GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While many people continued to sleep off their Thanksgiving feasts Friday, a select few soccer fans got up bright and early to take in every second of the World Cup.
The U.S. Men’s National Team was scheduled to take on England Friday afternoon, but the party got underway at the SpeakEZ Lounge in Grand Rapids as soon as other games got underway in at the tournament in Qatar.
“We had quite a few people in at 5 o’clock in the morning but again, it’s the World Cup,” SpeakEZ owner Eric Albertson said.
Fans came from far and wide to join in the festivities. One group decided to drive all the way from Lansing to watch the matchup between Wales and Iran starting at 5 a.m. They said SpeakEZ was the closest bar they could find that was open.
They weren’t the only ones from out of town. Michael Van Akkeren travels from the Netherlands to West Michigan every year for Thanksgiving to see his in-laws. His national team also had a match Friday versus Ecuador.
“We don’t know what Thanksgiving is (in the Netherlands) but this makes it a lot better,” Van Akkeren said.
The SpeakEZ Lounge is home to a pretty passionate group of fans in the American Outlaws — the local chapter of the national soccer club. They show up to every USMNT game and lead the bar in cheers throughout.
“It’s a real big deal for all of us to get together. We have some chants that we sing along,” Dan Weatherhead said. “And when the players score, this place goes crazy.”
Fans have been anticipating the matchup between the U.S. and England for months. It’s been eight years since the USMNT was in the World Cup, something that Weatherhead and company aren’t taking for granted.
“Four years ago, I was devastated,” he said. “It’s such a heartbreaking thing to know that the big events coming up and you have to sit on the sidelines. So when the U.S. qualified this year, it was such a relief and we’re all excited.”
SpeakEZ isn’t the only bar in town that is holding a watch party for the game. Albertson said he isn’t worried about competition, but that he’s just glad the sport is growing in popularity.
“I don’t do this for business,” he said. “I do it for the love of the game.”
The SpeakEZ Lounge will continue to host watch parties for every game of the World Cup, which runs through Dec. 18.