An Arbitrary Medium

Breaking the habbit and writing about a different sport. Now, before you slam your tablet down in disgust, or unsubscribe while dry-heaving, or both (or neither), we’ve good reason to be doing so. It emphasises a point made long ago. And it starts with a Friday night proposition.

“Let’s go watch some Ice Hockey”.

Why the fuck would I want to go watch Ice Hockey? A game reserved for Canadians, former Communists and, that most awkward of nationalities, Finns. Gratuitous violence, perhaps? But the German appetite for bloodshed is somewhat subdued, so the famed NHL punch-ups are seen more frequently on Youtube than in the rink in Germany. Otherwise the puck moves too fast for you to see it. You’ll be looking down one end and asking yourself why all the players are shooting in the other direction because you didn’t see the puck get launched around the curved boarding. There are many odd rules that have never really been explained to you. You have no idea why the ref gives a foul.

Why the fuck would I want to go watch Ice Hockey?

It is for one reason and one reason alone. The atmosphere.

Berliner Eisbären fans

Flags, drums, choreos and chanting, it is the same fan behaviour you get at a Football match. One end of the arena will house the boys going there every week with scarves tied to their wrists or waists. They congregate, fill themselves with beer and prepare to make the ice shake with their cavernous Teutonic mouths and bouncing displays. With a closed roof, the noise is, if anything, even more impressive that the spectacle you get at a standard German Football fixture. And if you are lucky, the Ultras-on-ice may have even gone to the lengths of creating a tifo to will their team on as the puck is released.

At least at German Ice Hockey games, the fan behaviour and subsequent atmosphere are similar to that seen on the Football terraces. This may come as a surprise to you. But it should not. It goes back to an old point we made before on FBTG.

People gravitate toward team sports because the team represents their home town and by extension, themselves. Many people feel that their place of upbringing is a big part of their character and identity. They naturally feel a connection toward it and want to celebrate their relationship to it. I know I do. You feel pride when institutions and organisations from your home town receive positive recognition. You feel less inclination to get behind individual stars who come from your city or town because, as individuals, they represent their own upbringing and character.

But a sports team with multiple people playing together does adequately represent your home town and yourself, because the different characters cancel each other out. One thing unites them; we live and work here. Thus following and supporting sports teams is the ideal tried-and-tested way to express pride in where you come from and to show the world who you are. The people playing together do represent you, and the people watching alongside you are there for the same reason. Fans are united to celebrate their shared identity and membership to the same tribe. And “the tribe” is unquestionably the correct term for the way many team fanatics feel about their membership to fan groups centered around a sports team.

The sport is just an arbitrary medium. For so many people, packing out the stadium to watch the Football, Hockey, Basketball or Volleyball team of their city is a way to express their identity as sons and daughters of that city. The attraction is the not the athletic spectacle. The common behaviour of fanatics going to watch these different sports is testament to this.

Berliner Eisbären hockey fans

As such, at each game, the 02 Arena sees what is probably called the “Nordkurve” filled with Berliner Eisbären Ultras coloured in Red, White and Blue behaving exactly as Football Ultras would. This is not just the case in Germany. Fans across Central Europe and the Balkans bring the atmosphere to the rinks and courts as much as they do to the Football stadia. Individuals use team sports as a vehicle of identity expression. They are not necessarily interested in the sport itself.

Football itself is not conducive to this kind of behaviour. Remember that when anybody tries to tell you otherwise.


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