Tuesday week ago I found myself at a Belfast Giants ice hockey match for the first time. It was the first leg of two against the Cardiff Devils.
1. Wear a jumper. The Odyssey Arena is a huge venue, and together with the freezing lump of ice in the middle and the not quite packed stands, you’ll feel a chill for the first hour or so. This is obviously why so many spectators wear Belfast Giant’s replica
2. If you have a ticket, you’ll have a block and a door, row and seat number. There is no reason to turn up early. The evening we attended, doors opened at 6pm for a 7pm start. The match – and the
4. You can easily eat your ticket price in food during the evening. You’ve two and a half hours to fill. Some types of food will be exhausted and run out before the evening is over (for instance, no more cheese for the nachos, no more sausages for the hotdogs). That fact shouldn’t encourage you to over-eat too early in proceedings, since you’ll only get hungry again and buy more. Don’t you’re your food down: you’ll sit a long time with your indigestion. But eating is one of the few comforts possible during the moments of tedium while items of food from Subway, Boojum and Pizza hut are thrown at the crowd. Your chances of catching food are increased by sitting near the front and having a small cute child on your shoulders.
5. The music before the game starts will be deafening. A rule forbids music while the game is in progress so you will get some relief … until the referee spots something and stops play. Then the music will crank back up and it feels like the referee waits until the sting finishes before starting play again. At times it will feel like there’s a tune for every kind of foul.
7. There are drums: it is Northern Ireland after all. You can take the sectarianism out of one local sport, but you can’t get rid of the drums. Thump. Thump. Thump. Go Gi-ants. If the drums are to stay, a bigger repertoire of chants and rhythms are needed. At least reintroduce 2 4 6 8 Who Do We Appreciate? [insert name of sponsor]
8. Irritatingly, while the PA system in the Odyssey Arena seems perfectly tuned for music and adverts, the occasional announcement to tell you that “player mumble has been fowled by mumble and there will now be mumble” are very indistinct. Yet these are the bits of audio newbies desperately want to hear.
11. If a local breakfast radio presenter like Citybeat’s Stephen Clements comes onto the ice
13. Players enjoy a bit of rough and tumble. Not quite full Saturday afternoon wrestling play acting, but not far off at time. Sometimes one of the referees will decide to take action. Often they don’t. If the spectators had voting buttons they could bet on whether particular incidents would be spotted by referees.
14. Despite being played on ice, the players stay upright for a surprising amount of the time. However, they could learn a thing or two about speed from figure skaters. If any camogie or hurling players could adapt to the ice they would speed the game up and give the Canadians a run for their money.
16. It was a really friendly experience. The EventSec guys who show you to your seat were a delight and full of information. Long time fans were happy to answer ignorant questions and fill in gaps in our knowledge. The atmosphere was good. The cheering wasn’t that feverish, and the mid-week sides seemed to be playing at less than full power. The score was 4-3 to the Devils, but that’s nearly immaterial.
So how was my first Belfast Giants game?
a Warriors NBA match in Oakland, San Francisco about eight years ago. [My memories are of foul tasting cheese in the hot dogs, 45 minutes play spread over 3 hours, and a very poor shot-to-basket ratio that amazed me given my notion that they’d be like the Harlem Globetrotters.]
So despite very low expectations, I enjoyed the Giants more than I thought I would.
I think I’d go back – occasionally – armed with a jumper, a printout of the rules, and a flask of hot milky tea. Perhaps even a flask of sausages: you could make a killing selling black market hot dogs when the concession stands run out!