Saturday, March 28, 2009

That's some Sirius bandy

Jennifer I've made it to two bandy games this season, both in Uppsala and featuring local team Sirius. Bandy, you might recall, is a fairly Scandinavian-specific sport, played outside, on a soccer-sized field covered in ice; the players wear skates and carry clubs that they use to smack around a soft-ball sized orange ball that's made of golf ball material. On the evening of 10 december 2008, in heavily falling snow, German student M. and I drove over to Studenternas IP, paid our 60 SEK, and found a good place to stand just behind the fans of the away team, who had arrived in a bus, ready with their drums and banners. It was quite cold, but the glögg and lussekatte at halftime helped, and any sport that requires the halftime services of both a snowplow and a Zamboni must be good, right? Sirius won handily, beating the visitors from Örebro 7-1. An Örebro supporter (who was at least two sheets to the wind) turned to congratulate M. and me on our team's win. Geniality among the fans is another hallmark of the sport, something I appreciate.

Sirius did much better than expected in the regular season, finishing third in the league, and earning a play-off spot. On 18 mars 2009, we went to Sirius' semifinal game against league winners and last year's champions Edsbyn. Most bandy games are rather sparsely attended, and we should have gone much earlier to this one, which ended up having 8900 fans.The stadium organizers were clearly not ready for so many people, and had not opened up the north and south stands: the east and west ones were already packed, and we got rather pressed into a corner, while trying to find a place. So... the fans started getting into the stands anyway, crawling through rails or leaping over them, as dictated by youth and vigor, a near riot by Swedish standards.

But "a near riot by Swedish standards" is not, by any means, a riot in the usual sense. With all these people crowding in next to each other, no one was actually touching each other; no one pushed, no one rushed. And when they inevitably did bump into one another, it was okay: the bumper was too embarrassed to admit they had bumped, the bumpee, too embarrassed to admit they had been bumped into. In some places you might worry when two burly strangers collide and spill each other's beers, but here, the two immediately look away from each other. No words were spoken or exchanged (heaven forbid!) between strangers. (This shyness is so extreme that it leads me to wonder how on earth these people ever manage to reproduce, but that's a topic for another time perhaps.)

We ended up in the southern stands, in the extreme southwest corner of the field, a not so great vantage point from which to see what turned out to be the worst bandy game I have seen. Good thing we had thought to bring along a thermos of Irish coffee with which to pass the halftime; the respectable looking couple behind us were openly pouring whisky into a camping cup and sharing it. (It's a little more traditional to try to mask the alcohol in a thermos.) In the northeast corner, in a brilliant marketing ploy, someone had set up a giant hot tub, from which a number of lucky people watched quite intently. They had about as good a view as we did, and were a little warmer (it wasn't that cold, really), but the end result was the same: Sirius crashing out of the tournament with a 1-7 loss, in a mirror image of the game from december. Sic transit Sirius.

Oh, there was one advantage of being in the corner: we got to be on TV! That's Joe, in the yellow jacket to the left, and half of J!, to his left, in the white hat. Don't confuse Joe with the ball boy (who also in yellow but on the ice) or J! with the player taking the corner (who is also wearing a white hat, but is on the ice, has skates, and a club in his hands)...

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