Friday, 1 April 2016

Glasgow Spectator Sports Part 1. Ice Hockey.

What to do in Glasgow when the football is not on.

It is 18 months now since the 2014 Commonwealth Games finished in Glasgow. By most accounts the games were a spectacular success, with all of the sports on display getting great crowds attending from Glaswegians. At any sporting event now it seems obligatory to talk of what "legacy" the games have left behind, there is even a Legacy 2014 website extolling all the benefits the games brought to the city. Did it encourage people to be more active, seek out new sports to watch or participate in? I'm not sure.

During the games I certainly went to see sports that I had never paid to watch before, but realise that, by and large, my spectating has largely fallen back to following Partick Thistle week in week out. My children still enjoy going to their assorted badminton, athletics and swimming clubs but we have not been spectators at any of these sports in the city since the games. The football league having a weekend break for the international matches meant that I was looking for other entertainment last weekend. This made me think about what other sporting excitement people of Glasgow find in their spare time, so I will try a few different sports and see if there is anywhere in town that can match Firhill for thrills.

First up, ice hockey.

Ice Hockey

Ice hockey has been played in Glasgow ever since indoor ice rinks appeared in the city. I have written previously about the history of ice rinks in Glasgow, and when the first indoor rink was created on Sauchiehall Street ice hockey was soon on display there. The building which now houses the ABC venue was an ice rink, Hubner's Ice Palace, from 1895 to 1898. The nascent sport of ice hockey was first seen in Glasgow here in 1896, in an exhibition match on the circular rink here. The sport was invented in Canada in the 1860s, and it was Canadian skater George Meagher who organised this match.

The first international ice hockey match between England and Scotland was at the Crossmyloof ice rink in 1908. Despite the Scots using the sneaky tactic of playing on a rink which had poles down the middle and a bandstand just above head height in the centre of the rink for this match, the English apparently ran out easy winners.

Various Glasgow ice hockey teams have come and gone, as have the ice rinks. In the 20 years of the Scottish National League from 1932 it was won at various times by Kelvingrove, the Glasgow Mohawks, Dundee Tigers and Fife Flyers. Other Glasgow teams have included the Dynamoes, Flyers and (recently resurrected amateur team) the Mustangs. Also worth a mention are the nearby Paisley Pirates, founded in 1946 and playing at Braehead Arena these days, as Paisley since 2007 no longer has an ice rink at the Lagoon Leisure Centre.

Professional ice hockey in the UK is organised under the Elite Ice Hockey League. This league is made up of ten teams, who play from August through until March when the top eight teams play off to decide the champion. Of these ten teams four are based in Scotland, giving rise to some healthy local rivalry.

Braehead Shopping Centre gives its name to the Glasgow member of this ice hockey league, Braehead Clan. If you want to be really pedantic you could say that the team is named after the former Braehead Power Station which occupied this site before it became a shopping centre. To be even more pedantic you could say that they are a Renfrew team rather than anything to do with Glasgow. The shopping centre was built across the Glasgow-Renfrew boundary and as both councils planned to claim rates from the venture it went to the Boundary Commission who ruled in favour of Renfrew and its original ancient boundary. Rather oddly the banner at the side of the rink proclaims that we are in "Braehed Arena Renfrew Glasgow".

Braehead Power Station, demolished in 1980. Britain From Above website
Formed in 2010, the Braehead Clan regularly attract sell out crowds to the 3500 capacity Braehead Arena. For such a new team they seem to have many very devoted followers. It seems the majority of the crowd, at both ends, are decked out in replica shirts, which appear to come in an extensive range of large sizes. The team origins don't really fill me with a warm glow, as they were formed to make up the numbers in the league after the Basingstoke and Manchester teams dropped out. As the Canadian flag above the arena entrance indicates, the majority of the players on the team are from Canada, with a smattering of Scots and Americans thrown in and a couple of Englishmen, Scandinavians and a Welshman.

