|Full name||Detroit Express|
The Detroit Express was a soccer team based in suburban Detroit that played in the now defunct North American Soccer League (NASL) from 1978 to 1980. Its home field was the Pontiac Silverdome. The Express were co-owned by Roger Faulkner and by famed English soccer pundit Jimmy Hill who was also the managing director and chairman of the English club Coventry City. The team was coached by Ken Furphy.
The Express were Detroit's first professional soccer team since the ASL's Detroit Mustangs folded in 1973 and Detroit's first NASL team since the Detroit Cougars folded in 1968. England forward Trevor Francis was the first big name signed by the team and arrived in early May 1978. He missed the first third of the season, but still led the team with 22 goals and 10 assists in 19 games. The coach's son, forward Keith Furphy was 2nd with 11 goals and 12 assists. David Bradford and Alan Brazil added 9 goals each. The Express won the Central Division of the American Conference with a 20 win and 10 loss record. In the playoffs, Francis scored the series winning goal to defeat the Philadelphia Fury in the first round, but the Express were then knocked out by the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at the Silverdome in a mini-game overtime after going 1–1 in the conference semi-finals.
Back in England, Francis made history as the first player in the UK to command a £1 million transfer when he was purchased by Nottingham Forest from Birmingham City. Forest was not keen to allow their new asset to return to the states, but they relented and Francis returned just past the midway point of the 1979 season. He drew large crowds and contributed 14 goals and 8 assists in 14 games, tying Keith Furphy for the team lead. Ted MacDougall added 9 goals and 11 assists. But the Express struggled to a 14 win – 16 loss record and a 3rd-place finish. They were then swept out of the playoffs 2–0 in the first round by the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Trevor Francis would never return to the NASL.
Widely recognized as one of the finest forwards to play in the NASL, Francis appeared in 33 NASL games and scored 36 goals with 18 Assists. This puts him one place ahead of Pelé on the all time NASL scoring list, despite playing 23 fewer games. Francis also scored 3 times and had 3 assists in 5 playoff games. He was a first team all star selection in 1978 and 1979 alongside Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia, Johan Cruyff, Carlos Alberto and Rodney Marsh and other international greats. He was the only Detroit player ever to be selected to the NASL first XI.
The 1980 Express finished with a 14 win – 18 loss season and a declining fan base at the huge stadium. They missed the playoffs. Argentinian Pato Margetic was signed to replace Trevor Francis at the forward spot and led the team with 11 goals and 11 assists. Gary Bannister and Adam Oates added 10 goals each, while Bradford finished with 16 assists. Wearing the 10 shirt, David Bradford scored 14 goals and had 38 assists in his 3 years with the Express.
Following the 1980–81 indoor season, Jimmy Hill won a court battle to move the team to RFK stadium to become the new Washington Diplomats, who had folded their squad in the off season. The Express turned Diplomats, lasted just one season in D.C. before folding. The NASL collapsed after the 1984 season.
The Detroit Express name and logo was retained by local businessman Sonny Van Arnem, who started the new Express team in the American Soccer League in the 1981 season. The ASL version of the Express won the league title in 1982, but the league folded after the 1983 season.
George Best also appeared for the Express during a tour of Europe in September 1978. Best played two games in Austria with the Express before the team headed to Switzerland.
In popular culture
|Year||League||W||L||T||Pts||Reg. Season||Playoffs||Avg. Attend.|
|1978||NASL||20||10||1st, American Conference, Central Division||Won 1st Round (Philadelphia)
Lost Conference Semifinal (Ft. Lauderdale)
|1979||NASL||14||16||3rd, American Conference, Central Division||Lost Conference Quarterfinal (Tampa Bay)||14,058|
|1979–80||NASL Indoor||7||5||3rd, Eastern Division||Lost 1st Round (Tampa Bay)|
|1980||NASL||14||18||3rd, American Conference, Central Division||did not qualify||11,198|
|1980–81||NASL Indoor||7||11||3rd, Central Division||did not qualify|