29 September 2013

Happiness is a cluttered wall

I'd never much paid attention to the John Lennon Wall, a graffiti-filled symbol of freedom in the Mala Strana section of Prague near the Charles Bridge, after seeing it for the first time in the summer of 2011. "Why," I would ask myself or some poor colleague who happened to be there when the topic arose, "would a John Lennon wall have graffiti about nearly everything except, you know, John Lennon or the Beatles?"

Last night, I got that answer.

The wall is not about John Lennon.

"It was about pissing off the secret police."

13 September 2013

On the road again (police escort optional)

I'll be attending my favorite hockey team's season opener tonight, and I can only hope that this time I'll be able to leave the arena without a police escort.

Tonight's trip to Kladno will mark the fourth time I have watched Slavia Prague play on enemy turf. On two occasions I've stood with the boisterous supporters group for a Sparta Prague match. And last March, I was the only non-Czech speaker to ride a bus to Plzen for Game 4 of the league semifinal series.

CEZ Coliseum in Plzen.
The place was predictably hostile. Our group of less than 100 red-and-white-clad fans received plenty of cold stares as we marched to the arena, where we made our way to the upper corner. In the second period, when things got chippy, our fans and the ones to our immediate right (where there was no real barrier) traded verbal jabs, and all was well until one of our fans decided that throwing a cup of beer in their direction was a good idea. The volume went up, the amount of tossed beer increased, and the police made their way to the bottom of our section. Nothing further ensued and Slavia finished off a satisfying victory to even the best-of-7 series at 2-2.

And then, we waited. And sung. And waited and sung, and waited some more. And sung. At least half an hour passed. And then the building looked like this:

Finally, we were allowed to leave. We slowly filed out, singing as we walked through the empty arena, concourse and stairwell. Police led and followed us. 

But we weren't home free yet. Far from it. Apparently there was not enough police to protect Slavia's team and the fans, so we waited by Slavia's team bus. We sang players' names as they emerged. Even the assistant coach got a song. Finally, the coach came out -- Vladimir Ruzicka, who is known for two-plus seasons of offensive brilliance in Boston but is an absolute legend in the Czech Republic, having captained the 1998 gold medalists in Nagano. I waited until he was off to the side, spoke in very poor Czech to him, and then we chatted briefly in English. More players came out, fans took photos and banged drums, we sang more songs, and finally, more than an hour after the game ended, we walked up the hill to our bus ... where Plzen fans who had been standing behind a line of police challenged us to fights. It was at this moment when the reason for the police escort became clear to me.

Plzen won the next two matches and then won their first-ever league title in triple overtime of Game 7, on a goal from Martin Straka, the former Penguin who is now their captain, GM and owner. Straka continued his form last night, scoring the first goal of this season.

And that's where we stand now. The Special Assistant to the Blogger and I will soon be off to Kladno, about 25km west of Prague. I wouldn't mind seeing another victory on the road. I could do without another escort.