May 16, 2022
Last Thursday, Minnesota United resumed their U.S. Open Cup match versus the Colorado Rapids after a rain delay. The 1:00 PM start time meant fewer fans could attend due to daytime responsibilities. With fewer fans however, Wonderwall introduced Colorado GK Clint Irwin to a tradition of Dark Clouds past: audible goalkeeper heckling. Deriding the opposing keeper is tradition that probably goes back a century or more, but when did it start in top-division Minnesota soccer?
According To Jim . . . and the Jimmy
Former Dark Clouds president Jim Oliver started heckling while watching the Minnesota Thunder, the team which first inspired “Dark Clouds” to follow. According to him, the Dark Clouds’ traditions of heckling and switching ends to stay near the opposing keeper go back to the days at “the Jimmy.” That’s James Griffin Stadium at St. Paul Central High School, where the Thunder played from 2004-2007.
The Good Place
While The Jimmy was full of heckling fun, it was the Minnesota Thunder’s second stint at Blaine’s National Sport Center where the goalkeeper heckling would take on a distinct culture. In 2008 the Thunder moved back to NSC Stadium or “Nessie,” but in 2009, the Nessie would add a key feature that fostered heckling — particularly directed at a player who stands mostly at one end of the pitch. MN Thunder constructed a wooden shed with railings, convenient for resting drinks and leaning forearms. Speaking of drinks, this shed was decorated with “Bud Light” logos and served alcohol. This callback to summer camp canteens was called “The Beer Garden.” Jim relays, “That’s what the club called it. I don’t know if it was sponsored. It was a shitty deck and plywood shack at first.” What was a Good Place for the Dark Clouds hecklers was a Bad Place for opposing keepers.
Jim Oliver explains, “People have always done it [heckled goalkeepers] everywhere as far as I know, but the endline bar they put in at NSC was pretty important for making it ‘a thing.’ I think that started in 2009. That kind of took some of us that were into the Dark Clouds, trying to be creative and not just mean, and put us right behind the keeper. So, some practices evolved around that.”
Freaks and Geeks
One common thread that kept coming up was the culture of “total jackassery.” This brand of heckling mixes online research with spontaneous creative wit. The Dark Clouds pride themsleves on being obnoxiously distracting but also clever: light-hearted, not angry. As one Dark Cloud leader explained the fine line to me: “jackass not asshole.” This culture started in the main Dark Clouds section, first behind the opposing bench and continued when they moved to the opposite side of the field.
Not surprisingly, jackassery carried over to the Beer Garden faction. With alcohol and the opposing goalkeeper both nearby, the Beer Garden chanted and sung less but heckled much more. If they chanted or sung, it was based on a heckle someone made up on the spot about one of the nearby players, usually the goalkeeper.
Tim Hayes’ name kept coming up as an originator on the heckling front. According to Jim, Tim Hayes would be in the neighborhood at National Sports Center’s Velodrome and would bring his cycling buddy Spencer to Minnesota Thunder/Stars games. Long-time soccer supporter David Smith recalls, “I got started because of Tim Hayes (@thesuperrookie on twitter) for sure. He probably wasn’t the first person to heckle down that end, but he was definitely the highest energy, most creative, and weirdest. He always leaned more to absurdity than just shouting “you suck,” and it was so much more effective; I loved it.” Smith continues, “Tim, Jim Oliver, Greg Smith, Wes Burdine, Ben Tallen, and a bunch of other people I can’t recall just now were great to riff off. We could keep deeply stupid heckles going for a good while, everybody finding their own dumb angle.”
David Smith was a Beer Garden legend in his own right. Long-time Dark Cloud Doreen Hartzell declares, “David Smith is the king of well-researched GK heckles.” Around 2012, David Smith would trade the straw hat for a aqua blue dinosaur costume to symbolize the Loch Ness Monster “Nessie,” also the nickname for NSC Stadium. After all, David was from Scotland, fitting that he would don the “Scottish Lake Monster” persona. To further entertain and distract opposing players, Smith would hark back to his roots and exaggerate his Scottish accent.
Beer Garden regular Ben Tallen recalls, “Mostly what I remember is David in his Nessie costume every game with the giant bullhorn. The regulars were never cruel or swore. Several times as soon as the final whistle blew, the same people who’d been ragging on the GK for 90 minutes would immediately applaud him and congratulate him on a good shift. It was very clear that there was respect even as they were trying to get into the guy’s head.”
Cheers – Where Everybody Knows Your Name
The Thunder (1990-2009), Stars (2010-12), and NASL MN United (2013-16) seem so long ago. Many of the best goalkeeper zingers are lost in the moment. However, there are some goalkeeper moments one never forgets. Here are several stories with loosely-related song titles — just for fun.
