Wild times: DCFC's Trevor James recalls coaching Rod Stewart's amateur soccer team

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Detroit — Lionel Richie is on line one, but more pressing matters have left Island Records president Lionel Conway disinterested with taking the call.

Conway is sitting in his office off Sunset Boulevard, talking with Trevor James about an upcoming soccer match.

"He'd say, 'Oh, tell him I'll call him back. I'm talking to Trevor about the team,'" James, now the head coach of Detroit City FC, recalled. "And he would hang up on him."

A photo of the Los Angeles Exiles featuring Trevor James (bottom row, second from left), Costas Mandylor (top row, second from left) and Rod Stewart (top row, far right).

Conway and rock legend Rod Stewart — who will play Pine Knob on Wednesday night — owned and played on an amateur soccer team called the Los Angeles Exiles during the late 1980s. 

James was playing for both the Exiles and another Los Angeles-based team called the Heat. Conway invited him down to the office and asked if he'd consider coaching the team, to which James obviously obliged.

"It was funny," James said. "I didn't know who they were."

The roster included ex-British pros and hair rockers like Stewart and singer-songwriter Andrew Ridgeley (of Wham! fame). Actor Costas Mandylor and British executive Garry Cook, the latter of whom would later go on to serve as head of Nike's Jordan brand and CEO of Manchester City F.C., were also on the team. 

"Whoever was in town would come train, and we would train two or three nights a week in Manhattan Beach," James said. "You'd have a lot of Brits, obviously, because of Rod.

"I always remember Costas because when we trained, he was a training actor trying to get parts and stuff, and he would always come to training in character. … Every time we trained, he was a different person. He was a thug, he was a gangster, he was whatever."

It's difficult to find information about the Exiles. One can find loads of info on Hollywood United, a team that was formed in 2009 under the same star-studded premise and played in the National Premier Soccer League, which DCFC competed in from 2012-19.

This team was less official, in a time where there wasn't much high-level soccer in the United States to speak of. But they still took winning very seriously, and Stewart himself was quite the footballer.

James recalled Stewart saying that people would always say he could have been a professional player.

"He was close to being — he was at Brentford and maybe he could have played at Brentford," James said. "(Stewart) wanted to be better and play better. He wanted the team to do well, to be successful. He just loved the game, you know? He still does. I mean, you see him go to Celtic, maybe Barcelona, and he'd burst into tears."

Today, Trevor James is affectionately known to Rod Stewart as "Jamesy."

Individual matches don't stick out all that much in James' memory. But the random twists and turns that came with being coach of the Exiles sure do. No longer, he said, did he ever find himself unable to get into a show around town.

"It was just like all of a sudden, I could get in anywhere," James said. "They did Madonna's record. I mean, they did a lot of the top people."

And then there's the time that James found himself heading to the studio with Stewart after a night at a bar off Manhattan Beach called Tequila Willie's, which is now defunct.

"I think it might have been 'Forever Young.' I'd have to check," James said, referencing a track that peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard charts. "I was on it, but the last time I looked it doesn't say I was on it, so maybe I got dropped.

"But it was just on the (background), it was like we're over there and he's doing his bit. It's just like sitting there singing. It was weird. You never think you're gonna use it, then it's platinum. I did say that for a while, that I had a platinum record."

Today, James is still affectionately known to Stewart as "Jamesy." The two still keep in touch, and James has made a push for Stewart to wear a Detroit City FC kit at his concert on Wednesday night. The results of that quest are TBD.

"We've kept in contact over the years and he's always asking how the team is," James said.

"We did have a bond where you're still there, but hopefully, he's gonna wear this jersey."

Editor's note: Following the publication of this story, DCFC head coach Trevor James informed The Detroit News that the Rod Stewart song he participated on was 'Rhythm of My Heart' and not 'Forever Young.'

nbianchi@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @nolanbianchi