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The Saints are Coming to Town


Our capital city has long had a strong connection to its Irish heritage. It goes back to the very beginning, way back in the 1800’s, when Irish soldiers from Fort Snelling ventured away from the fort and settled in what is now downtown Saint Paul. As time went on, more Irishmen followed suit, forming their own community near Dayton’s Bluff. People from around the world have come to the Twin Cities in the years since, but the influence of these Irish ancestors is still evident and prominent.

Between the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Irish Fair of Minnesota, Saint Paul provides ample opportunity to enjoy some pretty awesome traditional Irish festivities. This year, Minnesota United is excited to play a special role in this cultural connection, as we welcome St. Patrick’s Athletic of the League of Ireland for an international friendly on Wednesday, March 20. Before our guests arrive to extend our St. Paddy’s Day celebration, though, we wanted to dive into the history of the club we have the pleasure of hosting.

Since 1929, St. Patrick’s Athletic has represented the Inchicore suburb of Dublin, the Republic of Ireland’s capital city. They’re one of five first-division sides in the city of over half a million people, most of whom live and breathe the beautiful game. They call Richmond Park home, a traditional-style stadium with a capacity of just over 5,000. Though smaller than MNUFC in many ways, the passion and history of this club are both rich and powerful.

The Saints, as they’re commonly known, have earned their fair share of honors in 95 years of competition. They’ve never been relegated from the first division since making the step up in 1951, and they even won the title in their very first season in the top flight. Since then, they’ve added seven more titles (eight if you ask them, but we’ll get to that), five FAI Cups (Ireland’s USOC equivalent), and various other domestic cups and trophies.

But their story isn’t one of serial winning and smooth sailing. No, the Saints have found themselves at the mercy of their larger rivals (Shamrock Rovers, Bohemian FC, and Shelbourne FC) more often than not, and they’ve learned what it means to struggle. But no matter how bleak things get, they’ve not given up. To be quite honest, they don’t seem to even know what that means.

After early successes in the 1950’s, including three League titles (1951-52, 1954-55, 1955-56), St. Pat’s supporters had to wait 34 years to lift the trophy again. The most exciting thing for Saints fans during that time was to watch some of their youngsters move on to bigger and better clubs, with Manchester United and Aston Villa’s Paul McGrath standing out as the club’s most accomplished product. Other than that, there was little to cheer about at Richmond Park from 1956 to 1986.

When Brian Kerr joined the club as manager in 1986, there was a noticeable shift in atmosphere. Kerr built a winning team with a winning attitude, and in 1990, the Saints ended their title drought and reclaimed the top spot in Irish soccer. But alas, tough times struck again, and takeover attempts left the club’s financials in ruin, breaking up the promising team and pushing them to the edge of folding completely.

Through the investment of several locals, the club carried on, and Kerr got right back to work. He rebuilt the team, won the title in 1995-96, and moved on to bigger things. By then, the club was ready to move on without their savior, subsequently winning two of the next four league titles.

Since the turn of the century, the Saints have made runs in European competition (Europa League) from time to time, but they’ve not managed to make it beyond the initial knockout stages of the tournament proper. Still, for an Irish club, this is no small feat, and they’ve earned famous results against clubs quadruple their size, including a 0-0 draw against the mighty Celtic F.C. in Glasgow.

Though they’ve struggled domestically at times, St. Pat’s won the 2013 league title, and while they claimed the 2001-02 title as well, a points deduction (that they do not agree with, to say the least) kept them from officially lifting the trophy that season. They’re no stranger to title races, do their best to make waves in continental play, and generally make themselves heard, as they always have.

FAI Cup victories in 2021 and 2023 are the most recent examples of the club’s successes, and while they have never dominated Irish soccer for any significant stretch, this club has demonstrated a tenacity and passion that is nothing short of remarkable.

The Irish top flight is small potatoes compared to the size and quality of the biggest leagues in Europe. In fact, Ireland ranks 35th out of 55 in UEFA’s country coefficients, a metric based on a nation’s historical performance in European club competitions. You don’t see these teams in the Champions League, you don’t hear about them in international news, and you probably haven’t heard of most, if any, of them.

But they’re passionate and dedicated, and they remind the world why we ever started playing this game to begin with.

It’s not about being the best. That’s not to diminish the pursuit of excellence or the desire to win; we play to win and we love to do it, no doubt. But we’ve all lost games; we’ve all missed chances; we’ve all seen someone else lift the trophy. And, yet, we keep coming back to scratch the itch in our hearts. Whether it’s a stadium filled with thousands of fans or a bumpy park field with your best friends, we don’t lace up our boots for the lights—or lack thereof. It’s not the glory, the medals, nor the legacy that spurs us on, but the simple things between the whistles: the battle of wills, the smiles you can’t force, the relationships you can’t manufacture.

We play for warmth. We play for connection. We play this game to share ourselves.

When their club was on the brink of collapse in 1992, the locals saved St. Patrick’s Athletic with their own money. No matter how many cup finals they lost (at least 8), they kept clawing their way back to the stage for another go at it. Sure, attendance ebbed and flowed with the times, but the love for this team never died. For the people of Inchicore, Dublin, Richmond Park is a cathedral of connection, and on March 20, Allianz Field will be lucky enough to become part of this incredible club’s history.