Growing up in Sweden, I was put on ice at an early age. To start, I was given a double-bladed contraption, which was adjustable and got attached to the bottom of my winter boots. Clad in the typical winter coverall everyone little one seemed to wear at that age, thick gloves and a warm woolly hat with an ice hockey helmet on top, I was let loose on the ice. Well, perhaps not let loose, but offered a stable place until I was comfortable shuffling along by myself.
The Dreaded Skates
Once I figured out the balancing business, I was upgraded to tight-fitting ankle-high white skates with some silly sharp bits (toe picks) at the front. As I was a female, I was expected to do pirouettes and thus, needing these to help me turn. The skates went back to the shop, and I was positively giddy that I would get some cool black skates, but alas, no. Instead, some of the toe picks were removed. At least this meant I could skate better as I wasn’t suddenly stopped when gliding along. Fairly soon, I also got a small ice hockey stick in my hands.
The Winter Version of Football
During the dark winter months, with the sun setting early in the afternoons, the snow and ice make the days brighter, so nearby football pitches would be sprayed with water late in the evening and left to freeze overnight. The kids would meet up after school and on weekends to play some friendly ice hockey, or bandy or anything involving various types of sticks (from indoor unihoc, land hockey, ice hockey, etc) and pucks or tennis balls. In the winter, ice skating became our version of football, and everyone joined in. Some years, I remember sometimes using my skis to get to one of the ice-covered football pitches further away, as that one was better (smoother and thicker ice) than the closest one.
Ice Hockey Was Everywhere
National television and radio provided live broadcasts of the ice hockey league every week. With two local-ish teams (Malmö and Rögle) in the highest division (nowadays, called the Swedish Hockey League), there was much excitement on matchdays. My team, the Malmö Redhawks, were the most successful in the 1990s when they (we!) won the Swedish Championships in 1992 and 1994 as well as the European Cup the year in between.
Moving to England
When I moved to England, I left lots of things behind, including friends and belongings. Moving to another country also meant that I packed away some sport-related interests, including ice hockey, handball and the Swedish version of indoor hockey (innebandy or unihoc). Thanks to a then local pub, I’ve managed to watch Sweden win the World Championship in 2006 and 2013. The fact that Sweden also became world champions again in 2017 and 2018, didn’t even register in English news. I still have not come across English ice hockey in any media, be it the news or social platforms, and none of my friends or colleagues ever talk about it. To me, even considering watching ice hockey in England seemed as foreign as learning that there is more than one version of poker and that you can play it online for real money. Poker news probably gets way more coverage!
The English Version of Ice Skating
One year, I read in the papers about pop-up ice rinks in London. I was excited, got a group of friends together and booked us some tickets for a fixed slot of skating (no spontaneity allowed). On the day, I was full of energy and was looking forward to the event until I realised that out of our group of ten, it was only two of us (the two Swedes…) that had ever skated before!
We were all kitted out with plastic well-worn, wide skates, with not too sharp blades, and when our slot started, we were let out on the ice; but not much happened. After a while, I realised why. Most of the crowd, mainly adults, were waiting for a space on the fence around the ice rink to become free so they could hang onto it as the skated.
Finding another route onto the ice, I started skating around, only to be told I had to go around and around and around, counter-clockwise and no backward skating or weaving in between other skaters. Seriously, England? If you ever want to make ice skating and ice hockey fun, please don’t put everyone off by forcing the population to skate in circles, stuck behind someone so slow, even the skating-aid penguins are overtaking you.