As we get ready to head into 2019 and Minnesota United's first season in Allianz Field, we're taking an opportunity to look back at some of our favorite stories from 2018.
Nicholas Bisbee is a man of passions, both great and small. If you’ve been to a Minnesota United game, you’ve likely seen him leading the supporters’ chants from the capo stand, but you’ve certainly heard his ragged voice shouting into the megaphone. That voice — a hoarse, ragged howl with an edge — is a legacy from fronting a hardcore punk band when he lived on Boston’s North Shore. His time in New England is also responsible for one of his other passions, cutting hair. He got into it while working at Chipotle opening new restaurants, a job that saw him working 100-hour weeks and drinking and eating too much while sleeping far too little.
“For me, the only things I did to take care of myself was every other week I would turn my phone off completely, and I would go and get a haircut,” he says. “It was a skin tight, high skin fade with a straight razor hot towel shave. Every other Friday, like clockwork.”
Bisbee, whose own arms are covered in tattoos, speaks reverently of the barbershop vibe. “You’re talking about guys who are just covered in tattoos but they’re dressed like they are out of the 1950s. You get those moments when you see the grandfather, adult father and the son all at the barber shop Saturday morning at 7 a.m. and I am just like, ‘God, this is cool.’”
He’s telling me this while cutting my hair, and it only takes moments with Bisbee to understand that the only thing he might love more than the things he loves is the love of those things itself. He doesn’t just get into things: he gets into the getting into them. Although he hasn’t yet been able to dedicate the time necessary to become a licensed barber, it’s clear he’s gotten deeply into studying the craft.
“It is humble but also if you take a pride in it, it is an art,” he says. “There is something so simple and beautiful about pointing to a picture on the wall and asking ‘Which one do you want?’”
It’s no surprise that someone with this kind of granular sense of wonder at the most commonplace of rituals would be drawn to soccer’s supporter culture, but it’s almost a little surprising that it took Bisbee — who co-founded True North Elite — as long as it did to get to it. Like many a current soccer fan, he grew up playing the sport. For him, this meant scoring goals as a forward at a small school in western Wisconsin.
“It was soccer and I mean David Beckham, bowl cut with the middle part, striped polos for the kits,” he says. “It was very much what you imagine as 1990s soccer. This team was dominant. They gave up two goals one season. They just wiped other kids off the pitch they were so good.”
Although his interest in the sport went dormant after high school, it was piqued by the 2010 World Cup and a love — he is ashamed to say — for that tournament’s ubiquitous vuvuzelas. “It just sounded like swarms of wasps,” he says, perhaps prefiguring his future as a supporter. “I thought that must be so miserably intimidating to play in, just this den of noise.” But it was his experience watching Portugal play the U.S. to a 2-2 draw at The Local in the 2014 World Cup that finally tipped him fully into the realm of the diehard soccer fan, eventually leading him to his first game at the National Sports Center.
“It was Cosmos-Loons and Christian Ramirez missed a penalty that would have given the Loons the win and it would have given him the record for most goals scored in an NASL season. It was his rookie year,” he says. “I was hooked. I sat off to one side from the Dark Clouds. I needed to have that atmosphere, that frenetic, intense atmosphere, to continue.”
Along with the arrival of serious fandom, Bisbee’s passion for playing the game returned, although now when he takes the pitch, he plays as a goalkeeper. How he fell in love with that role again points to some of what stokes his fire as a supporter.
“I love the energy of everyone on the other team hating you,” he says. “To come flying out where someone’s studded foot could fly up into you, or someone’s knee, or hell, the ball. You see some rocket shots and you want to throw your body in front of that. Wingers, defenders and midfielders score goals — no one makes saves. It is this perverse ‘I just took that away from you.’ I took that and prevented your joy.
“I killed your joy,” he smiles. “Maybe it makes me a bad human but I did love that. It is this antagonistic kind of love.”
What also becomes clear over an hour with Bisbee is that he makes room for many kinds of love. Through the network of people in True North Elite, he found himself early last season cutting defender Jerome Thiesson’s hair. Thiesson’s wife, Ivanna, deemed it amazing. Soon he was a regular fixture at NSC, making sure the guys looked good for every home game and even occasionally traveling. He admits that he selfishly enjoys the chance to get to know the guys he supports week in and week out — acknowledging that “what’s said in the chair, stays in the chair” — but he also sees something bigger in it.
“We’re bringing people from all over the world here and they have nothing,” he says. “I understand that because moving to New England, I knew nobody. These guys don’t have anything set up. They have to find apartments, they have to find what coffee shops they like, they have to find places to eat and they have to have friends to hang out with. It has been awesome to be able to be a part of that story, where they are able to come over here. It brings their humanity out a little bit more.”
Sam Nicholson’s hair — now departed to Colorado along with the rest of him — was a “blast to cut” according to Bisbee. Bisbee’s friend Eddie takes care of Francisco Calvo and some of the other Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking players. He did get to cut Bertrand Owundi Eko’o’s hair and that was a challenge on a couple of levels: “He speaks very limited English and I speak very limited French, so it was an adventure of hand signals and pointing at certain spots.”
In this day and age, it’s nothing revolutionary to point out that it’s easy to become isolated from other people, more because of than in spite of things like social media. Clicking the outline of a heart on a phone screen demands nothing, and Bisbee is very much about getting your skin in the game. There’s something intimate about a haircut — a level of trust, of care, of respect that must be exchanged. Bisbee values community and knows it’s built one exchange like this at a time. As he talks animatedly about all the life experiences that have led him to where he is, you can hear underlying all of them a simple plan: Jump in with both feet. You might get burned, but there’s no other way to reap the same kind of rewards. You might even come away changed.
“There is this feeling of stepping out of a chair as a new man,” he says, snipping away. “I really do believe that a haircut can change someone’s day or change someone’s life.”
For more information on supporters groups, click HERE.