There are a lot of things about the European lifestyle that I am on board with: afternoon siestas, short work weeks, generous paid vacation, drinking all day. All these ideas I can stand behind.
One thing I never approved of, however, is the European love of soccer. I always believed that, as an American, I was supposed to hate soccer. So I professed to hate soccer, even without knowing anything about the game. My ignorance was a manifestation of the hate; just the thought of learning about it was too boring for me. I imagined it to be an extremely slow-moving game. The field is big, and it must take forever for someone to run from one end to the other. And come on, it's nearly impossible to accurately kick a ball into a tiny net.
Europeans, though, are intense when it comes to soccer. While in Italy, some friends and I went into a salsa club for some latin dancing. There was no dancing that night, however, because a World Cup game was being played. So the salsa club became a sports bar on account of there would be no customers unless they could watch the game. Unfortunately for us, Italy was playing the U.S. that night, and our team was in the lead, so our small group of Americans hurried out of the bar just as quickly as we had meandered in. Who knows what may have happened to us if we had been noticed.
With the success of the U.S. women's soccer team in the World Cup this past month, however, America seems to be changing its attitude about soccer. Locally, it seems Grand Rapids changed its opinion long before that.
This year, the Grand Rapids Football Club, a semi-professional minor league soccer team, debuted in Grand Rapids, and Friday was the last home game of the inaugural season. Seeing as it was our last chance of the year to experience this new addition to our city, my husband and I grabbed some tickets online and headed to Houseman Field downtown, a stadium owned and used by Grand Rapids Public Schools for fall (American) football.
When we entered the field, it looked like a full house already, and fans were still pouring in. The team's motto "One City, One Club" honors the people who invested in creating the team. Over 600 people contributed to an online crowd-funding campaign. Those contributers and many more have become loyal fans, donning t-shirts with the GRFC crest and hanging blue and white scarves around their necks, even in the 85-degree heat.
My husband and I squeezed onto a bit of available bleacher bench. While we waited for the game to start, we noticed a blue blob of people on the opposite side of the field chanting, beating on drums, and waving Grand Rapids city flags. Frankly, they were impossible to ignore.
Trumpets sounded and the teams walked out onto the field, greeted by thunderous applause and cheering. White smoke spewed from firework canons ignited by the big group across the field. We cheered for our team and boo-ed the competitors from Muskegon, a lakeside city 40 minutes to the west.
The game itself wasn't boring at all. It really didn't take that long for one person to run the length of the field, especially when they were passing and kicking and heading the ball to their teammates. The interaction between the teams reminded me of hockey, my favorite sport. Instead of using sticks, they kicked the ball out from each other, often pushing each other and knocking each other to the ground. There were even a couple of shoving matches to keep the crowd pumped up and on their feet.
Photo credit: Bryan Bolea
I still couldn't shake my interest in the blue blob of fans across the field. They did not stop cheering, chanting, singing the entire game. They never sat down. They never stopped waving their flags or beating their drums.
The woman sitting next to me had a GRFC scarf and a soccer ball tattoo, so I figured she might know who this loud and rowdy group was. I leaned over to her and asked.
"They're the Grand Army," she informed me. They meet at a bar before the game and then all march together to the field. Apparently, this is another tradition in the world of soccer, in addition to the team crest and the supportive scarves.
Photo credit: The Grand Army
The Grand Army, however, seems unique unto itself. Its motto, "Motu Viget," which is also Grand Rapids' motto (something I just learned), is a Latin phrase meaning "stength in activity." This group recognizes that great power can come from people who do things together. Their group and this soccer team are living testaments to that. The city wanted a soccer team, so they came together to fund it, and now they band together to support it. It shows not only ingenuity but responsibility. The people have created this. Now they will take care of it.
I like to think that the citizens of Grand Rapids share this attitude not only toward soccer but also toward the city. Grand Rapidians love their city, they will work hard for it, and they will take care of it.
One city, one club.
See you next year, GRFC.
For more information about GRFC, visit their website