Kirkcaldy, Scotland One of the biggest changes in making the transition from Italy to Scotland was the hockey. Not the game — hockey is hockey everywhere — but the atmosphere surrounding it.
Prior to joining the Fife Flyers for the 2015-16 season, Ryan played in Cortina, Italy, for four years, where the fans were mostly loyal, mostly refined and mostly quiet.
The rink in Cortina — just like everything else in Cortina — is beautiful. it was used during the 1956 Olympics and has one wall made entirely of glass, which looks out over the Dolomite Mountains. It’s constructed of dark, sloping wood and holds 12,000 people; a problem in a town of 6,000. When the fans piled into the rink on game night, they were lost in the giant Stadio Olimpico.
In Cortina, fans ambled into the rink five minutes before the games were due to start, bundled in fur-lined jackets and boots. They purchased glasses of wine to sip on throughout the game. When the team won, they would smile and have more wine, and when the team lost, they would shrug and make their way home for a late dinner.
In Scotland, the scene is different. The other night, I dropped Ryan off for his game two hours early. The parking lot was already completely full, and the fans were standing around the rink tailgating happily in the rainy mist. These are not fans that show up to the game five minutes before the puck drops.
The rink in Kirkcaldy — just like everything else in Kirkcaldy — is gritty. The parking lot is always full of deep puddles, beer bottles and rabid fans who don’t wear fur, but, more appropriately in my opinion, hockey jerseys. There are 3,500 seats, which are filled each home game with screaming, cheering fans. These fans are not getting lost in their arena.
There are flags and drums and songs. There are chants — for individual players, for the team and for the town of Kirkcaldy in general — and there are chirps. And even though we aren’t in Italy anymore, I have absolutely no idea what any of them are saying when they’re screaming at the refs, at the players, at the other team. Their accents are so thick and deep that I’m almost not sure they’re speaking English.
Halfway through the first game of the season, Ryan got a penalty for interference and skated over to the “penalty box,” which is actually a folding chair set on the other side of the boards. He searched for the door so that he could get off the ice but couldn’t find one — because there was no door.
The woman behind me screamed “Yer in Fife now, son! Hop on over!” So Ryan jumped over the boards and served his penalty in the folding chair.
After the casual and suave wine-drinking fans in Italy, the fans in Fife seem like wild beasts, which are the best kind of fans to have. They cheer for their team in victory and pressure them in loss and stand behind them no matter what.
At last weekend’s game, the ref made a bad call against the Flyers, and the man sitting in front of us, who was wearing a jersey that said “Mean Machine” on the back, unleashed a torrent of something indecipherable that caused the rest of Section C to start screaming at the ref in a show of solidarity.
“What are they saying?” my cousin asked, who was visiting from Boston.
“I have absolutely no idea,” I said.
Two minutes later, most likely fearful of running into the Mean Machine in the parking lot, the ref decided to even the score by calling a penalty on the opposing team. And this time everyone screamed at him in great approval.