On the night we come to see them in March 2016 they are facing the Fife Flyers in the second leg of the play-off quarter finals. By contrast with Braehead Clan, Fife Flyers are the oldest professional ice hockey club in the UK. They were formed in 1938 and still play at the Fife Ice Arena in Kirkcaldy where they started out. I like their old fashioned arena and sometimes take my children skating there when we go and visit their granny in Fife. The four sided electronic clock/scoreboard suspended above the centre of the rink just seems to be the way things should be in my imagination. A couple of days earlier Braehead Clan had lost the first leg of the quarter final there. Despite leading 1-0 for most of the match, two quick goals in the dying minutes gave the Fife team the advantage. As we take our seats it is clear that this is another sell out crowd for the Braehead Clan in this important match, and despite specifying home seats when I bought the tickets we find we are sitting beside the Fife support. It is at this point that my wife tells me that as a Fife schoolgirl she used to occasionally go and support her local team and would therefore be cheering for them. Spotting the chance to back the winning team my kids join her in this, leaving only me to cheer along with the "purple army".

Accompanied by synchronised flashing colours from the crowd using their "Braehead intro app" on their phones, the Clan mascot, a Highland coo called Clangus, warms things up with a dance off . As both teams are Scottish we only have one national anthem to stand up for before face off. Last time I came to see them play it was against Sheffield Steelers. It was a bit odd having all these Canadian sportsmen make us stand for Scottish and English anthems.

Clangus gets things going at Braehead Clan

Face off, Braehead Clan v Fife Flyers
It is a fast and furious sport and despite the Flyers seeming to have most of the chances early on the first goal goes to Braehead Clan to even the tie. As the people around me find out after a few quick Google searches, away goals count for nothing so it is still all to play for. A lot of the fun from ice hockey, and the biggest cheers, comes from the players battering into each other and it is not uncommon for all twelve players on the ice to throw their gloves to the floor and indulge in a mass brawl. My first memories of ice hockey are of the USSR and USA playing out the cold war on ice at Olympic Finals over the years and of the Paul Newman film Slap Shot. This leaves me expecting a battle every time I see ice hockey, but with tonight's game being so finely balanced it seems that the real risk of losing the contest if players end up in the sin bin stops us getting to that point. Also the referee seems determined to be lenient and plenty of holding and tripping seems to go unpunished, much to the ire of the Fife fans around me.

Four men battle to extract the puck. All perfectly legal
The game is divided into three 20 minute periods, each of which lasts longer as the clock stops whenever the referees stop play. Whilst the ice is resurfaced by the iconic Zamboni machine between periods and people take the chance to head for refreshments, entertainment comes in the form of fans trying to score a goal through a wee hole for cash, or everyone who bought a foam rubber puck for a pound on the way in trying to get their's nearest to Clangus in the middle to win a prize (we didn't win). Unlike at football, alcohol is allowed (£3.80 for a pint of Carling) and if you are feeling peckish a mixed Scottish-American selection means that you can have a hot dog, nachos or stovies depending on how the mood takes you.

Time to "chuck a puck"
Back to the action
The game see-saws towards its end with Braehead ahead 2-1 on the night, drawing 3-3 for the tie and we go into five minutes of overtime to decide who goes through to the semi-final. With less players on the ice to increase the chances of scoring, the golden goal rule means that it is sudden death. With the game heading towards a possible shoot out Fife Flyers scoot up the ice and blast it into the Braehead net with 22 seconds left on the clock. Fife Flyers progress, for Braehead Clan the season is over. 

Tense Fife Flyers fans await overtime 
The Fifers sitting beside us are soon on their feet cheering, my family included whilst I sit and sulk. My unerring ability to be always supporting the runners-up in the world of sport continues.


The game batters along, there is always something happening and my children enjoyed their night. The crowd is mostly in good spirits, with less abuse hurled at players than you get at any average football match (although the ref was told he was going to get the "puck rammed up your fucking arse" by one of my Fife neighbours tonight). We tend to go about once a season to the ice hockey, just for a wee change. I don't see myself getting hooked but it can be a good night out.

Cost - two adults and two children at Braehead Arena = £60 
(£44 at Firhill for the same group as children go free, at Fife Ice Arena in would have cost £50)

Next week.....greyhound racing and speedway.

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