“The People that We Love”
– Jon Bush (Indy Eleven 2016)
“Opponents knew [our reputation]. When my personal hero Jon Bush came to the NSC he told me — during the game, while the ball was in play — he’d been looking forward to coming up and playing in front of the Beer Garden heckling crew.” — Jim Oliver
“Eine Kleine Nichtmusik”
– Kristian Nicht (Indy Eleven and Montreal Impact 2014-15)
Eric and Doreen are two Dark Clouds that moved up north. This is an excerpt from their heckling memories.
Eric: Who was it that you yelled at in German for the entire game?
Doreen: That was me yelling at Nicht and my Bavarian accent was so strong he asked if I was Austrian. So, I’m not sure who heckled whom there. Pretty sure that was the game he asked either David or Jim O. if they were “on something” on his way to the half-time locker room.
“Hot in Herre”
– Matt Glaeser (Fort Lauderdale Strikers 2011-13)
My friend Eric Grady told a story from the 2013 NASL Spring Season. In the first year under new owner Dr. Bill McGuire, Minnesota United played their first 6 home games at the Metrodome. Due to the new owner hype and downtown setting, the Dark Clouds had many new fans not trained in the ways of “jackassery.” Grady remembers, “There were some people yelling, ‘you suck,’ or worse. I wanted to be more clever than that, so I yelled, ‘Hey, Glaeser, global warming will ruin you!’ and got a few chuckles.”
“A Whole New World”
– Joe Nasco (Atlanta Silverback 2012-13, Fort Lauderdale Strikers 2015)
Wes Burdine recalls that someone via social media found out Joe Nasco’s wife stating Aladdin was his favorite movie. David Smith also remembers “interrogating Joe Nasco about his secret love of Disney, because we somehow got the inside scoop from his wife; getting told to go fuck myself by a very angry Hungarian keeper — who had mellowed out by the next game and came over and gave me a hug.”
“Hips Don’t Lie”
– Jeff Attinella (Tampa Bay Rowdies 2011-12)
“My favorite thing that drove players visibly nuts was when [opposing] players would put their hands on their hips when the ball was at the other end. When they put both hands on their hips we’d yell ‘SUGAR BOWL,’ and when it was one hand we’d yell ‘TEAPOT.’ It would take a while, but when we persisted, they’d realize what we were doing. Then you know you got ’em when they don’t know what to do with their hands. Jeff Attinella was a target of that abuse when his uncle was in the crowd, and Jeff handled it okay, but his family told us we should stop messing with people.” — Jim Oliver
“[We figured] out Jeff Attinella liked to watch the action upfield from the edge of the box with one hand on his hip — then pre-empting him doing that by INSISTING he do that. Doreen Hartzell made me laugh so hard once she started getting on at him for it. You could see him overthinking what had been an automatic routine and trying not to do what the crowd of idiots behind him were telling him. That was great.”
— David Smith
After Dr. Bill McGuire bought the club ahead of the 2013 season, the Beer Garden got an upgrade — at least for those serving alcohol. One can imagine how hot and musty that wooden shed got in July. The club replaced the shed with a much smaller beer tent, which made room for a food truck or two.
At this new Beer Garden, I often joined the wonderful supporters named above and brought several of my friends from the Dark Clouds main section — at least for the half the opposing keeper was near the Beer Garden.
One of the more memorable matches was that July 2016 friendly with AFC Bournemouth. Yes, MNUFC GK Sammy Ndjock had a howler of an own goal, and Minnesota United lost 4-0. Yet, my friends Mike, Dustin, and Tony, recall the good times too.
I remember a frustrated Wes, lamenting not being able to use his Artur Boruc material in the 2nd half. Bournemouth switched keepers at half to their backup Adam Federici. Wes got smart and found a way to direct his questions about Boruc to backup Federici. Mike Olson remembers something about Boruc’s neck tattoo. I relayed this to Wes, and a light bulb went on. “Yes, because it looks like an earpiece for a bouncer.” Wes guesses, “I assume it was something like ‘Adam, what’s the name of the nightclub Artur works at?'” Dustin Fedie also remembers someone yelling, “Like, how many phone calls would it take for Artur to make someone disappear?!”
Not satisfied with only Boruc questions, some of us started to ad-lib. I found out Federici was Italian Australian, so I asked him, “Do you put Vegemite on your pasta?” After the third time probably adding, “See, SINCE YOUR NAME IS ITALIAN, but You were BORN IN AUSTRALIA, I just wanna know . . .” Federici eventually turned around and said, “good one, mate. Never heard that one before.” This degraded into general Australian pop culture. I asked him if he had ever dated Nicole Kidman: “wish so” was all I got in return. Wes faintly remembers him asking him about “the devastation of losing Steve Irwin,” 10 years after the Croc Hunter’s death. Tony Biessener points out Adam Federici was a good sport: “He had a good sense of humor.” Dustin adds, “Right! Plus I think us bantering with him was the only action he saw all half.”
