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Grand Army organizing for another season supporting soccer in Grand Rapids

Members of the Grand Army supporters group marched to Grand Rapids Football Club games together to celebrate the new team in 2015 and plan to do even more when the 2016 season begins next month
Grand Army members march from Bob's Sports Bar to Houseman Field prior to a Grand Rapids Football Club match last season.

Grand Army members march from Bob's Sports Bar to Houseman Field prior to a Grand Rapids Football Club match last season. /Alicia Magnuson Photography

Banners wave in the Grand Army section of the stands at Houseman Field.

Banners wave in the Grand Army section of the stands at Houseman Field. /Bryan Bolea

The GRFC crest will fly at Houseman Field again this summer.

The GRFC crest will fly at Houseman Field again this summer. /Bryan Bolea

“One City! One Club!”

Drums pound, horns blare, banners wave and marchers sing-along in unison as they march.

“GR – FC – Grand Rapids Football Club!”

It’s not mardi gras. It’s the sound of the Grand Army on its way to Houseman Field.

The organized supporters group for the Grand Rapids Football Club numbers in the hundreds and they strive to be loud, according to co-founder and president of the Grand Army Matt Post.

“From GRFC to FC Barcelona, there is no proper club without fans,” said GRFC player Noble Sullivan. “The Grand Army supported the team well before any of us signed on. The fans have shaped the culture of the team, which is really just a reflection of the city's passion for the game. We're fortunate to be able to play in front of such dedicated fans.”

When the Grand Army marches, it’s a parade from Bob’s Sports Bar on Michigan Street to the stadium about 10 blocks away. The route changes from game to game.

“The marches from Bob's Bar were one of the main ideas we had early on in the formation of The Grand Army,” said Post, a 28-year-old real estate agent and a big fan of Chelsea FC of the English Premier League. “It is a big part of the soccer culture in Europe, South America, and even in the U.S. Quite a few teams in our league have it as a part of their game-day tradition, so it was absolutely necessary to partner with a bar near the stadium in order to have a meeting place to stage these marches.”

Fans gather hours before the game at Bob’s Bar for food, drink and camaraderie before heading out en masse to support the team. Eric Albertson, owner of SpeakEZ Lounge, has been an integral part of forming and encouraging the growth of GRFC. He helped make the connection with Bob’s Bar, one of the oldest sports bars in Grand Rapids, knowing that a march from SpeakEZ to Houseman Field was out of the question.

“The first march was a big surprise. It was cold and rainy,” Post remembers. “The pre-game party took a little while to fill up with people. We didn't know what to expect. About 10 minutes before we left for the stadium, the parking lot starting filling up with people, a group of guys showed up with marching drums, and before we knew it we had probably around a hundred people marching in the rain behind a giant Grand Army banner, with drums beating, and people belting out chants. It was a bit surreal.”

When the Grand Army parade arrives at Houseman Field, everyone knows it, even the players, like Sullivan, who grew up in Grand Rapids and quickly become a fan favorite.

“For me, the highlight of the 2015 season was the first time I heard the drums beating as the Grand Army marched up to Houseman,” said Sullivan, 24, who graduated from University of Michigan with a degree in American Culture and is currently working on his master’s degree in Sustainable Cultural Heritage from the American University of Rome in Italy. “The smoke billowed over the fences like an apparition, the rain was unrelenting, yet our supporters endured, cheering us on to our first home victory.”

Sullivan had the opportunity to join the Grand Army for the march when he was given a day off from playing when the team had back-to-back games in 2015.

“Marching with the Grand Army was definitely one of my favorite days from last season,” Sullivan said. “I wish all the players could experience the march to Houseman at least once. I think I lost my voice after all the chanting and singing. It’s hard to believe the Grand Army did it every week.”

The Grand Army marched every game and the numbers grew considerably throughout that first season. Post estimates the number of “members” to be about 500-600, but with no membership fee or formal organization at this point it is difficult to tell.

“We would absolutely love to grow The Grand Army,” Post said. “As big as possible. If the entire north half of the stands is standing and chanting all game, we would love it. We work to be a very inclusive group. If you support GRFC, and like to be loud, we welcome you.”

Roberts said the club leadership heard plenty of positive feedback from members of the Grand Army, players, other fans, and even members of the Midtown neighborhood. He said he communicates regularly with Post and other Grand Army members to keep everything positive inside and outside the stadium.

“We want it to be fun, but to be respectful for the city,” Roberts said. “We want to make sure everybody is enjoying it.”

Plans are already well under way for new signs, new chants and improved pre-game logistics at Bob’s Bar, where tents in the parking lot mark the gathering location for Grand Army members.

“It was such a successful event and it’s exciting to be a part of that,” said Bob’s Bar manager Lisa Remenap. “It’s really fun. Michigan Street is changing significantly and it’s exciting. There’s such an energy with that group. It’s very exciting to be a part of it.”

The GRFC season opener is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. Friday, May 6, at Houseman Field against a newly-formed team from Ole Soccer Club right here in Grand Rapids. Supporters will begin gathering in the early afternoon at Bob’s Bar, then march to the stadium where they will take their designated place in the north bleachers.

“To support GRFC, be loud, create a fun atmosphere at games, and get the word out to parts of the soccer community that may not know about GRFC,” Post said.

Brewery Vivant produced “The Grand Army” in 2015, a limited release beer described as “An IPA For Supporters.”

This year, GRFC teamed up with New Holland Brewing for a special beer called “Extra Time,” a Michigan golden lager. Based in Holland, Mich., New Holland announced plans for the opening of a Grand Rapids location on the west side of Grand Rapids this fall called Knickerbocker – Brewpub and Distillery.

The Grand Army is ready to march again in support of the Grand Rapids Football Club.

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