Far from the Madding Crowd

Traveling in Italy, a Canucks fan learns Vancouver not only has lost, it's burning.

By Steve Burgess 17 Jun 2011 |

The mercurial Steve Burgess has temporarily abandoned his duties as film writer for The Tyee to travel in Europe.

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Evening in Bologna: not a whiff of tear gas. Photo: il CAMA, used under Creative Commons License.

When you're abroad, it's never a good thing to hear Canucks news. The rest of the world's indifference to ice hockey means that, should the familiar names of Vancouver hockey heroes be heard on cable, something has probably gone horribly wrong. In 2004, I was shaving in a Bangkok hotel room when the name "Bertuzzi" incongruously popped out of a CNN broadcast droning away in the next room. I knew that couldn't be good.

And now the Canucks have made international news again, if only tangentially. Not their fault, really. It wasn't the flighty Luongo or the listless Sedins that made our wonderful city a byword for public idiocy. That was the work of their faithful fans.

I count myself as one of those. So I had been agonizing these last two weeks, even before the trouble hit. I am in Italy, on a trip planned months ago. I had the chance to grab a frequent flyer ticket and had to decide on the spot: will this be the year? Or will the lads break our hearts again? I bet on the latter and booked my ticket, leaving shortly after that joyous evening when the San Jose Sharks were dispatched. In hindsight, the perfect time to go. If only our media wasn't so damned global.


I am in Bologna now. I arrived in the evening, about seven hours before game seven. With no way to watch -- and puck dropping at 2 a.m. local time -- I turned in and hoped to awake happy. All night I dreamed of Bruin victories. When I awoke those dark visions were not a patch on the reality. Like so many other Canucks faithful, I once again found myself wondering what kind of company my team loyalty forces me to keep.

Walking around Bologna the day after the riot, it was impossible not to make comparisons. Here in one of Europe's loveliest little cities, home to covered promenades, a leaning tower as scary as Pisa's, and cuisine that is arguably the equal of any in Italy, it is simply hard to imagine seeing the same sort of nonsense that disgraced our hometown.

That's not to idealize Bologna, or Italy, or Europe. In August 1980, Bologna was the site of a terrorist bombing by a neo-Fascist group with possible government support -- a tragedy worse than any of our home-grown outrages, and one that speaks to the dark history of Italian politics that persists in some ways to the present day. Next door in Greece, there have been some nasty riots going on too, and while they are not over anything so trivial as a hockey game, they are not exactly noble popular uprisings either -- basically, people who've been living large on EU subsidies are throwing tantrums because the Germans don't want to write them cheques anymore. It's hardly the French Revolution.

And yet, there's no getting around it. We may not have won the Cup, but this week Vancouver sure takes the cake. We come off to the world like a particularly primitive genus of pond scum. Drunken Italians may piss outdoors too much for my liking, but it's unlikely they would behave like a mob of 12-year-olds who finally broke the lock on Daddy's liquor cabinet. That seems to be a Lower Mainland thing. Right now, our closest kin are the English soccer hooligans that threatened for awhile to make Britain a worldwide synonym for loutish violence.

Eventually the soccer world cracked down on those cretins. What about ours? After a playoff season that often focused on suspensions, it feels like another one is necessary.

Do what FIFA does after violent stadium incidents -- make the Canucks play in an empty building a few times.

Or cut off the cable at the Shark Club.

Or force every non-resident entering downtown to wear an ankle bracelet on game nights.

Or suspend habeas corpus, arrest entire groups of bystanders and throw them into big new underground prisons where jack-booted sadists will whip them with telephone cords until they spit blood.

I don't know. I'm depressed right now. A lot of people are. Maybe the simplest thing would just be a new goalie.  [Tyee]

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