Bleu/Blanc/Rouge wrote about a visit to the then second season Belfast Giants. Originally published in The Cat’s Whiskers Issue #4 February 2002.

I feel suitably inspired to record my thoughts for posterity after a recent visit to the City of Belfast to attend an ISL fixture between the Belfast Giants and visitors the Nottingham Panthers, for whom I am a regular attendee with a season ticket.

The grey November weather was totally displaced by the warmth of the welcome by everyone I met. A great credit to themselves indeed. In the Odyssey Arena itself my friends and I were actually thanked after the game for visiting their city and rink. I have visited many a hockey arena/rink in my twenty plus years of watching the game, in it’s spiritual home of Canada as well as the UK, never before do I remember this occurring. The atmosphere and air of the place is a little reminiscent of the time in 1980 when the Nottingham Panthers reformed and returned to their home at Lower Parliament Street after 20 years in the hockey wilderness. The enthusiasm and togetherness very recognisable in this way.

 Game night itself was presented in an upbeat, high energy style with an obviously considered North American accent. On ice games and razzmatazz a-plenty, one of our travelling friends was the (un?) lucky choice to represent the visitors in a hilariously manic ski race in-between two giant banana’s! The resident DJ did an excellent job of keeping the predominately young and ‘newbie’ crowd involved throughout the proceedings, not allowing the game’s presentation to lose momentum at any stage.

The game itself had powerful performances on the ice, individually for Belfast with hat-trick man Kelman on the blue line, Reihl displaying his considerable repertoire of play making skills and the urgent offensive play of Sean Berens, and collectively from the Panthers with an almost irresistibly strong fightback from 0-4 down to tie the game, only to lose to a  fifth Giants marker.

An interesting personal observation I made is how easily the tempo and culture of hockey sits with the Irish people. The fond relations between this Celtic race and their cousins in the ‘New World’ of North America is widely documented and is in no place more obvious than this sporting situation, very heart warming to witness. Maybe it is a subconscious, spontaneous manifestation on their part, for some of us though, it can be seen to blow the history book wide open.

Now the most important bit. A very positive thought constantly occurred to me throughout my short stay, something akin to looking upwards toward a beautiful blue sky, and that is the total lack of tribalism at the arena. Not catholic hockey or protestant hockey, just hockey, in all it’s beautiful, terrifying, artistic own image. Could we dare to imagine that Belfast’s proud new sporting franchise could show a different way? A way free from divisions? the arena is full of children and young people of Belfast the future is sitting right there in the seats. May it be theirs to seize the moment and grasp peace and togetherness tightly with both hands.

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