As Minnesota United FC prepared for its first matches of the 2017 season, nearly everything seemed new. The club is playing in a new league (Major League Soccer), with a new head coach (Adrian Heath), in a new home venue (TCF Bank Stadium), with a roster primarily comprised of new players. Some of the most notable holdovers from Minnesota’s previous campaigns may be the fans themselves. While the Dark Clouds may have a longer history and larger profile, True North Elite aren’t afraid to make themselves heard.
I remember looking at Mykel [Hosek], a co-founder, and saying, ‘Don’t you feel like you could get punched in the face at any given moment?’ and he was like ‘yeah.’ I loved it.” -Nicholas Bisbee
Justin Davis, one of a few players who was a Loon before the move to MLS, has definitely noticed.
“I think without them this isn’t what it is,” Davis says. “Given where the game is today in the U.S., you need those supporters groups. Without those guys, why do you even come to work?”
For the guys at True North Elite, the opening match in Portland was something of a reunion. As TNE co-founder Nicholas Bisbee tells it, it was the energy at a Portland match a few years ago that made them realize what they were missing.
“The tension in the air was so thick,” Bisbee says. “It felt like the whole scene was tapering on the edge of violence at all times. I remember looking at Mykel [Hosek], a co-founder, and saying, ‘Don’t you feel like you could get punched in the face at any given moment?’ and he was like ‘yeah.’ I loved it.”
When True North Elite was founded, the group was focused entirely on creating an intense gameday atmosphere. They liked what other fans were doing to support the club and ultimately thought a more aggressive edge was the only thing missing. Or, as Phil Cross (another co-founder) puts it, “The biggest thing for us was intensity. We wanted a supporter culture that was intense for every minute of every match.”
At TCF Bank Stadium, members of True North Elite stand shoulder-to-shoulder with members of the Dark Clouds in the supporters section behind the east goal. For Abe Opoti, a Dark Clouds board member and capo, the intensity is a good thing.
“The fun thing is looking over when they’re really fired up and Nicholas and Mykel are storming up and down in front of the section trying to get everyone as fired up as possible,” Opoti says. “The greater number of supporters we can have, the better the experience is going to be.”
Loud in the 9,000-seat National Sport Center in Blaine was one thing. However, with the move to the temporary 55,000-seat home at TCF Bank Stadium, supporters have to kick it into another gear to make themselves heard.
Opoti put it simply, “Louder is gooder.”
“The whole clever not crude mantra seemed a little campy to us. It feels really good to tell someone to fuck off. I don’t want it to be clever. I want it to be plain spoken. Fuck. Off.”
– Nicholas Bisbee
MNUFC full back Justin Davis agreed that the change of venue is challenging. But he also sees his years of playing in Blaine as a real asset.
“I think it was special up in Blaine because it built the connection between the fans and the players,” Davis says. “It really helped bring us to this moment now. Hopefully we can keep an aspect of that as things get bigger.”
In particular, Davis wouldn’t mind continuing his tradition of robbing True North Elite members of their hard cider.
Live & breathe for this club pic.twitter.com/n3zNpfh6OL
— True North Elite (@TrueNorthElite) August 18, 2016
“It wasn’t even with them to start with,” Davis says. “It was a guy named Matt [Fitzke], and I stole his drink first. Then, they took it and it kind of just evolved into this whole thing. Everyone seemed to like it, and now other guys have jumped in on it. Carl [Craig] jumped in on it, so we’ll see what Adrian’s up to.”
For Bisbee, connections like that are what make pouring his heart and soul into each and every match.
“We’d break our backs just to have five minutes, and they get to do it for a living,” Bisbee says. “When you see Justin Davis come sprinting over to our section to chug ciders and wrap you up in a bear hug, it’s all worth it.”
“We like the Dark Clouds,” Cross says. “We appreciate what they’ve brought, but we wanted to be able to create our own supporters group.” As the group that came second, True North Elite have had to respond to the question about how they’re different from the Dark Clouds at every turn. The answer from Cross really isn’t that complicated.
Bisbee put it bluntly.
“The whole clever not crude mantra seemed a little campy to us. It feels really good to tell someone to fuck off,” Bisbee says, bluntly. “I don’t want it to be clever. I want it to be plain spoken. Fuck. Off!”
With that bluntness, there have been times that the True North Elite have offended others. They hold a strange juxtaposition in being in your face and yet have strong rules to never cross the line to violence, homophobia, racism, or sexism.
When Miami FC trounced Minnesota at the National Sports Center last August, the first of the four unanswered goals was scored by former Loons midfielder Jonny Steele. True North Elite started harassing Steele whenever he got close to their section.
“Where’d your beard go, where’d your beard go, where’d your beard go Jonny Steele – piece of shit,” they sang. According to Bisbee, Steele fired back by giving both the Dark Clouds and True North Elite the finger.
As the game wore into the second half, Bisbee says someone told TNE that Steele had been (editor’s note: allegedly) using the term puto (an anti-gay slur) toward the Minnesota United bench. At the end of the match, Bisbee and other TNE members rushed the tunnel barricades where children were lined up to get autographs. According to some witnesses, they pushed through anyone in their way and started screaming and swearing at Miami, and Steele specifically, as they exited the field.
The incident was a combination of things, Bisbee explained. “Some of it was the frustration from the 4-0 loss and another part was our intolerance of homophobia. It’s a hard line you have to draw sometimes. There are often times when choice words, especially in the confines of a sporting event, are just fine. Kids are going to hear swear words, they hear worse on the playground. We all did.”
A father of two, Bisbee said it’s a good opportunity to talk to your children about certain behaviors and appropriate use of language as well as the time and place where it’s done. When asked about the words mixed with anger, Bisbee has no problem with it.
“We tell our children to use words, not fists,” Bisbee says. “To get angry and insult someone is not out of place. It has it’s moments. To call someone a piece of shit or to fuck off, I think that’s fine. It’s professional sports, but in soccer you are just going to hear it in a much more unified voice.”
True North Elite has had a number of flash points over the last two years. “Our group is young and still learning,” Bisbee says. He points to an English chant they often used with the words, “put them up against the wall and shoot them.” True North Elite — unfortunately — used the chant right after the Orlando night club shooting and many in the crowd where appalled. When approached with that and seeing the hurt in people’s eyes, Bisbee said he felt bad and apologized.
“We have owned up to our mistakes. It wasn’t our first mistake and it certainly won’t be our last,” Bisbee says. “How we learn from that without losing our edge, without losing the aggression that makes us the supporters group that we are, that’s a line we will always walk.”
Brian Quarstad contributed to this report.
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