I had never been to an ice hockey match before but last Sunday I was persuaded to see Cardiff's last home game of the regular season against their main rivals, Sheffield Steelers. Since, sadly, there's no longer any rugby league to watch on the big screen in the pub on a Sunday evening, I went along and had my senses pummelled ferociously.
The Cardiff rink accommodates only 2,500 spectators in a degree of closeness they would complain about in Calcutta but they generate enough noise for 20 times that number helped by a frequent barrage of loud snatches from the works of such as Gary Glitter and Queen. When they score a goal, and Cardiff won 6-1 that night, the entire place stamps and claps to a ritualistic signature tune so tumultuous it must add to the opposing goalminder's determination not to let them score any more.
It was a thoroughly exciting evening that I did not expect to be reminded of so soon as two nights later when I was watching Nottingham Forest's brave display against Bayern Munich from the peace of my own hearth. In the 16th minute I was silently admiring the header with which Jurgen Klinsmann gave Bayern the lead when a surge of music swept around the Olympiastadion. It was from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld, perhaps better known as the accompaniment to the Can-Can.
I could hardly believe it: one of the world's leading football clubs, guardians of the finest tradition, indulging in a vulgar display of triumphalism. It didn't end there. I am reliably informed by the Independent's football correspondent Glenn Moore that even the announcement of the scorer's name was part of the ritual. The tannoy announcer roared: "The scorer was Jurgen. . ." He paused, and the 38,000 crowd roared back: "KLINSMANN".
Rousing music filled the stadium all night. Bayern came out to Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory and an oft repeated favourite was Chubby Brown's version of the old pop song "Living Next Door to Alice" in which his additional line "Alice? Alice? Who the fuck is Alice?" was belted out with unashamed relish by the crowd who treat this piece of English coarseness as one of the highlights of their football evening. A case of Deutschland Uber Alice.
Can it happen here? I know of no Premiership club who conduct musical gee-ups for their spectators but the Endsleigh League on Friday said that several clubs are already celebrating goals with music and it is a growing trend.
It would be easy, effortless even, to take a reactionary view but we are apt to forget that the battle for sport's survival depends on attracting spectators. The only aspect of sport that seems to matter these days, especially to politicians, is who watches what on which television channel. Without the mass attraction of paying spectators, however, there would be few events worth regarding as special.
Ice hockey's success in this direction cannot be denied. The game has established its attraction in a relatively short time and bigger battalions are joining. Manchester Storm, formed only a year or so ago and yet to rise to the top division, recently played before a crowd of over 16,000 despite clashing with a Manchester United home match. The game attracts family support because of this ability to involve them in more than just sitting there.
Music has always been part of sport but our leading games haven't ventured much further than a band at half-time. What songs there are have come spontaneously from the crowd. Now clubs must ask themselves if the atmosphere would benefit from being more orchestrated?
We may be a long way from a county cricket crowd breaking into "Another one bites the dust" every time a wicket goes down but I have a suspicion that in the accidental juxtaposition of a small hall in Cardiff and a large arena in Munich I might have heard a glimpse of the future.
RUGBY UNION'S ancestral homes are not what they were. Anyone who last visited them in the Seventies would hardly recognise them. Whether you believe all the facelifts and body-tucks have enhanced the match-day atmosphere as much as the gate receipts is a matter of personal taste.
At least, Twickenham and Murrayfield occupy the same sacred portion of their native land. Wales and Ireland are about to move from the hallowed battlegrounds of the past. The ghosts of Wales won't have to move far in Cardiff. The National Stadium, or Arms Park as we still prefer to call it, is to be shifted ever-so-slightly west - i.e. further from England - and turned through 90 degrees so that the pitch runs approximately north- south instead of east-west.
It is not quite the change of direction we were demanding from the Welsh Rugby Union and some of us wonder why they are bothering. They have been granted a large lump of lottery money and will end up with a much larger capacity stadium and a sliding roof; but for watchability the existing arena has few equals in the world and to spend even pounds 20m enlarging and improving it would be far cheaper and cause much less disruption.
Lansdowne Road has served Dublin well as a cauldron but not as a convenient mecca and its future is threatened by plans for a privately developed super stadium at Phoenix Park. I trust it will have floodlighting. Despite their anxiety to keep their palaces at the forefront of sporting refurbishment, our home unions were never in a rush to install lights. The Arms Park succumbed only a few years ago. Lansdowne Road never.
My curiosity about this led me a few years ago to an exchange that still haunts me. I was covering one of Jack Charlton's Irish glory matches in mid-winter which, because of the early dusk, meant a kick-off at 2pm. Irked at having to rush my lunch I hailed a taxi to get to the ground.
"Tell me," I asked the driver, testily, "why on earth don't you have floodlights at Lansdowne Road?"
"We don't need them," he said.
He flung me a puzzled look. "We always play in daylight," he said.
ONE week before Frank Bruno's world title defence against Mike Tyson in Las Vegas and already poor Frank has been in Nevada for days pouring out enough old tosh to fill every back page in the world. We face another six mornings of "This is War" headlines.
Melancholy thought that it is, this is an aspect of pay-per-view we hadn't considered. Soon, Sky won't be the only multi-media group using their other outlets to sell whatever they're screening.
Fighters have always had to devote a certain amount of time to box-office work but the money at stake is beginning to make talking about the fight as important as preparing for it. It's not pay-per-view I'm dreading, it's hype-per-view.Reuse content