Everton, MNUFC, and the misery of fandom

If you happen to be, by birth or by luck or by your own provenance, a fan of Everton Football Club, then you’ve done pretty well for yourself over the years. The odds, certainly if you are reading this, are that you are too young to remember the last time Everton won the league in 1987. Given that you’re reading it on an American website, and are therefore likely American, you also probably won’t remember the last time the Toffees won a major trophy, the 1995 FA Cup (or the 1995 Charity Shield).

You absolutely don’t remember when Everton helped found the Football League. You weren’t there for all of the 118 seasons they’ve spent in the first division, the most of any team in England. You won’t remember the last time Everton got relegated, in 1951.

But in the grand scheme of things, though, things have been all right for you, even if you’re a young person. Nine league titles, fourth-most all-time in England, though the current 35-year wait is getting a bit long for the tenth. A European trophy, the Cup Winners’ Cup, in 1985. One of six teams that have played all 31 seasons of the Premier League, and by all accounts, still one of the biggest clubs in the world.

If you put 92 balls in a hopper, one for each of England’s league teams, and had to accept whichever team came out as your team, you’d have to be absolutely thrilled if the ball labeled EVERTON FC came out.

And yet Everton fans seem miserable.

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Depending on how you count, this is the sixth, or the 13th, or the 33rd season of Minnesota United FC. The team certainly has roots and a history going back to 1990, but this is also definitely just the club’s sixth year as a top-flight club.

Minnesota can claim a few lower-division trophies: the 1999 A-League, the 2011 Soccer Bowl, the 2014 NASL Spring Championship… platter, and the North American Supporters’ Trophy the same year. Since joining MLS, though, they’ve got nothing – three playoff appearances, and a runner-up finish in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup.

The club’s trophy case, at the team’s offices, has that 2014 platter in it, and nothing else.

But if you’d put the name of every metropolitan area in the United States in a hopper, and the ball labeled MINNEAPOLIS-ST.PAUL had come out, overall you’d be okay. Minnesota finally has an MLS team, for one, and if you take that for granted, ask soccer fans in San Diego or Phoenix or Tampa Bay how they feel about it.

For another, three playoff appearances in five years is not terrible. Ask Chicago (one in the last nine years) or Cincinnati (last in the league in all three MLS seasons) or old-school Toronto fans (took nine seasons to make the playoffs for the first time).

Even so, just like Everton fans, MNUFC fans – with no trophies to hold onto – often seem pretty miserable.

Courtesy MNUFC

There is one big difference between Everton and Minnesota United, trophy droughts aside, and that’s the realities of geography. Liverpool is one of the five biggest metro areas in England, behind London, Manchester, Birmingham, and the West Yorkshire (Leeds) area. Take those five areas out of the equation, and here is your list of English football champions over the past 50 years:

1974-75: Derby County

1977-78: Nottingham Forest

1994-95: Blackburn Rovers

2015-16: Leicester City

Similarly, however you try to list the “marquee” clubs in North America, you’re going to run into a similar problem. MLS is an East Coast/West Coast/Texas league. Take out Chicago, the second-largest city in the country, and you’re left with a group of Midwestern / Rocky Mountain clubs that nobody can deny are mostly afterthoughts in the larger MLS discourse: RSL. Colorado. Nashville. Columbus and Cincinnati. Sporting KC. And Minnesota.

Read anything that’s written, on a national level, about those teams, and you’ll notice that it mostly focuses on one star player (Emmanuel Reynoso, Hany Mukhtar) or a well-known coach (Peter Vermes, Caleb Porter) or on some version of “this team is good and we don’t know how” (Colorado, RSL) or “this team is always terrible” (Cincinnati).

People learn at most one thing, and that’s it.

If you’re a Premier League fan, this is going to sound familiar, because it works the same way. Bournemouth gets treated like an interesting novelty. Brighton and Hove might as well be on Mars.

Think about the marquee players over the history of MLS. European veterans. USMNT stars. Huge names from Mexico.

Are any of those players going to come to Minnesota? Could many of them even find Minnesota on a map?

Just by being in the Midwest, Minnesota is already paddling upstream.

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This is not a “be happy with what you have” piece. Fans should demand trophies. I wouldn’t expect anything less, especially in MLS, which makes many rules to ensure that even the “marquee” teams can’t end up leaps and bounds ahead of the afterthoughts.

I do, however, wonder where the cutoff should be set, between success and failure. There are 28 teams in MLS, and probably three of them are going to win a trophy in any given year.  

Everton hasn’t won a trophy in 27 years, but still is one of the biggest seven or eight teams in England.

Does that really translate to anger and misery?


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