By Jason Menard
In the song Coax Me, iconic Canadian band Sloan sang, “it’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans.” And while I normally feel the same about attending sporting events, last night I had the pleasure of sitting next to two people who reminded me of the joy that being a sports fan can hold.
I attend a lot of hockey games, but I usually watch from the vantage point of the press box. For the most part, my cohorts in the media section share my sensibilities: we’re fans of the sport, appreciate good quality play, but we’re not cheerleaders.
I’m not a rah-rah type. In fact, I’m sure people who have watched me when I venture out into the seats would think I don’t enjoy the game at all. I’m quiet, I rarely cheer — and when I do, it’s for a good play, rather than one specific team. I love sport, but I’m not demonstrative about it. I watch intently, but not exuberantly.
So that’s why I enjoy the vantage point from the press box. We watch, we discuss, and we are relatively insulated from the shenanigans that occur in the crowd. Last night, however, I was thrust right in the midst of those shenanigans. And while I saw the worst that fandom has to offer, I also saw the best.
It seems that many people think that buying a ticket entitles you to more than just a seat — they believe that the purchase price also includes the right to act like a boor — saying and doing things that you would never do in public. From the anonymity of the stands — not to mention the added safety of boards separating them from their targets — they are emboldened to act in ways that would earn them, at the very least, a punch in the teeth.
It can make it tough when you try to take your kids to a game. Swearing is one thing — and none of us is perfect — but the guy behind us, on multiple occasions implored the home team to “rape” the opponents. Fortunately my daughter missed those statements — at least I hope she did.
So you have the suddenly bold, whether fortified by liquid courage or not, that are present at any games. You also have the morons who think that the spectacle is about them — the worst of them being the guys who feel the need to shout out “Go [Team] Go” in the midst of a national anthem. The worst example of this that I ever saw was during a ceremony honouring our veterans — there’s a time and a place to cheer. Using a moment of silence to draw attention to yourself? Not one of them.
But there are other fans who aren’t as obnoxious, but just as amusing. I was surrounded by a collection of guys who knew the game. They’re not shy about loudly professing their knowledge of the game — explaining why things aren’t working, making grandiose statements, and generally implying that they would make a better general manager/scout/coach if only they were put in place. The one major problem with their argument? They show a phenomenal lack of understanding of the fundamentals of the game. I suppose that’s just incidental to success.
Like any good home fan, there are also the referee haters — the ones who don’t understand why a home team player is being sent to the penalty box for something as trivial as breaking a stick over the back of an opponent. Fairness and reality don’t matter — the refs are out to get our boys, don’t you know?
These people get so worked up, almost to the point of being enraged, and spend the entire game complaining. Even as they’re leaving, they can’t take a moment to enjoy the experience, rather focusing on the negative. Why go if you’re not going to enjoy what’s actually on the ice?
And that brings me to the two people who somewhat reaffirmed my faith in the game. One was the girl with whom I attended the game — my daughter. She loved the spectacle, she cheered along with the crowd, clapped with every song, and — even though she doesn’t understand the intricacies of the game — thoroughly enjoyed herself. She went in smiling and came out smiling — and isn’t that why we go to games? To be entertained?
Next to her sat the greatest fan I’ve ever seen. He was developmentally challenged man in his mid-20’s who attended with his father. He was a homer through and through — you knew where his allegiances lay, but he didn’t allow that to prevent his enjoyment of the game. Every time the home team had the puck, he would shout “Go, go, go!” or “Shoot, shoot, shoot!” As soon as the opponents created a turnover, he would utter, “Uh oh” then implore his boys to “Get it out, get it out!”
He joined my daughter in clapping along with every song. He cheered the goals and he exhorted the home team on to get one back when they gave up a goal. He didn’t spend 15 minutes dissecting the goalie’s faults; he didn’t profess to have some encyclopaedic knowledge of a player’s habits and history (unlike the budding GM to my left, who knew that the rookie playing in his third game always played a certain way…) No, he simply cheered on his team and didn’t let all of the other stuff get in the way.
Most importantly, while the GMs without a team, the pro-rapist, and some of the other fans walked out with scowls on their faces lamenting a loss, he — like my daughter — left the arena with a smile on his face. Win or lose, they enjoyed their evening at the arena.
Isn’t that why we become fans of a sport — because of our love for the game? I guess sometimes it takes an eight-year-old girl or a developmentally challenged fan to remind us of the most important things — like sports are a game.
And games are supposed to be fun.