I’ve split up with girlfriends and left bands rather than miss the closing stages of the Champions League on TV (“It’s not you, it’s me… and Deportivo are at home to Milan”) so consequently was struggling to understand what I was doing up in the Gods at the O2 Arena last Tuesday. Hemmed in on all sides by proper journalists from proper newspapers, I was trying to find the icehockey equivalent of the Rosetta Stone just so I could understand this score sheet they gave me.
It’s the Berlin Eisbären vs the Augsburg Panthers in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga Playoffs, ladies and gentlemen, and I’m trying not to make an arse out of myself. It’s not that I know nothing about icehockey (though I don’t) or that being in my local Kneipe, wedged in next to a Bayern Munich fan with his shitting bongo there to accentuate his every annoying yelp would be a better spectacle (which it wouldn’t). The problem is mostly that I am a charlatan, and my cover has been blown because I had to ask the liaison guy who met me at the press entrance if he had a pen I could use.
There was so much whistling around my addled mind before I even got to contemplate the fastest team sport on Earth, being played by the second biggest team in Europe (average attendance 14,060) and one who have just swept aside everyone to win the German league by a massive 25 points. But that’s not enough apparently, merely giving a safe passage into the playoffs, of which this was the first leg (in a best of five). It’s enough to make you want to end the game and storm home with your puck, but if the Eisbären’s revolutionary freewheeling style doesn’t prevail over this next month then despite smashing all records, they won’t get to call themselves champions for the fifth time in six years.
So it comes down to this, a full house and action like American wrestling held on the M25 at Chinese New Year’s. Bang-ker-fuckin-blammo-rawrrr go the fireworks. G’n’R bursting out of the monumental PA and not a seconds gap for attentions to wander. You know that something’s afoot when sporting events make the Premier league look austere, but that’s exactly like what it is like.
You can, however, make a clear comparison to football crowds here (though not necessarily the sanitised Premier League ones anymore). There is a bursting standing section behind the goal, the obligatory bald blokes with megaphones leading the singing and chanting and the rest of the stadium joining in with foldable cardboard clapper things (hands are for fighting and wanking with, clapping is for pussies). The tunes are the same too, sports fans are the equivalent of ACDC. One bleeding song between the lot of us.
What interests me is while the Eisbären are shooting into the stratosphere, they are more than happy with their past as SC Dynamo Berlin (the moniker for state supported teams in the DDR) whereas their namesakes in the football world (BFC) are almost pariahs, reviled by many for their 10 league championships in a row and begrudged for the patronage of Erich Mielke. Maybe it’s because of the lack of competition around to keep grudges going long enough. Whereas BFC Dynamo were seen to be snatching the title out of the jaws of many other teams that still do exist (and now thrive), most of Berlin’s icehockey titles came in a two team league. Like the polar bears they rebranded themselves as, they had no natural predators. Traditional wine red shirts and scarves of Dynamo are just as populous here as the newer white, blue and red ones.
By the time the game entered its final third- I was recovering from the bun fight of 10,000 fat men and women (they might not have been fat actually, icehockey shirts just aren’t flattering) as one trying to fit onto the terrace for a fag- Berlin were 2-1 up but not dominating as much as they might, despite a decisive third goal being disallowed on a video replay. It remained 2-1, but Augsburg won their home match and again here in Berlin on Saturday. With victory yesterday again the series is level at 2-2 with one to play tonight (April 7th).
You don’t need fireworks for this, they come provided already. Add massive tension to an incredibly technical but obscenely fast sport. Add a probable Berlin victory to boot and you remove the need for the pre-match blaring of “Welcome To The Jungle” and “Rockin’ In The Free World” (I’d suggest that this one was an ironic statement owing to their DDR past, but I’m not sure ice hockey does irony). The Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” can stay for sendings off though, that tickled me. As does as this, to end… An Eisbär walks into a post match press conference
“How do you think you played?” asks a reporter.
“Not………………………………………………………………………………………………………… too bad,” he replies.
“Thanks,” replies the reporter, “but why the big pause?”