LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Nearly an hour before kickoff at a Lansing Common FC home game, you can find Rich Schenck hanging up banners in front of the bleachers at Eastern Stadium, making sure everything looks just right for his section of superfans.
The banners, known as ‘tifos’ in soccer, are made by Schenck himself and feature monikers of the players and coaches with clever puns or sayings. One banner reads ‘House of Payne,’ paying homage to Robins defender Kevin Payne. Another reads ‘DangerRuss,’ a nod to forward Seth Russ.
“This has been kind of my role for the past couple years,” said Schenck. “It’s something that I kind of took a liking to and I like to talk a little trash here and there so I like to do it in a visual way.
“Personally for me, I’m a sucker for dad jokes. So anytime I can make something kind of funny, you know a little quirky joke here and there, it’s a really rewarding thing. Player-specific tifos, the players get those at the end of the year. They fight for us, we sing for them, and this is a little token for them to remember their couple months in Lansing.”
Hanging up the tifos is just the beginning of a raucous night ahead for Schenck and his fellow superfans, a group of Lansing Common FC supporters known as The Branch Supporters Group.
“Initially when the logo for Lansing Common dropped, they did a badge explainer and where the Robin is sitting there was a little arrow that pointed and said the robin just needed something to stand on,” Schenck said of the name. “So we’re The Branch. We’re going to be that pillar for the players, the club and the community to stand on.”
There are about 30-40 fans who make up The Branch SG at every Lansing Common FC home game. No membership is required and everyone is welcome to come join them. Once the game begins, the real magic starts.
From the tifos to a drumline, smoke bombs to songs, The Branch pulls out all the stops to cheer on the Robins.
“We bounce ideas, ‘what do you think about this song? What should we say for this?'” Schenck said of the collaborative nature of the group. “So there’s constant back and forth.”
Rufus Isaacs moved to the United States from England 25 years ago and is one of the drummers for The Branch.
“The first season I followed this team I actually sat on [the west] side of the stadium and watched in awe at the supporters group [on the east side], wishing I was part of it,” said Isaacs. “Gradually I got to make some connections here and their drummer dropped out for that second season and I was able to come in and help keep the drums going.
“This is the first time I’ve drummed with a soccer supporter’s group and it’s great because we don’t have to be superb drummers. We just have to have a lot of passion and enthusiasm.”
The Branch’s drumming is the heartbeat of every Lansing Common FC home game, but the group is about much more than just rooting on the Robins.
“We almost joke that we’re a community organization that just happens to have a soccer team,” said Isaacs. “So this supporter’s group does a lot of volunteering around the city. We’re a part of efforts to clean up the parks, to raise money for local charities.”
Their shared love of soccer is just the starting point for relationships that are cherished long after the final whistle blows and the drumbeat stops.
“I think the thing I love the most is just the social connection. I’ve made good friends, shared a love of soccer, shared a chance to see this team,” said Isaacs. “And even when the team’s not playing which is during the winter, we stay connected as a social group and do a lot of work in the community and just have a good time together.”