GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A seven year run is over.
The Grand Rapids Football Club announced Wednesday it's shutting down permanently. The team says it's due to several financial challenges, including some that came about during the pandemic.
The barstools at SpeakEZ Lounge hold a place in the team's history.
"Grand Rapids Football Club was founded right here at SpeakEZ," says the bar's owner, Eric Albertson.
You could call Albertson a bit of a soccer fan.
"I've seen matches in England, I've seen matches in Germany," he says.
And bringing a team here to his hometown, a passion project.
"The culture and the climate over there is just unlike any other sporting event you see over here," says Albertson.
Grand Rapids Football Club played its first season in 2015. At that time, Grand Rapids native Joe Broekhuizen was playing soccer in Finland. When he heard about the team, he was ready to get back home.
"I thought as soon as I come back here, this is something I cannot wait to be a part of," says Broekhuizen.
He came back to play for the team for several seasons before becoming the general manager. His biggest motivation?
His hometown fans.
"Grand Rapids people are passionate about whatever they do and whatever they get their hands on," says Broekhuizen.
Albertson helped create The Grand Army, a fan base that turned out by the thousands, rabid for the beautiful game.
"Even we who thought, oh this should be pretty cool, were blown away by it," recalls Alberston. "It just went to show soccer is very much alive and well here in West Michigan."
The team played its home games at Houseman Field, where fans would march for blocks to see the game.
"With different chants for the players and songs and smoke and the march," describes Albertson.
SpeakEZ was always packed after the games.
"I'd have to leave games about 10 minutes early because I'd have to come here and warn the staff," says Albertson. "Release the hounds! They're coming!"
But for him, it was never about the money.
"Yes, it was good business for me, but I did it because I love the game and I knew it could work, and I love my city," he says.
Broekhuizen believes soccer will return to the city at some point, and its all because GRFC proved it was possible.
"Just as a soccer purist and fan, I am so excited for the future of this city," says Broekhuizen.
RELATED VIDEO: Full time: Grand Rapids Football Club disbands after seven seasons
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