Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Kopite Scorned

Sports fans are an unruly lot. Poke your head into a sports bar during pretty well any sporting event and you’re likely to witness all sorts of rowdy behavior. From yelling at the plethora of TV screens and constant “high fiving” (a predominantly North American trait), to swilling and spilling beer, the sports bar crowd is a unique, primarily male microcosm of our society. And, it is just such a mob that I found myself firmly planted amongst for hockey viewing yesterday evening.

It all started harmlessly enough. A couple of buddies and I met up after work at a downtown Vancouver sports bar to down a few pints and take in a Vancouver Canucks telecast. There were several hockey games on the various screens, and plenty of people on hand to cheer on all the different teams. In typical Canadian fashion, there was some polite competitive jawing going on between fans sporting an assortment of jerseys, but it was all in good fun.

However, as the evening progressed I couldn’t help but notice an increasing number of another sort of jersey. Unlike the pullover style hockey sweater, these jerseys had collars, and all of them were red. That’s when it dawned on me: red means The Reds, as in the Liverpool Football Club. It’s mid-February, and the second round of the UEFA Champions League is just getting underway. The bar was most certainly filling up for an international football match, which on a world scale far outweighs the significance of a hockey game.

Still, I was puzzled because the matches are played at night in Europe, which means the live broadcast in Vancouver should be at mid day. One member of our table turned out to be a fellow from Liverpool (I suppose I should have known by his flipped-up collar and, well, accent…), and he explained that he had been in the same bar earlier that day to watch Liverpool take on arch rival AC Milan. He was now back in the bar to watch the rebroadcast of the same game. He also pointed out a few “blokes” who had watched it with him, but had remained in the bar since that time. They also planned to watch it all over again, provided that they could keep their heads up off the bar. Such is the dedication of the average football fan.

As such, football fans, especially the English, are a whole breed apart from hockey fans. You’ve probably heard the term “English football hooligan”. It is more or less interchangeable with the term “English football fan”, and refers to an unbridled passion for a specific club (and the English national team) as well as a general state of drunken disorderliness. English fans are notorious for violence at matches both home and abroad, and as a result have actually been barred en masse from attending World Cup games involving their beloved English squad. Liverpool fans, who refer to themselves as “Kopites”, are some of the least reputable, as displayed in the 1985 European Cup final against Juventus F.C. where they essentially killed 39 Italian supporters.

Which brings me back to the sports bar last night, and the growing presence of red clad Kopites. Our pal from Liverpool felt quite at home, especially since he already had 5 pints or so under his belt and posses the prerequisite accent. Meanwhile, my buddy Gary and I were starting to feel strangely outnumbered by Liverpool football “fans” in our hometown establishment. So when we looked up from yet another deep hockey oriented discussion to see our pal chatting with a rather large, crooked nosed skinhead in a red jersey, we wanted to do our best to fit in. Since he was sitting right next to the guy, Gary put on his best face, stuck out his hand for a shake and exclaimed “Hey buddy, nice win today!”

Just like that, our lives were in grave danger. Well, not necessarily mine, but most certainly Gary’s. I had some lesser sort of guilt by association, but Gary had committed a mortal sin.

Almost immediately, this massive Kopite dropped Gary’s hand and slowly backed away. His face grew redder and the veins in his skull began pulsating to the extent that I was sure they would soon explode. He glared unflinchingly at Gary as his mouth began to froth a little around the corners.

“Why you f*ckin’…!” he began before his voice trailed off.
Finally, after much hyper-ventilating, he thrust his chin forward and shrieked, “I’m going to kill you!
He then turned on his heels and charged off to a nearby table where he started gesticulating wildly to a group of red jerseys, occasionally turning back towards our table and pointing at Gary while nodding menacingly.

Unbeknownst to us, the fellow had just been telling our pal from Liverpool that he had gone to great lengths to get through the entire day without learning who had won the match. He was just about to sit down and watch it with his mates who had all accomplished the same feat.

But fate was not on his side. Gary was. And his perfectly orchestrated plans had been dashed right before his now glazed eyes.

An idle death threat, you ask? Something not to be taken seriously, perhaps? Well, maybe you should pose that question to certain Italian families? I for one wasn’t sticking around to find out. A woman scorned has nothing on a Kopite burned, and I was headed for home before this one unleashed his fury.

Oh, and if you’re curious, I did receive a text from Gary this morning, so I’m assuming he survived the ordeal. In the end, if I know Gary, he probably had them all charmed in no time, and has been invited to join in with them for the airing of the next match. Just like a Liverpool fan, Gary never seems to walk alone.