For Sports Fans Only

Version 2
Partout ended up at a HC Sparta hockey game in Prague because – in the great tradition of “when in Rome” – Doris said, “We should see if there is a hockey game while we are here.” Sure enough, the proud Spartans were taking the ice Sunday at 3 pm. Louis said “Proč ne?!” or the French or English equivalent of “Why not?!” and off we went.

Louis’s principle interest was in hockey. Doris’s was in the tribal behavior of Czech hockey fans. Neither was disappointed (the caveat emptor offered because only a sports fan would find such arcana remotely of interest).

Maybe the most dramatic difference we found between Czech hockey and the NHL came at the first step of going to the game: buying tickets. Tickets three rows off the ice at center-rink cost $17 each. Of course, Czech players earn something slightly north of $100,000/year on average, while the NHL annual average is $2.4 million, so that may play a part. For us, it felt like Christmas had come early, and that was before we got to the game and discovered that beer was $2 a cup.

Security check practices were in effect, just like in the U.S., and Louis’s selfie stick flunked. Having never tried to take a selfie stick into a pro game, we have no idea if they are banned everywhere but, in Prague, he was ordered to back out of line and check the stick for the game, a privilege for which he paid about a quarter in Czech koruna.

Louis found the game pretty much the same as in the NHL except that nearly every penalty (and there were a bunch) was called for hooking; not a single call resulted from slashing, roughing, fighting, misconduct or a body-blow of any kind. There was a bit of manly elbowing and glowering, but they were positively gentlemanly by NHL standards.

Some fan and team practices and rituals turned out to be pretty universal but not all.

As in U.S. sports, the arena’s name had been sold to the highest bidder (O2, a mobile telephone provider), and branding was everywhere, especially on the players.

BILLA is a supermarket chain and gets top BILLing on Sparta jerseys

Men clearly outnumbered women in the stands; Doris didn’t even encounter lines in the women’s loo. The sections behind the goals were reserved for uber-fans, where everyone seemed to be wearing team colors and carrying team paraphernalia.

The Verva Litvínov wore yellow and black. Note all the BILLA advertising.

No arena or stadium is complete without a Jumbotron, and O2 was no exception. Cameras picked out happy fans in the stands, especially children, who waved frantically when they spotted themselves on the big screen. Fan quizzes were broadcast during breaks in the action, and pizzas appear to have been awarded for perfect scores. Replays and fan messages played all game long.

We might have been in Prague, but a period is still a “period”

The team even had a mascot (a Spartan warrior), who made animated appearances on the Jumbotron whenever there was a penalty or a score.

Czechs see themselves sharing a fighting spirit with Spartans of old

There were cheerleaders, though the NHL definitely did not produce their costumes.

The big costume change between periods was into a different t-shirt

The approach to fan cheering was also noticeably different. The home team had what we called in high school a pep band – drummers and a trumpeter, who pretty much performed non-stop the whole game except when things were going really badly. They led the fans in well, the same cheers from Doris’s high school football game days … in English!?!

DRUM, DRUM, DRUMDRUMDRUM, DRUMDRUMDRUMDRUM … LET’S GO! There was also a lot of We will, we will, rock you. Also in English.

When either team scored a goal, fans and cheerleaders held uniform team scarves over their heads.
TowelBut perhaps the strangest difference to Doris, who has been to more than a few sports events in her life, was in the seating, eating and drinking practices of the Sparta fans.

First, nobody left their seats during the action. Fans were managed like theater-goers: You either got to your seat before the face off or you waited in the lobby until there was a break in the action. Presumably as a result, once the play started, the aisles were absolutely empty; nobody came or went. Presumably, also as a result, during the breaks between periods, everyone left their seats.

Zambonis are universal, but an emptied arena during intermissions seemed more local.

Maybe this influenced the second surprising behavior: There wasn’t much eating or drinking going on. We spied one bag of popcorn down the row, but nary a peanut or pretzel or nacho, and the concession stands didn’t seem to be selling anything but those. No Czech sausages with mustard, no chimney cakes. For that matter, not much beer was in evidence. Each seat had two drink-holders, but – in a city with no apparent open-container law and people walking around or in outdoor cafes swigging cold beer even when it is snowing – there seemed to be at least as many Coke cups as beer cups in the holders and not all that many of those. It was as if people actually went to see the game.

Alas, the home team went down in defeat but, win or lose, the players lined up for ritual handshakes in the middle of the ice.

Just like in the U.S., the home fans beat a fast retreat from their seats in defeat.

With no dog in the fight, Louis had happily cheered for every goal, no matter who scored it. Given that there were nine goals in all (Sparta lost 6-3), it all made for a very happy afternoon. We collected the selfie stick and headed to the Metro with a vow to try to catch local sporting events whenever we can when on the road.

Coming soon: Christmas Shopping in Paris

Public art outside the O2 Arena in Prague recognizes more than hockey



10 thoughts on “For Sports Fans Only

  1. I love reading this from warm and sunny Jamaica— the etiquette of the eating and drinking and the cute and modest cheerleaders were particularly touching… civilization still reigns somewhere and good for Louis for cheering for every goal regardless of who scored the point! Bravo for the creative trip idea to live with the natives for a sports event. And glad you got the selfie stick back so we can continue to enjoy your portraits during partout!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The sobering footnote is that Czech acquaintances tell us hockey has changed in Czechia (did you know the country renamed itself? no real Czech uses this though) because the best players are all leaving for countries that play better. No matter. A good time seemed to be had by all who remain and who follow them.


  2. Give this non-viewing-non-sports-fan person a big “we will rock you!” for reading something that’s ONLY for sports-watchers! Thanks.


  3. Wow, that is a great (& well-told) story, and not for sports fans only– sports offer a great insight into many aspects of culture (tribal behavior!). Thank you so much for sharing…We’ve loved all your Partout Posts, so keep them coming! Ladd


    1. Thanks for the kind words, Ladd. Our only disappointment when we visited Havana last year was that the baseball team was out of town. Looking back after our hockey experience, we had the flexibility to visit around the schedule and probably would build that in now. You are right: it offers great insights.


  4. This is fascinating! We are brutes in comparison with those well-behaved Czechs. I have a client who is originally from Prague and will discuss this with her tomorrow when I see her. Miss you both! Carolyn

    Sent from my iPhone



  5. Like all I can say is Fred is going to read this and think Louis is the luckiest guy in the universe! Loving your retirement! Keep it coming!


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