Volunteers pitch in to paint the largest tifo in Minnesota soccer history.

To give you an inside look at the hard work happening to make Dark Clouds tifo incredible throughout the year, we will be publishing a monthly update throughout the season. The updates will include a heads up on chances to get involved, details on how we do everything from develop a tifo concept to sew the thing together, and some behind-the-scenes stories from the committee as they labor to make the game day experience unlike any other.

    We are a few days away from unveiling our first big tifo of the year and I am sweating it. Will the unveiling go off without a hitch? Will our makeshift rigging system work? Will the whole thing just rip apart at the seams under its own incredible weight? Will a gust of wind catch it like a sail and carry us up and into the afternoon sun? Only Saturday will tell.
    There are plenty of tales about putting this design together over the last two months. But I also suspect there will be more tales yet to be written in the next six days. So rather than jump the gun and talk about Saturday, I want to discuss our philosophy behind designing tifo: the considerations we make that go into the work you will see unfurled this weekend.

A Tifo For Everyone

    I’ve seen several Twitter threads over the last few weeks in which someone outside the Minnesota soccer bubble learns that there are about 50 Loons supporter groups of varying levels of formality. It’s a fun idiosyncrasy I take pride in. From ultra-serious to delightfully campy, our supporters are diverse beyond just their race or background: they have different expectations of what it means to be a fan. At face value this is a positive thing, but it can mean very tough conversations when the choice to do one thing means the choice to not do another.
    Tifo is the most visible manifestation of our collective passion, its images leaving lasting impressions throughout the stadium and in homes on the other end of TV broadcasts. It is difficult to take this single, ephemeral demonstration and communicate the breadth of opinions we hold on what it means to “fan.” Have you ever seen a tifo, whether ours in Minnesota or elsewhere in the soccer world, and thought “woah, not for me”? Was it too political? Too violent? Too jokey? This is a topic we spent a lot of time discussing as a committee before any designs were actually committed to paper.
    There are two ways to handle this diversity of opinions about tifo. One path means choosing tifo designs that are consistently inoffensive to the sensibilities of any one group. Our fear is that while this may create designs no one hates, it may also result in designs no one loves, either. In the effort to ruffle as few feathers as possible, we could end up with milquetoast concepts without any edge or uniqueness.
    The other path is to make each design the purest distillation of whatever it is trying to do in that moment. If it is going to have a pop culture reference, then let’s go hard on it. If it is going to be a straight-faced, chest pounding exultation of pride, then let’s go all the way. As long as every different iteration of fan has a way to give input to what we do, we know we can create a diversity of ideas to keep people guessing. This means that you, as a supporter, may sometimes hoist a tifo that you love and may sometimes lift one you like less. But we felt that to cobble together focus-grouped, bland designs was a disservice to a group founded deeply on doing things a different way. We will follow each different way, wherever it leads.

A Process That Makes It All Work

    Creating tifos that speak to different people in different ways means nothing if everyone doesn’t have a seat at the table. To that end, we have created a committee that operates across all supporters groups that want in. We have members who identify with Dark Clouds, True North Elite, Red Loons, Fists of the North Star, Mill City Ultras, and surely more I don’t even know about. When we share of our ideas, of our talent, of our resources, and of our labor, we are that much better for it.
    We have also worked hard to be very transparent about the work we do and to invite feedback and suggestions from anyone who has them. This monthly newsletter keeps you up to date with what we’re doing, and always ends by offering an email to send your feedback to. We have been more active on social in building hype for our work and answering questions about it. We keep an active backlog of every idea we receive, internally or externally, and when the time comes to choose a design we comb through that backlog to ensure no concept falls through the cracks.

But What About Political Tifo?

    I wanted briefly to address this topic on its own, because it is the topic I hear feedback about more than any other. Political tifo is divisive by its very nature: if a topic weren’t a matter of disagreement, then political statements wouldn’t be necessary. For many, sports are about coming together as a completely unified voice in support of a single rooting interest. That togetherness is a big part of the appeal of game day: it’s a chance to escape the “real world” for a couple of hours. Others see our commitment to our communities far and near as a full-time effort, and that an opportunity as public and as striking as a tifo is too dear an opportunity to sway hearts and minds to pass up. Both sides want something positive here, and it is too bad the topic is acrimonious.
    In keeping with the notion that we want designs which cater to everyone, though maybe not all at once, I can say that it is possible we may have a politically-oriented tifo in the future. I can also say that they will only be occasional. When we do choose to pursue a political message, in my mind, I want to see a message that speaks to the shared values we each demonstrate in our respective mission statements. This means matters of equality and dignity for all people. It was from the last tifo of the year in 2017 that this year’s Dark Clouds scarf slogan, “For All, Forever”, came to life. But this isn’t my tifo committee. It’s yours. I’ll let you tell me what those words mean to you.

I hope this reflection on the way we consider the tifo designs we undergo has been interesting. If it hasn’t, that’s fine, too: you can now send me more well-informed criticisms. Next month we will reflect on the home opener tifo with hopefully happy memories. In the meantime, please sign up to help us unveil that tifo on Saturday at 10am. Finally, as always, feel free to send your own tifo ideas, ask us a question, or add yourself to our volunteer list, email » tifo@dark-clouds.com.


David Martin

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