This weekend I went to my first ice hockey game. It was in the ‘Tipsport’ stadium in Prague. Tipsport are the largest betting company in the Czech Republic, they are keen supporters of Ice Hockey, which is like religion to most male Czechs. The local team, Sparta Prague (which I can no longer say, without wanting to beat my fits to my chest – Sparta style) were playing a higher ranked team and it all got very tribal. It really was very ‘We are Sparta!’ I went with eyes wide open and loved every minute of it – we were in a part with a free bar!
I knew very little about ice hockey before last Friday, now I am addicted. The pace of the game is quick, the action replays on big screens, scantly clad ladies on skates come on and dust the ice around the goal – I think the Husband particularly liked them and the cheerleaders. The best bit is that the local team Sparta Prague have some amazing fans and we were down their end. They have a band, huge drums beating to a warrior style rhythm. The band is so loud and well respected that the Cheerleaders at the far end, dance to the bands tune – literally! It does feel very tribal, chanting and drumming, the waving of flags and some bloke dressed as a Gladiator – ‘Sparta’ style with red cloak.
The stadium was fairly full, seems like the Czechs do love their ice hockey and this bares out in a few statistics. The Czech Republic has a population of 9.3 million, smaller than London by a third. The population of Chicago is 2.7 million, just to get an idea of how many Czechs there are, how many are men and how many play ice hockey. Holding all those thoughts, you need to know that the Czech Republic is in the ‘Big Seven’ the top ice hockey playing countries in the world: Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden, USA and their ‘sister’ country Slovakia. They are literally playing with the big boys. In 1998 Czech Republic won a Gold at the Olympics, since then they have never been far from the top sport, coming 6th in Sochi. They seem to be much better at the World Championships having been winners there more times than not. Czech players make up some of the best ice hockeys teams in the world, having 11 players who play for the NHL in the USA, 6 who play for Canadian teams and the rest playing for Russian and Czech teams.
Before the First World War, the Czechoslovakian Ice Hockey team was a power player. They were the team to beat, their scorecard reads like this: Czechoslovakia 24 – Yugoslavia 1, Czechoslovakia 25 – Belgium 1, I think we get the picture that they were really good. I mentioned this to my Czech friend, Dominika (she is Czech) and she told me that in years gone by, Czech ice hockey players were tennis players when the weather got better. Karel Kozeluh is the most famous of these players. He was on the formidable team that won the European Ice Hockey Championships in 1925, then he was King of the Tennis from 1928 -1937 beating the American champion Bill Tilden a stunning 17 times, not bad for a 5ft 8 Czechoslovakian.
As I like to try and live like a local whilst in my new ‘home’ country, I drink beer and eat dumplings, I will now have to become a proper fan of Ice Hockey and get a scarf to wave at games, because I am fairly sure I will be attending another one soon. Russia plays the Czech Republic in February – bring it on!!