GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- More than halfway through it`s inaugural season, it's safe to say Grand Rapids FC has been a huge success. The team has already established a large fan base, drawing almost a cult following with more than 5,000 loud, drum-banging fans marching to home games at Houseman Field in Grand Rapids.
"When we're warming up, we hear the march from Bob's Bar," said GRFC midfielder Noble Sullivan, a former star player at Grand Rapids Catholic Central and University of Michigan. "I always get goose bumps whenever I hear the drums going, so that definitely gets us up for the games. And when we score in front of the crowd, they just go crazy. It's quite a feeling."
"You know, The Grand Army banging drums coming, the smoke bombs. It's more of, if you get a chance to watch a South American atmosphere, that's what really makes it special for the players," says GRFC defender Mark Barone, a former star player at East Kentwood High School and Michigan State University.
The fan following that has developed may be a surprise, but it's what team organizers had in mind when making up the roster, choosing many star players from the area, making this truly Grand Rapids' soccer team, from the fans to the players.
"We wanted to bring players that are local, because we want our spectators to feel a connection with our players," said GRFC coach George Moni. "Throughout the years, we have developed a lot of quality players in West Michigan, and we wanted to use this talent as the foundation of our program."
"The core guys are from Grand Rapids," said Barone. "I think that's what the main draw is for the fans from Grand Rapids. I don't think you have many people driving from New York or Chicago to come watch us, so I think that's why the support has been so great."
Most of the players starred locally in high school and in college. Some even have previous pro experience, such as Mark Barone, drafted by FC Dallas of the MLS. And the goal is to bring even more talent to Grand Rapids to help build GRFC's already solid foundation.
"It's not just a one-year thing," said Barone. "We're trying to build this where we can draw great players out of state, out of town, whatever it be, and turn it into something more, and hopefully that will build next year and the year after that, and so on."