“The Jimmy.” That’s the nickname given to James Griffin Stadium by Minnesota Thunder fans when the team played in St. Paul from 2004 until 2008. With its 4,367-capacity, narrow field, and artificial turf surface, it may have been the worst professional soccer venue in the USA at the time. It was also one of the most magical.
The original move from the NSC to Midway was an attempt to be more centralized in the Twin Cities. Geography wise, this was a success. Numbers wise, it was a failure. Attendance dropped by more than 1,000 people a game while the team played in St. Paul. (You can see a full breakdown of the Thunder’s yearly attendance here.)
Now this wasn’t St. Paul’s fault. The team was playing at a high school stadium with limited parking options, no alcohol was allowed at games, terrible food options, and no local bars within a reasonable waking distance. On top of that, the team was playing on an extremely narrow football field surrounded by a running track. Let’s not forget the Thunder Performance Team, a group of cheerleaders who had a knack for building pyramids that blocked the view of crowd. I swear one of them was orange too.
This wasn’t exactly a sports fan dream. The stadium was the definition of minor league. It was also these conditions that helped give birth to the Dark Clouds.
Intimacy was one of the strengths of the stadium. The Dark Clouds were located directly behind the visitors bench, and the team could hear EVERYTHING. Like a stand up comedian working a small room, the DC’s could get immediate feedback from their heckling. Looking back, it’s almost comical to see teams like the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers playing under these conditions. And the jackassery wasn’t just limited to off-the-field action.
During an US Open Cup game in 2007, the Minnesota Thunder hosted the California Victory, a team that lasted exactly one season in the league. As a service to away fans the Dark Clouds would perform a “Jackcast”, or jackassery broadcast, for Open Cup games. This night, the Dark Clouds were able to made a measurable impact on the game and aided in getting Ricardo Sanchez tossed from the field. Northern Pitch’s own Brian Quarstad and Anthony de Sam Lazaro called the action:
If Minnesota United decides to build their new stadium in St. Paul, it wouldn’t be the first time Major League Soccer was played in Midway. Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, and the Colorado Rapids have all played at James Griffin Stadium. Players like Landon Donovan, Clint Mathis and Jason Kreis all had the chance to experience locker rooms that shared a striking resemblance to a Siberian prison. A little known fact is Jamie Watson is the only current United player to play at the Jimmy. His one appearance there gave birth to “You Dive Like Jamie Watson” chant.
Do you have any specific memories of the stadium the Thunder once called home?