|02-27-2005, 04:59 PM||#1|
lets go partner
Join Date: Oct 2004
European Hockey Fan
When asked to compare the NHL to the level of hockey they currently play, the most repeated phrase by Europe-exiled players during this NHL lockout is: "It's not the same game." The same might be said of the fans. Although they might not fill 18,000 seat stadiums, or even a third of that, European hockey fans make up for their numbers in enthusiasm, creativity and volume, lots of volume. The European hockey experience is equally fun for both what happens on the ice and in the stands. Even the players can see as much.
"Our first game after we came over here the fans stood up pretty much the whole game," Boston's Joe Thornton says of his temporary home in Davos, Switzerland. "That's kind of unheard of back home. They're very loud over here, they're very excited."
Philadelphia Flyer Michal Handzus can attest to the same in Slovakia. "[They're] a little bit different," he says. "They scream and yell here during the game almost all the time."
Even in Finland, known for its appreciation of silence, Minnesota netminder Dwayne Roloson claims that in the arena stands, the rules change. "The Finnish guys that I've played with are all quiet and shy and usually stay to themselves," he says. "But to me, even though they are smaller crowds, they're pretty boisterous. It seems when they get into a sporting event - It's like: Ok, let's take our jackets off and have some fun for a couple hours, and then we can go home and rest. Our crowd has been great here."
In Bern, Switzerland I saw my first game, which was a thundering introduction to European hockey league fans. It was a match-up between last year's two best teams, with fans from both sides in town. Before the game began, a massive flag - the size of the ice surface - was pulled up over the heads of the "standing section," where the true fans watch the game. (Technically there are cement benches, but no one would dare sit.) I was amazed that this rowdy crew - whose boos almost out-shouted the entirely ignored "Please, no smoking" announcement at the start of the game - could coordinate what seemed like a project easily entangled. But the hooliganism has a certain chaotic order to it. This is maintained in the visiting team sections by a heavy security presence, which in Bern appeared to be dressed as SWAT units.
Davos Hockey Fans
Much of the fans' enthusiasm and mannerisms come from football (soccer in North America). For example, there are the ever-present scarves, which are woven in the colors of the team with its name printed in large letters across the length. Not only do these scarves warm necks on Alpine and Scandinavian winter nights, but after a goal is scored, stretched out over the head, they make for great banners waving back and forth as the teaming masses sway in glee and song.
Speaking of songs, during the best games, there is no need for energy-infusing rock-n-roll pumped out of loudspeakers. The fans themselves are in constant song for every minute of play, accompanied by at least one drum and sometimes up to ten. Although making out the exact lyrics is difficult for even those who speak the language, the enthusiasm is undeniable. Think of those few soccer matches broadcasted from other parts of the world and recall the echoes of "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole..." in several renditions, sung by every rabid fan in the stands.
Often times, it's a simple chant that is merely put to a bit of melody. "We are the Bears and we are the best!" "Kneel down when the champions come in!" or the more elaborate "We have a goalie, we have a goalie. We have a super goalie...They have a loser, they have a loser, they have a loser goalie." And of course there are the less polite, like a version that kindly doubts the manliness of the opposition players (which was translated for me in a most amusing pantomime).
Davos Hockey Fans
When something actually happens on the ice, a whole new fanatic repertoire is brought out. At a game in Prague, a visitor at his first hockey match asked me why the home team fans cheered the opposition during a power play. So I had to explain "The Whistle." Perhaps it is simply not a form of expression that passed over into North America, but it seems that only in European sporting arenas - and accentuated in anything with a roof to trap the sound in - can the most piercing human-formed whistle in the world be heard. That is, if "hearing" applies to such decibel and tone that you feel the bleeding pain of it rather than interpret its sound. This expresses displeasure, wailed for the entirety of a penalty kill, if necessary.
When combined, The Whistle can even create a surreal audio experience. In Bern, behind the shrill was the low hum of over a hundred Lugano fans chanting a drawn-out "Luuuuuu." The two groups together produced an effect reminiscent though perhaps eerier than the soundtrack in a scene out of "2001."
In celebration of a goal, the European fan sections are perhaps less distinguishable from their counterparts in North America, except for the sudden unfurling of massive flags on ten-foot poles. These are patiently held, rolled up, for the duration of the game, waiting for a moment of celebration and waved with the might of patriotic revolutionaries.
The most refreshing novelty about fanaticism in European hockey, however, is another tip taken from the soccer fields. At the end of the game, both teams, after their gentlemanly hand shake, will skate to their fans' section and give a hand and a tap of the stick to salute those who sometimes put as much into the game as the figures on the ice.