Silenced by a virus, Minnesota United’s traditional home-victory celebration in all its glory is a swirl of smoke and singalong that summons the senses.
Just the way English soccer coach Carl Craig meant British band Oasis’ 1995 hit “Wonderwall” to be long before it gave name to the standing supporters’ section behind Allianz Field’s south goal.
A decade ago, Craig was an assistant coach for the Minnesota Stars, a team that faced an uncertain future in second-division American soccer, years before it became MLS’ Minnesota United. He also was a former teenage, punk-rock bassist and later a dabbler in psychology and hypnotism who sought emotional triggers that’d send players mentally to a winning place.
It’s why he smeared a sinus-clearing menthol oil on collars of players who believed in its sensory benefits.
“Perfectly legal, I must say,” he says now.
It’s also why he strummed out inspirational riffs on an old guitar and whistled and sang out loud on buses songs he hoped might someday, someway have subliminal effect.
“All the senses,” Craig said. “I was attacking them on all fronts.”
One of those songs was Oasis’ 16-year-old Britpop hit whose lyrics expressed so many things young men don’t say to each other.
“And it started to grow,” Craig said.
It went from tinder to ablaze when the Stars claimed the last NASL playoff spot with a win in North Carolina on the final day of the 2011 season and then won it all with the most unlikely of championship runs.
Afterward, players and coaches alike banged a locker room beat on plastic water coolers and belted out “Wonderwall” — adopting an anthem whose meaning mystified even the brothers Gallagher (Liam and Noel) who sang it with Oasis.
“It’s just a beautiful word,” Liam told Rolling Stone in 1996.
“And all the roads we have to walk are winding/ And all the lights that lead us there are blinding/ There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how/ Because maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me/ And after all, you’re my wonderwall.”
A Minneapolis video storyteller who chronicled that season recorded the scene and uploaded it that night. It lives on YouTube still.
That shared passion helped convince current owner Bill McGuire to buy the club and save it at 2012’s season end.
“Carl started singing it to us one day and it just stuck,” Stars defender Brian Kallman said nine years later. “No one questioned it. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s the only song I ever sang after a game.”
Kallman played nine seasons with the Minnesota Thunder, Stars and finally United before it reached MLS, and he heard the song sung often at sold-out Allianz Field last season.
“It gives me goose bumps every time I hear it, whether it’s at the field or on the radio,” said Kallman, now St. Thomas Academy’s boys’ coach and Salvo Soccer Club’s girls’ high-performance director. “When it was just 20 of us singing to the Dark Clouds, you could hear everyone’s bad pitch. Now with 20,000 singing, it doesn’t matter if your voice is great or horrible. No one is going to know.”
Allianz Field is silent now and could remain so throughout the 2020 season if games are played there without supporters come fall. One of the Dark Clouds’ founders, Bruce McGuire, doesn’t expect to hear it sung live across a full Wonderwall section until a coronavirus vaccine is available.
“I miss it all,” he said. “I miss the games, the people I’m with, that camaraderie. The energy you feel builds around you. Love and music and soccer games are my three favorite things, and I don’t even know what order they come in.”
United’s head coach in 2016, Craig was fired before the team moved to MLS. The coach/director now has found “Wonderwall” sung at Allianz Field both sad and “awesome.”
Supporters of English Premier League teams Manchester City and Tottenham have sung it as well, but Craig calls the Minnesota tradition “the original.”
He also calls supporters singing “Wonderwall” a confluence of sport and season that is “like Bing Crosby and White Christmas.”
“It was the right song at the right moment,” Craig said.