A Game to Remember – Part One

In the build up to the Glasgow derby, we released a podcast series on our Patreon service centring around memories of the fixture – things that made it special to each fan. Following that, this double feature explores special memories of a day out watching sport. It’s easy to get caught up in the occasion when you’re pumping Rangers or battling European heavyweights so we’ve asked our panel to choose and talk about a game that meant something specifically to them. I’m Stephen Russell (@SJRussell23) and first up to talk about a game important to them are Matt Evans (@SkylandsCSC) and Stephen Wallace (@stephenwallac16).

Matt Evans – New York Islanders v Pittsburgh Penguins

To understand the National Hockey League game that took place on 11 February 2011 between the New York Islanders and the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, it helps to know a small sliver of hockey history. The Islanders, a moribund club whose glory days were long behind them, and the ascendant Penguins had met nine days earlier in Pittsburgh, in a rough-and-tumble match which saw an Islander concussed after an illegal cross-check and their goalie sustain facial fractures after being KOed with one punch in a rare fight with the opposing goalie. The Islanders lost that game, 3-0, and vowed revenge back at their arena the next week. And friends, I just managed to get tickets.

It was a Friday night, which always makes New York City-area sporting events a little more electric, and this was no exception. Although not a sellout (Islanders games rarely were in those days), the crowd was keyed-up, with a clear understanding of the situation. The Islanders were loaded for bear, having brought up textbook-definition goon Trevor Gillies from the minor leagues just for the occasion. I remember it was fucking freezing outside – well below zero for you Celsius crew. Inside the Nassau Coliseum, however, it was red-hot from jump street. 

The Islanders, running on hate and adrenaline, scored four goals in the first period to essentially put the game away very early as a hockey match. The rest was Friday night at the boxing, with two fights in the first period, including the extravagantly mustachioed Gillies taking on the Penguins’ Eric Godard, one of the most feared brawlers in the league. It was in the second period, however that this game truly took on the proportions of something different. The Islanders increased their lead to 6-0, and Islander Matt Martin took the opportunity to exact personal revenge on Maxime Talbot, who caused the concussion to Martin’s teammate in the previous game, by jumping him from behind and throwing haymakers as Talbot made like a turtle. In the arcane rules of the NHL code, refusing to fight back is a coward’s move, and it incited a mass brawl, with six players eventually ejected. 

The second period ended, and I remember a sort of weird feeling about the arena. The beer buzz was starting to wear off for a lot of us, most of whom, myself included, had to drive home. What happened in the third was both supremely satisfying and pretty shocking. The game was long over, the Islanders up 8-2, but they had not gotten their full measure of revenge for having lost two players to Pittsburgh’s previous goonery. With five minutes gone in the third, Trevor Gillies, on the ice for one reason only, took dead aim at Penguins forward Eric Tangradi, checking him into the boards with an elbow to the face and then raining blows to his head as other fights erupted around them.

If you watch that video, you can hear people in the crowd – mostly kids, probably – screaming in fear as two teams of six tried to beat the absolute shit out of each other. And it was a bad scene. Tangradi had been concussed from the initial elbow, not to mention the seven or eight unshielded punches, and Gillies standing just off the ice taunting him as he struggled to get to his feet was in hindsight a really shitty thing to do. But at the time, as an Islanders fan – mocked by the rest of the league for years? It felt fucking incredible, and to do it to the arrogant, dirty Penguins was even better – no matter the consequences. 

Five players missed significant time as a result of injuries from the two games, and Tangradi missed the rest of the season. The suspensions the league handed out were legendarily punitive, in an effort to make sure something so family-unfriendly and retrograde never happened again. Gillies missed nine games, Godard ten. In Gillies’ first game back, he was ejected for another fight, suspended ten games, and never played another minute in the NHL.

But for the Islanders franchise, looking back through recent history, it represented the point at which the club turned things around. After missing the playoffs in 6 of the previous 7 seasons, they made the postseason the very next year – and have had more success since than any period over the last three decades. However, on that frigid February night, walking back through the vast parking lots to our cars, honking “LET’S – GO – IS-LAN-DERS” on our car horns as we slowly wound our way towards Long Island’s tangled motorways, all we knew was that we had finally, just once, stood up for ourselves when it counted.

Stephen Wallace – Scotland v Liechtenstein

When I was younger, I only went to Celtic games with my dad. We always had the same routine and I loved it. When I got into first year, I went to my first ever game without my dad, and my first ever non-Celtic game: Scotland v Liechtenstein. My school were running a trip. My old man paid my money for my ticket and bus and gave me money for a McDonalds. I was absolutely buzzing. A group of boys heading up to Hampden with the sound teachers that were only there for the free ticket. A few 5thand 6thyears were there and were having beers on the bus. The chants were in full flow and we’d stopped at least twice for pish stops. As a pre-pubescent 12-year-old boy, I was starting to low-key shit myself. I was used to driving to the games with my dad and going for our pre-match KFC. We parked miles away because the driver had no clue where he was going so, we had a long walk to the stadium. We joined up with the usual suspects that go to these games: grown men with kilts and sporrans and those wee hats with feathers on. The thing that really stands out from this night was one of the older boys starting a ‘get your tits out for the lads’ chant – schoolboy-like but that’s what we were.

I don’t remember much from the game itself. The match reports say it was a tough night for Scotland and a tough night for myself as I was missing my beloved Celtic. It took until they scored one minute into the second half to get me riled up. A team ranked 144thin the world at the time taking the lead at Hampden, typical. I had to stop myself celebrating Scotland’s equaliser because it was Kenny Miller, but I was happy nonetheless. It seemed like Scotland were going to wrap up the game, but it wasn’t to happen until late, late, late on. Stephen McManus, sold from Celtic to Middlesbrough that summer (and one of my all-time favourite Celtic players), scored a bullet header to give Scotland the win. Pandemonium. I saw my English teacher in tears. I hugged the weird techy teacher then instantly regretted it. The whole of Hampden was buzzing. The bus home was brilliant. I joined in the chants. I joined in the banter. I had a great time. However, nothing will ever beat going to Celtic Park with my dad. 

Want to share your sports memories with us? Get in touch in the comments below or on Twitter @90MinuteCynic. Missing Celtic and bored of the international break? Subscribe to us at www.patreon.com/90MinuteCynic for non-stop unparalleled Celtic coverage and discussion.

Despite growing up, and now studying, in England, Celtic have always been a huge part of my life. I first watched the team with my dad; I fell in love and then there was no turning back. Torn between a statistically enhanced footballing style and a good, old-fashioned get-it-in-the-mixer-and-score style.

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