On Saturday, Minnesota United will open its brand-new home at Allianz Field in Saint Paul. If the 19,400 in attendance are lucky, they will celebrate a victory vs. New York City FC by belting out Oasis' 1995 hit "Wonderwall," with help from the club's players. How far the club has come...
At the turn of the decade, nobody in the Twin Cities was serenading this club with Britpop anthems. Indeed, not many were singing about the club in any genre. In those days, it was more common to wonder if there would continue to be a club at all.
The preeminent soccer team in Minnesota since the early 1990s underwent four rebrands between 2008 and 2012. Its name changed three times. There were four different ownership groups. There was a bankruptcy filing.
Amid that chaos -- with the team then known as the Minnesota Stars, owned by the NASL and looking for a new investor to take over -- the threadbare front office began filming its players everywhere (in the dressing room, in training, on the bench) in hopes of injecting the organization with character and in turn attracting a benefactor.
It succeeded: Dr. Bill McGuire bought the club in 2012 and began the process of creating the Minnesota United outfit that is in its third Major League Soccer season. But the front office also captured a moment that would become one of the league's most famous fan traditions: the singing of "Wonderwall."
Cue Wonderwall pic.twitter.com/oPLtI8yOA0— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) July 19, 2018
"I suppose in the lyrics: winding roads, shining lights and all that kind of stuff -- basically the struggle," former manager Carl Craig told ESPN FC about the significance of the single that made Oasis famous around the world.
"The club back then, compared to where it is now, we were really struggling. Most of us were broke, financially. The club was run on a shoestring budget. We were making next to nothing; most of us were coaching youth football someplace or another to try to make ends meet. But the spirit was tremendous."
Craig is the man who started it all. He spent seven years with the club, six of them as an assistant and three of those in precarious financial circumstances prior to McGuire's ownership. He was known as a motivator, the coaching staff's emotional conduit to the players.
"He loved to sing," said center-back Brent Kallman, who played under Craig for four seasons before moving up with the club to MLS. "And not just after the wins, either. Sometimes he would come into the [dressing] room singing all kinds of stuff."
Sometimes Craig could be heard humming or singing for no reason but other times, the former punk rocker from Newcastle, England, did so as positive reinforcement, reminding players of how sweet victory tasted. It was his way of instilling a winning mentality, and "Wonderwall" became his song of choice.
"The message I wanted to convey to the players and to the fans is, 'You mean something to me,'" Craig said. "And I guess it's sort of a masculine way -- for want of a better term -- when you have a group of men and women who you really appreciate what they do and they mean a lot, maybe in that context not feeling comfortable saying that, so you utilize someone else's words in the song to convey that message."
The players bought in. The videographers, tasked with showcasing the club for potential new owners, witnessed the players singing "Wonderwall" with every ounce of passion they had following a win in the club's NASL title-winning season of 2011 and the fans took notice.
"The next game was a home win, and some of the fans in the stands just jumped on it," said Bruce McGuire (no relation to the team's owner), a founding member of The Dark Clouds, the largest independent soccer supporters group in Minnesota.
"You could see the players turn their heads, and they raced over toward the supporters. Pretty soon, everyone was signing it together. And from that point on, it just built and built and built, week after week."
That was more than seven years ago. It started with a handful of Dark Clouds and, by the end of the Loons' days in the NASL, 9,000 people were driving the half-hour north of Minneapolis to the National Sports Center in Blaine, in hopes of doing their best Liam Gallagher impression. Some 25,000 regularly sung the song at the club's temporary home, Minneapolis' TCF Bank Stadium, over the past two seasons too.
"It's a really good reminder that there were people who came before, who kind of carried the torch before this club became an MLS club," Kallman said. "For some people who are newer to the club, it might not be as important, and that's OK. But for the people who have been around and have seen [the club] grow to what it is, I think it's a really nice reminder of where we've been and where we're going."
It's a sentiment shared by Craig and Bruce McGuire. That growth has ensured the club's financial stability, but it has come at the expense of the close-knit community that saw those fans and players both embrace a tradition together nearly a decade ago.
"With people grasping onto a tradition like singing 'Wonderwall' -- and maybe I should say, I really don't like that song, I never have ... I can't stand Oasis -- it's incredible," said Bruce McGuire. "So, to have [those traditions] come along, when you change the name, when you change the whole organization, when you change leagues, when you move to a new stadium, to have those things come along with you, is what makes it feel incredible. It's what makes you know it's real."
Craig was dismissed as Loons manager ahead of their inaugural season in MLS, making way for Adrian Heath, but has stuck around the Twin Cities as high-performance director for Salvo SC, a youth-development organization based in suburban Eagan. And while he laments his split from the club, he takes pride in having helped create the prevailing tradition in the sport's community.
"It doesn't matter where I am or who's with me, [when 'Wonderwall' comes on] I get a little nudge and they'll say, 'There's your song!'" Craig said. "It's pretty special; it really is, actually."