Talk to anyone who counts themselves a massive fan of a team and you’re bound to hear some of the same ideas and feelings come up: the excitement that comes with wins, the disappointment of losses, sure, but more than that, a sense of belonging, of comradeship or even family, maybe even of home. It’s tricky, though, to pinpoint where those feelings start. It’s a little like Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, who “cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation” of his love for Elizabeth. “I was,” he tells her, “in the middle before I knew I had begun.”
For Joshua Patrick, his Loons fandom had fittingly humble beginnings. He was on an early date with his now-partner Isaac Nelson in 2012 when he heard a radio ad.
Joshua Patrick (L) and Isaac Nelson in Barcelona.
“I heard a little blurb on KDWB about how there were season tickets available for the soccer team,” he said via Zoom. “And I was like, 'We've got a soccer team? When did this happen?' Immediately, we snatched up some tickets.”
Having moved to the U.S. from Ireland when he was eight, Josh grew up playing the game — although not competitively, he’s quick to point out. Just with friends in the neighborhood, but it laid the groundwork for jumping into what he calls the “downhome, small town feel” of the National Sports Center in Blaine. Before long, he was lending the Loons his full-throated support. Literally.
“Starting out, the only tickets we could get our hands on were in the supporters section. Dark Clouds? What the hell's this? Chants? What chants? Here's a paper, it's got all of our chants on it. The next day at work, voice completely gone, people are asking, 'Where were you?'”
He adopts a raspy voice: “Soccer game.”
As he and Isaac became regulars at NSC, they developed their own set of game rituals. The deeper you get into fandom, the more ingrained this stuff becomes. You might eat the same thing at every game, wear your lucky gear or — for general admission seating games like those early MNUFC tilts — need to make sure you get your spot. Fans aren’t so different from players in this respect, and connecting with the players was one of Josh’s favorite things.
“We always had to show up early and get good seats, watch the team warm up,” he said. “That was always great because they'd come right over to the sidelines and chat with you. Last year, for some of the Open Cup games, I was able to snag some Field Club seats right in the first row and they'd just come over and chat with you, too. It kinda harkened back to the good old days in Blaine.”
By the time the team made the move to MLS, Josh was a seasoned season ticket member and more than ready for the game he still has the best memories of, Minnesota United’s home opener against Atlanta United in 2017 — the famous “Snow Opener.”
“My partner's from Minnesota but he doesn't take to the cold very well. I'm a former Eagle Scout, so I was like cold weather camping? I know what to do,” he said. “You're putting these layers and these layers and these layers and I had extra hand-warmers and foot-warmers and we sat there warm as could be the whole entire time. The only problem we had was that our cider was freezing into slushies. We were putting our spare ciders in our coats to keep them warm enough. That's how we got to know Nick.”
A fast friendship developed between Josh and Nick Moore and their significant others. They coordinated their season tickets for the move to Allianz Field so they could sit next to each other, and now they’re all planning to get together — safely — to watch MNUFC play in the MLS Is Back Tournament.
As we talked, Josh and I rehashed great moments on the pitch from Vito Mannone’s penalty save against FC Dallas last year to Hassani Dotson’s playoff-clinching goal against SKC, but time and again, the moments that stood out the most were the ones of personal connection through the game. Making friends with Nick, running into Chase Gasper’s aunt at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta after the Open Cup Final, chancing into sitting next to Managing Director Dr. Bill McGuire at NSC without even realizing who he was, even connecting with Sounders fans in Seattle who told him, “'Your team rocks. Your fans are even better.”
You could say it’s those moments — those personal connections — that define Josh’s fandom, but it’s a little more than that, too. It’s about the environment that lets those moments happen, and that promises there are more to come. It comes back to that sense of belonging.
“At the end of [last] season, I had been invited to talk to some of the sponsors — do the fan council, season ticket holder thing — and one of the questions was, 'What do you like best about this team and Allianz?' and I said, hands down, the vibe,” he said. “The feel that you get when you walk in is like electricity. It buzzes. Not only that, it's open, it's inclusive. My partner and I can hold hands and people smile. We've gone to other sporting events where slurs were thrown at us. If something like that ever happened [at Allianz], I've got the entire stadium ready to back me up. It's that absolute feeling that everybody just wants to have fun.”