Belfast Telegraph

Testosterone-fuelled sport is where it's at

By Frances Burscough

Forget X Factor, forget Match of the Day, forget going down the pub even. The coolest thing to do on a Saturday night - bar none - is an intimate date at the Odyssey Arena with the Belfast Giants. Shout hooray because ice hockey season is here again - the Belfast Giants are the Elite League reigning champions and they've never looked or played better than they do now.

Last Saturday was the first pre-season “friendly” (ahem) with arch rivals the Cardiff Devils. (I call them “arch rivals” but then in ice hockey every opposing team is an arch rival — for explanation, see below.) No prizes for guessing who I was supporting ... along with 4,000 others, including my very own Luke and Finn.

Yes, such is the excitement about an ice hockey match that even my two big sons were more than happy to be seen out in public with their mum if it came with a pair of tickets. I didn't even have to bribe, blackmail or threaten them.

With one son in upper sixth and the other at university, chances like this are becoming few and far between and I really miss them.  So, there we all were, the first time in months since we'd all been out together and I was really going to make the most of this rare opportunity.

And we didn't look or feel out of place at all either, as the whole stadium was packed with families having the very best quality time together.

Now girls, don't be put off by the idea of spending your Saturday night off watching testosterone-fuelled live sport. It's not like rugby (yawn), I promise you. I know in theory it doesn't sound ideal, but you really do need to see these guys in action at least once to see what all the fuss is about... if you know what I mean.

And the great thing is, you don’t need to know diddly-squat about the rules to enjoy watching it. The atmosphere is enough to get you leaping to your feet and shouting like a lunatic every time the puck (I think it’s called) gets whacked near the goal posts (or is it “nets”?).

Just follow the crowd and glance occasionally at the score board — if you can take your eyes off the players that is ...

Ok so I confess, the best part about seeing the Giants is actually, well, seeing the Giants. Their amazing physiques may be padded, cushioned, moulded and armour-plated to super-human proportions, but so what? The sheer skill and agility with which they whizz and zip across the ice at break-neck speed is just dazzling to behold.

In fact, I challenge any hot-blooded female to sit through a match and not be completely enthralled by the spectacle. The fact that it’s a low-down and dirty game which usually involves — nay, actively encourages — countless fights, fisticuffs and fracas only adds to the appeal.

Saturday’s game against our arch-rivals the Devils was no exception. Although technically it was classed as a “friendly” there wasn't a great deal of bonhomie going on between the two sides. In fact, they looked and acted like they were on a mission to actually kill each other. Play was interrupted twice by two full-on fights where they threw off their gloves and helmets and got stuck into a bare knuckle brawl. In both cases (even though I am biased) the Cardiff Devils started it. Yes, the Devils certainly were dirty, but they were completely outclassed from the start by our lads who had gone one-up within minutes of the opening whistle.

Needless to say, the crowd loved it, all of it, every last minute.

While the fans cheered and whooped with delight at each bash, thrash and whack, the brilliant Citybeat presenter Stephen Clements entertained the troops with appropriately up-beat music, entertainment, commentary, fun and games.

We won, of course, and the whole experience was even better fun than I remembered. Let’s Go Giants, Let’s Go!

Belfast Telegraph


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