London Calling

13Feb07

With all the hullabaloo of a pair of Kings games (um…are they really the most marketable international team?) to be played at the new O2 Arena in London, it got me to thinking, erm, reminiscing about my time in London. Now I won’t bore you with the fun stuff I did there — though I did see Pulp live in Finsbury Park which is one of the highlights of my life — but there is one surprising place to note where I ran into a random hockey fan.

Back in the late 90’s, Sports Illustrated profiled a small London shop called Sportspages. The store was dedicated to books and magazines of all sports — not just soccer/football and cricket, but sports from all over the world. In fact, SI noted that at least at that time, it was pretty much the only shop of its kind.

When I lived in London the first time for a study abroad program in 1998, I didn’t make it out to Sportspages. The second time, when I worked as a bartender after graduating college in 2000, I made a note to stop by there just to see if it lived up to the hype.

Sportspages is nestled between a host of shops on Charring Cross road, about a mile from where my flat was at the time. It’s pretty inconspicuous, or at least it was at that time seven years ago. Just a small shop with countless magazines and books lining the shelves. I walked in there and picked up a schedule for the now-defunct London Knights, London’s hockey Superleague team that was going to start in a few weeks. The old gentleman behind the counter noticed what I was looking at and asked if I was a hockey fan.

We started talking about the Knights and hockey in general and I mentioned how I was a Sharks season ticket holder. His eyes instantly lit up and he asked me if I ever thought Patrick Marleau would ever live up to his potential.

Now, of all the strange conversations I could have several thousand miles from home, I would have never thought I’d be talking with a British shopkeeper about whether or not Patrick Marleau would be good. We talked about how frustrating he could be with his consistency — though I’m sure the old fellow is plenty impressed with the Sharks captain these days. He told me that he loved how Owen Nolan played and thought that Vincent Damphousse was a “poof” (not the nicest term in British slang) for wearing a face shield.

He also mentioned that he was a huge Red Wings fan which goes to show you that they really are everywhere. He said that once a season, he flies out to Detroit to catch a game at Joe Louis Arena.

At the end of our conversation, he said that he had tickets to the Knights and he’d take me to a game if I’d like. Unfortunately, I had already booked my flight back and would miss the season opener by about two weeks. It was too bad too, since I would have been able to nab a kick-ass Knights jersey to confuse folks back home. Still, I appreciated the offer and it just goes to show you that hockey fans, no matter where they are, are as passionate as they come. If you go to London to catch the Kings game or just for fun, make sure you stop by Sportspages. You just might find a person starving for some hockey conversation.

Oh, and another note about London — when I was there, there were a number of small sports/fashion shops and stands off Oxford street. Most of there stuff was soccer-related but almost every one of them had a number of replica hockey jerseys for 20 pounds (about $35). I don’t know if they were in style at the time or what, but I got one of the really ugly old Coyotes home jerseys cheaper than I had ever seen. It might have been a knock-off but it still had the CCM tags on it.

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5 Responses to “London Calling”

  1. 1 Danny Pugsley

    Any word on the reason behind the games being staged over here in the UK?

    Whilst there is a dedicated hardcore fan base in the UK, there isn’t really the potential market to grow the sport I wouldn’t have thought.

    By the way, the hockey jerseys always seemed pretty real to me!

  2. 2 Mike Chen

    I think it’s just a publicity stunt to try and generate overseas interest in the league — gauge interest to see if promoting over there might be an untapped revenue stream. Plus I just read that the Kings ownership group also owns the arena, so that explains that pick.

    It would, however, make more sense to me to start with games in more hockey-friendly countries, like Sweden or Finland, then work outwards to the UK and other areas where the sport’s not as popular.

    Hey, my Yotes jersey I bought on Oxford street back in 2000 still hasn’t disintegrated in the washing machine so it must be real!

  3. 3 PPP

    Hockey can pop up in the strangest places. On a train to Spain from Lisbon during Euro 2004 I had a long discussion about Cristobal Huet with a Frenchmen. Once he knew I was Canadian it was all he could talk about.

    The funny thing is that the same thing happened to a friend of mine in Finland that same spring.

    It can’t hurt to expose the game to a market like the UK especially with the growth of NASN.

  4. 4 Stevens8204

    It will be nice to see them playing in London. That being said….I hope they move onward to Sweden, Finland, etc. Then include other teams in the mix…that would be quite a step forward for a league that can’t be any more backward right now.

  5. 5 Anonymous

    I’m fed up of hearing about how backwards the NHL is these days. The fact is that the NHL has the marketing potential to dwarf all of the other Major North American sports leagues put together outside of North America. Do you think they give a toss about the Oakland A’s in Helsinki? or the Miami Heat in Omsk? I doubt it, but they sure care about the Red Wings, Maple Leafs etc etc. All the NHL needs to do is make a better fist of getting people to see the games and I think this is a positive step on their behalf and they should be congratulated on it. Sure we in the UK may not be on the same level as Sweden or Finland in terms of supporting this game but there are a lot of Hockey fans here that care about this sport and it wouldn’t surprise me if both games sold out. I shall be travelling down from near Liverpool (200+ miles away) to see one of these games and I bet I won’t be the only one.


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