Friday, 4 November 2011

Why can't we be friends?

Having never actually been to an NHL game this is going to be slightly difficult to write, but since I started watching hockey I've been wanting to compare the fans and the atmosphere of hockey games with the English football matches that I'm more used to. There are some very clear differences which I should think make the two experiences quite different.

For starters, in the Canucks games I've watched so far and from what I've been told on Twitter (thanks @a3minuterecord), there is no segregation between fans of opposing teams in the NHL. This makes for an entirely different atmosphere in the arenas - whether or not it's better though is hard to say.

As I've mentioned before I'm a Portsmouth (Pompey) fan and while I've not watched nearly as much football this season as I normally would, I still closely follow Portsmouth. Over the years I've seen Pompey play at some of the biggest stadiums in the country and some of the lesser known venues that I'd imagine most people reading this won't have heard of. Anyway, the one thing that is the same no matter where you watch a game in this country is that you will be in the stands among your fellow fans, segregated (often by lines of stewards or police) from the opposing team's fans.

It's almost unimaginable to have the two sets of fans mixed together. In fact I've recently bought tickets to see Portsmouth host south coast rivals Southampton (warmly known as scummers to Pompey fans) in December. There will be around 16,000 Pompey fans at the game and 3,000 scummers. ALL of the Southampton fans must travel on official club coaches and will be given a police escort into the ground. Anyone found making their own way on public transport or in their own cars won't be allowed in. There is a long history of violence and hooliganism between the two sides and normally dozens of arrests are made when they face each other.

That's why I find it so unusual to see NHL fans from opposing sides sat next to each other at games, particularly with the intense and violent nature of hockey. I know the fans have the same passion for their teams, I've read this blog post from @TheStanchion and I know that feeling, wanting your team to win so badly that you can't even watch their fate unfold. With emotion from fans running that high I honestly think it's impressive that every game doesn't end in a riot (I am aware that one game did earlier this year, but we don't need talk about that).

With football you have to ask the question whether the hostile treatment visiting fans receive from stewards and police actually entices violence - there's even a group who protest the treatment of away fans by police and stewards. Sadly there's a history of hooliganism in our national game and it's an unwanted tag that will, in all probability, never be shaken. For what it's worth, I've been going to games since 1992 and have never been involved in an altercation which suggests there is only violence there if you go looking for it.

But maybe segregation does provide one upside. While fans being separated can emphasise a nasty side of the game, what it also does is help to create an electric atmosphere. Visiting supporters, normally the more die-hard fans, will usually sing and taunt their opponents for the full 90 minutes, while the home side will unite against them dishing out the chants they are famous for. In Portsmouth's case the 'Pompey Chimes' is the most famous (if you've ever heard a clock chime they'll be familiar). While we're talking about fans and noise I feel I need to shoe-horn in one of my favourite YouTube videos which demonstrates the atmosphere at Fratton Park at its best. For me, it's never been better than this.

At the Canucks games I've watched so far there have been moments of noise from the crowd but not the continuing wall of sound that you tend to get a football games (not that I'm saying it's a good thing that we have to put up with this guy ringing a bell and blowing on a bugle for 90 minutes). Songs seem to be few and far between too. I've picked up on the 'Go Canucks Go' chants that surface once in a while, but haven't heard anything other than that. I also haven't heard any songs or chants that put down Vancouver's rivals. At dull Pompey games fans generally revert anti-scummer songs which I wouldn't want to repeat here - the sort of songs you wouldn't sing in front of your mother, let's put it that way.

Of course the hockey I've watched so far has mainly been early regular season stuff, so I wouldn't expect the atmosphere from the fans to be too intense. And I'm hardly an expert on these matters with my massive four weeks experience of watching hockey. If there are any songs or derogatory chants out there that I've missed I'd love to know about them!

Earlier this week I did sit down and watch Game 7 of the series against the Blackhawks from last season and the increase in noise and excitement was obvious. When Burrows unleashed this rocket, the place erupted. I'm certainly looking forward to the post-season where it looks like the atmosphere ramps up considerably. Although the Canucks will have to get there first!

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