THE PUCK STOPS HERE

I was a sceptic. If it ‘wasn’t football then it wasn’t worth watching’ USED to be my mantra, but in recent months i’ve taken in the Glasgow Rocks basketball at the Emirates, Glasgow Tigers speedway at Ashfield Stadium, and this weekend, the latest venture into the unknown on ‘family Sunday’ was to visit Braehead, for my first ever taste of Ice Hockey.

Braehead Clan v the Edinburgh Capitals was to be my introduction to the fast, physical world of pucks, goal tenders and delayed penalties (thankfully I had a Clan regular in the row in front who explained that particular nuance to me.) I chose this game because in my ignorance, I assumed the two main cities would be engaging in a local derby. In fact, I was surprised to learn, again from the my new found Clan sage, that ‘our’ rivals, were the ‘spit’ Fife Flyers. Now there’s something novel for a start, a rivalry borne of competition from the two best teams, rather than tribalry. It’ll never catch on. There were 2,300 spectators in the Arena, which in itself was an admirable feat. To put that into context, more people watch Ice Hockey at Braehead than at any football ground in League Two, League One and the Championship (outside Hibernian and Rangers.) A feat even more remarkable when you consider they had played at Braehead just 20 hours previously, on the Saturday night, in front of over 3,000. We are truly blinkered as to what is going on right under our noses, and indeed, what is on offer.

The game itself lasts for 60 minutes, three periods of 20. Although with breaks in the game and a further 20 minutes between each period, the whole experience takes up two and a half hours. But it doesn’t feel like it. The interaction between fan and sport never stops with every break in play punctured by an MC/DJ, banging out a short musical interlude, relative to the previous play. An opponents indiscretion is met with a sombre, requiem march to the sin bin, allowing home fans to mock mercilessly, whilst an altercation or rough house tactics are met with ‘The eye of the Tiger’. All very staged, and yet all very entertaining as the ‘Purple Army’ buy into every idio-synchrosy.

The interaction doesn’t stop during the period breaks either, prize draws, giveaways, ice dance displays and opportunity to get your ‘Clan-gus’ selfie as the hairy, 6ft, ceremonial Highland coo’ of a mascot, tours the stadium to pose with adults and children alike.

And whisper it, there’s even a bar. A bar where you can buy a pint and take it back to your seat. But don’t tell the Scottish football authorities, because they can’t trust me to have a pint without thinking I might be about to start the next Hampden riot. I had four, and I enjoyed every, single one of them and at £3:80 a pint, not unreasonable given how much you can be fleeced at stadium bars, cinemas, concert venues and any other bastion of the ‘captive audience’.

One thing that did become slightly irritating (although only to me it seemed) was the continuous stream of ‘sponsored by’ announcements. Whilst being absolutely understandable and totally necessary to maximise revenue in an under exposed sport, the “assist sponsored by….”, “goal sponsored by…” and “sin bin sponsored by…” did become a slight distraction.

The only other minor negative I had was the fact that there wasn’t one, single fight! That’s what we all used to watch Ice Hockey at the Olympics for wasn’t it? I’m led to believe, that the fights, like thick footballers and the fact we’re all millionaires, are a stereotype that is rarely the norm in the game these days. No doubt for the better. The entire evening was both hugely enjoyable, and entertaining, and whilst we didn’t always know what was going on in terms of the rules, there was enough going on around the whole package, to keep us engaged.

We were guests of Braehead Clan, had we paid for our two adult and two child tickets, our overall admission price would have been £52. When you consider the average for SPFL top flight football is around £25, it has to be said that for two and a half hours entertainment, the value is there for all to see.

Samantha, Lewis, Hannah and I thoroughly enjoyed our day…. ‘sponsored by Taxi for Farrell’, and we would recommend to anyone to give it a try. Other, more publicised sports could learn one or two things about fan engagement, that would be to their benefit. They try very hard at Braehead Clan and as a west coast based team, delivering what it says on the tin to over 3,000 people every week, they deserve more exposure. Give them a try, have a beer, and if nothing else, enjoy the experience. I know we did.

Oh, and the Clan won 2:1, but there was so much going on I hardly noticed.

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