“No Hands Fans”: Minnesota United Football Club Is Followed by Dark Clouds…And Likes It

Photos by Randy Stern
Photos by Randy Stern

It’s the craziest rain you’ll ever experience, a slurry of sight and sound and self…and something else, as well.  That craziness makes sense, of course, because this rain comes from the southern section of a major league stadium, itself a giant, argent nimbus nestled into the intersection of Interstate 94 and Snelling Avenue.  

It’s a rain of sight:  the waving is the most obvious part of such spoutage–that is, the flag-waving, the foam-waving, the tifo-waving, the scarf-waving, the hand-waving, and even the occasional baby-waving.  The crazy rain is a rain of sound, too:  front rank musical instruments hit the notes with all the careful precision of an ax murder, stitching unbalanced voices into a Frankensound somewhere between a chant and shanty:  Minnesota Black and Blue, woo-ooo-oo-woo!

While the crazy rain fortifies the home team, that drizzle simultaneously corrodes the players wearing uniforms that are neither black nor blue—that is to say, Brand X, the visitors, the opponents, they who bar the home team’s way to victory.  These eleven pitiable figures–especially the poor goal keeper–are buffeted by torrents of vocal bruises that are as well-researched as they are well-crafted.

This shower of proud, self-described “jackassery” is precipitated by the Dark Clouds, a fan organization whose mission is “to support Minnesota United Football Club and actively build communities where all around welcome,” according to its website.  (Minnesota United Football Club, nicknamed the Loons, is, of course, the Saint Paul-based Major League Soccer franchise indulging in that handsless sport that arrogantly calls itself “football” in nations not abbreviated with letters U, S, and A.)

At first glance, a cumulonimbus-themed fan group supporting a duck-themed pro team might seem incongruent, but the truth is, the Loons’ most fervent fandom predates the Loons by many moons.  The Dark Clouds formed in 2004 to support the then-current local professional soccer team, the Minnesota Thunder. The fan group’s origin was a humble one, like-minded, like-hearted soccer-lovers finding each other during games like droplets of water combining in a tuxedo blue troposphere.  The fan group got thicker even as the pro team grew thinner.  

The Minnesota Thunder eventually rumbled into myth and history…but the Dark Clouds persisted.  They loved the now-dissipated team, sure…but they loved the now-dissipated team’s sport even more.  The Dark Clouds have since supported Minnesota-based professional soccer as it’s manifested across various leagues and with different teams, including two versions of the Minnesota Stars, as well as the pre-Major League and current Minnesota United Football Club.  Each new manifestation forced the Dark Clouds to drift from venue to venue… but in recent years, they’ve found a (hopefully) permanent home in Sections 22 and 23 of Allianz Field.  

Over the course of their nearly two decades of collective existence, the Dark Clouds have become more than just a rabid gaggle of Loons-loony fans—they’ve made themselves into a kind of team of their own, sporting such grown-up features as bylaws, awards, newsletters, and a board of directors.  This infrastructure is most meaningful when it makes real the Dark Cloud’s charity work, brought to benevolent life under the banner of the Silver Lining.  Benefiting local charities include the Sanneh Foundation, Second Harvest Heartland, and Free Bikes 4 Kids, among many, many others.

Just as dark clouds contribute to rainbows, the Dark Clouds contribute to human rights.  “June is Pride Month,” the community builders note on their website, “when we take the opportunity to celebrate and support LGBTQ communities in Minnesota and beyond.”  In past years, this support has taken shape in a way that turns the Loons’ on-field success into the Dark Clouds’ off-field benevolence.  

Silver Lining’s Prideraisers has offered donors the opportunity to pledge a dollar amount for each goal scored by Minnesota United during the month of June.  Past donees of these suspense-inducing donations have included such Twin Cities queer stalwarts as Reclaim!, the Aliveness Project, and Avenues for Homeless Youth.  Other nonprofits with which the Dark Clouds have collaborated include Twin Cities Pride, TC Jacks, Gay4Soccer, OutfrontMN, Playing For Pride, Trans Lifeline, Trans United, and the Victory Institute.   

The team being supported by the Dark Clouds boasts its own means of queer support, as well.  On June 3, 2023, the Minnesota United Football Club will host Pride Night, the details of which, like love, they’re happy to share.  “The Loons LOVE love,” the team’s website proclaims.  “Minnesota United is focusing on amplifying the rich diversity that lives within the LGBTQ+ community.”

Pride is celebrated by the Loons after and before the actual game.  “Match activations include a game-worn jersey auction and added entertainment and experiences on the Lawn Layover,” Minnesota United’s website predicts, referring to a kind of official yard party that precedes every home game.  
This commitment to LGBTQ equality is no mere fad:  Minnesota United Football Club was the first professional sports team to sign, as a group, the pledge crafted by Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization that provides public awareness campaigns, educational programming, and tools to foster inclusive sports communities.  As the Loons put it, “The club celebrates Pride all-year long, but Pride Night is a chance to highlight, reflect, and spread awareness on the mission to protect queer and trans rights.”

Regardless of what a given weather report might predict, the Loons, while playing at home, will always be followed by Dark Clouds that release crazy rain made of sight and sound and self…and something else, as well—simple belonging.  “All are welcome,” both the team and their fans echo, again and again, on their disparate websites.  And so long as soccer’s craziest fans occupy the chrome-glittery Allianz Field, the Dark Clouds will always be surrounded by a silver lining.  

Minnesota United FC Pride Night vs Toronto FC
June 3, 2023 at 7:30 PM
Allianz Field, Saint Paul
Tickets: https://seatgeek.com/toronto-fc-at-minnesota-united-fc-tickets/mls/2023-06-03-7-30-pm/5712113

Dark Clouds

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