By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
It’s not quite noon, and the Nomad World Pub is getting rowdy. Minnesota’s most diehard soccer fans — some of whom have already been here for hours — are knocking back pints of Surly Furious and shots of Jameson. There’s an oversized Jenga game in the middle of the pub, and someone keeps tooting a miniature trumpet.
These are the Dark Clouds, the loyal supporters of Minnesota United FC, the state’s second-division soccer club.
“DARK CLOUDS!” Jim Oliver, a big fellow dressed in all black and wearing a beard fit for a viking, bellows through a megaphone. The bar falls silent. “In the ninth minute, we’re going to sing, ‘Djorn Bucholz is a blue, hates Milwaukee.’ It goes like this.”
Oliver begins to belt out, to the tune of “London Bridge Is Falling Down,” Djorn Bucholz is a blue, is a blue, is a blue. Djorn Bucholz is a blue, haaaates Milllllllwauukee!
It’s an inside joke, as are most things with the Dark Clouds. Bucholz is the outgoing vice president of Minnesota United, and today is his last game. A blue is a nickname for a fan of the team, dating back to when it was called the Minnesota Thunder. Milwaukee was at one time Minnesota’s biggest rival — they haven’t had a team for years, but the song remains the same.
“Ahhhhhhh!” the Jenga players cry in disappointment as the four-foot tower comes crashing to the bar’s floor.
Looking around, it’s difficult to tell what ties these people together, aside from their adoration for a sport about which most Americans couldn’t care less. The attire ranges from DIY to polo shirts. There are conservatives, liberals, and everyting in between. Wes Burdine, an active Dark Clouds member, is wearing a T-shirt carrying the symbol of the Red Loon — he explains that it represents the Marxist sect of the Dark Clouds.
“One thing I like about the Dark Clouds so much is that it’s a bunch of weirdos and misfits,” says Burdine. “It’s a group of black sheep coming together.”
An hour before the game starts, Oliver addresses the group: “Finish your beers!” he commands through the megaphone. “One minute!”
They do as they’re told and line up outside the bar on Cedar Avenue, raising flags, beating a full-sized bass drum, and sounding trumpets as they march down the street. It looks like Cedar-Riverside is under siege, and a few store owners run outside to investigate. To the tune of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK,” they sing in unison:
I am a Nessie Fan
I am a Minne-so-tan
I know what I want and I know how to get it
I wanna drink beer! And eat hot nuts!
Cuz IIIIII Wannnnnnaaa Beeee
The story of the Dark Clouds begins with a local soccer freak named Bruce McGuire, a 6'4" former A&R rep for Warner Bros. Records with a long red beard. On a recent afternoon, across a dim table at Nye’s Polonaise Room in northeast Minneapolis, McGuire tries to sum up the complicated philosophy of the Dark Clouds.
They’re not like traditional European soccer hooligans, famous for starting fights with opposing fans. In fact, they are vehemently opposed to any violent behavior; in one instance, when a fan in their section did throw a rock at a rival team’s bench, the Dark Clouds carried him out of the stadium. The ethos of the Dark Clouds lies in the difference between being a smartass and an asshole.
“The other team, they’re our total enemy, but the minute the game’s over, it’s over,” explains McGuire. “We go out in the parking lot and hang out with fans from the other team, before and after the game.”
Today, McGuire is among 165 registered members of the Dark Clouds, but throughout the ’90s, he watched soccer alone. In 2001, he wanted to see the World Cup qualifying game in Honduras, but didn’t feel like spending the $50 on pay-per-view just to watch it by himself. He searched out the soccer message board Big Soccer, and found a post from a stranger asking if any other fans wanted to split the cost. McGuire showed up — along with seven others — at the east St. Paul house.
Among his new comrades was Grant Wahl, a Sports Illustrated journalist who was in Minneapolis covering the Final Four. Wahl later wrote an article about the evening, titled, “Feeling Minnesota: The Twin Cities bring out the best in soccer’s diehards.”
“That was the nucleus,” says McGuire. “That’s where it started. And then through that we started going to Thunder games together, and meeting more and more like-minded people.” The Thunder played at the National Sports Center in Blaine, where games were sparsely attended. But in the thin crowd, McGuire’s group noticed a few other regulars, and banded together with them to heckle the other team.