part in the co-ed recreational Detroit City Futbal League and with a team of Carhartt coworkers at the Detroit City Fieldhouse.

Detroit Spurs has expanded its mission beyond just cheering for a soccer team 3,700 miles across the Atlantic, Alonzo said. The group has adopted a stretch of I-75 in Auburn Hills, which it cleans twice a year and collects school supplies for Detroit COTS (Coalition On Temporary Shelter). 

"We just try to use our supporter group, not only to obviously drink beer and watch games, but to give back to the community in whatever way we can," she said.

Detroit Spurs added to Lindsay Warren's and son Tommy's day.

Mother and son were wearing matching green Tottenham away jerseys sitting at one of the picnic benches. The visit to the Mercury to watch Spurs was the Royal Oak family's first.

Lindsay has been a Tottenham fan for 15 years, going over to see Spurs play at White Hart Lane and other grounds around England. Thomas, 7, who plays soccer and is second-grader, cites England international Kane as his favorite player.

For $25, the family received an official Detroit Spurs scarf, which Tommy planned to wear to school.

"It's much more fun than watching at home," Warren said. "I think there is much more crowd spirit and people chanting along with another."

She turned to her son, who'd put on his white Tottenham track top to leave: "This is better than watching the match at home with the dog, isn't it Tommy?"

Twitter: @larryo1961