Some fans would switch ends to be close enough to heckle the keeper for both halves. Jim Oliver recounts this did happen with the Thunder at The Jimmy (2004-2007), but his first definite memory was the 2009 U.S. Open Cup.
After winning the first 2 rounds at NSC Stadium, the Minnesota Thunder (USL-1) faced the Kansas City Wizards (MLS, now Sporting KC). The match was 3-3 at the end of extra time and went to penalties. The referees recognized the vocal contingent in the Beer Garden and had both teams head to the south end of the Nessie for the PKs. Of course, Dark Clouds follow. The Beer Garden hecklers moved to the south end to continue their vociferous verbal vaunts. Sadly, the Thunder lost 4-2 on PKs.
Since then, multiple sources remember Tim Hayes, Jim Oliver, Wes Burdine, and others switching ends at the Nessie from time to time. David Smith explains, “I definitely didn’t always do that, that [became more popular] maybe 2011, 2012. There were enough of us that we could keep it going almost the whole time. By that time we knew how much we could get in their ear, so why give them 45 minutes of peace?”
Goalkeeper hecking and switching ends were both easier in the lower leagues, when tickets were general admission and fans could get close to the net. Once Minnesota United moved to MLS, assigned seating at TCF Bank Stadium and Allianz Field made it difficult to continue these traditions. The north end of Allianz Field, instead of a Beer Garden, has a Brew Hall. This along with the analog clock, manual scoreboard, and international flag displays are a few of the stadium features that hark back to NSC Stadium. However, there are rows of seats between the Brew Hall and the closest net. If one fan doesn’t have seats in those sections and is just chillin’ with a drink on the railings outside the Brew Hall, that fan is too far away for an effective heckle. Still, on any match day, goalkeeper heckles can be heard and not just from the Wonderwall.
The Thick of It
One of the issues with a larger fan base, we are not all on the same page of what’s appropriate. Dark Cloud Edu Rosales remembers a recent visit from Real Salt Lake (April 2021) when David Ochoa was visibly upset and kicked a ball at the fans after the game.
Since Real Salt Lake won, it is possible that heckling is what got Ochoa. I overheard MN fans who chided David Ochoa for his part in the US U-23 team that failed to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. In addition, one source told me the California-born David Ochoa also received “Go Back to Mexico” chants, possibly a shot at his heritage or his brief youth career at Guadalajara. At worst, some fans may have confused him with a different Ochoa goalkeeper. Separate from this incident, in October 2021, David Ochoa filed his one-time switch with FIFA to move to the Mexican National Team. Experiences like these remind me that heckling is different for everyone, and it is impossible to force my mores down others’ mouths. Still, this match from last year leaves a bitter taste.
This brings us back to Colorado and the resumed U.S. Open Cup match at 1pm on a Thursday. Long-time Dark Cloud Ben Tallen exclaims, “Thursday’s (remainder of) match gave me flashbacks to those days with the Supporter Groups following [the opposing] keeper, and it being really easy to hear what was being said.”
For the remainder of the 1st half, several Wonderwall fans hurled heckles at Rapids GK Clint Irwin. Ben Tallen relates, “Just the constant shouts of “BUDDY SYSTEM” wherever he’d take a goal kick with another player right next to him. Got a healthy chunk of the spectators near the SGs in on it.”
Clint Irwin flashback: July 4, 2018 – Minnesota United FC vs. Toronto FC
The important context: Clint Irwin was Toronto’s goalkeeper that day, and Darwin Quintero chipped him three times.
Last Thursday, Allianz Field was empty enough to have the Wonderwall fans taxi over to the Brew Hall end. Photographer Seth Steffhagen deemed this the “Wonderhall” in a tweet.
The heckling continued from the Brew Hall end. Here’s a clip of street preacher Wes at half time, leading his parish in the time-old tradition: declaring truth to all who will listen.
Whether you’re a recent Minnesota United fan or you go back to the Minnesota Kicks, we can all learn something from
sitcom Minnesota soccer history. Whether we experience soccer in the Wonderwall, the Brew Hall, or at bar with friends, soccer is about community. It starts local with your youth academy, your child’s traveling team, your pickup game at the park, or watching soccer with your family. It extends to amateur and pro teams we cover here on Sota Soccer and around the world.
Each community comes with its laws, mores, traditions, and own brand of humor. Some traditions wane never to be seen again. However, with an East Asian circular view of time, I appreciate when something, whether summer sunny bike paths or frozen winter ice rinks, comes back around again. If thou art in the Wonderwall and noisest a heckle about, may thou seekest the fair capos to craft thy creation into but a simple chant. The goalkeeper heckler should be not trapped in archaic yesteryear. May this not be the last of audible goalkeeper heckling. At the end of the day [Manny Lagos sigh], soccer is about fun.