Grenoblois! Allez, allez, allez!

hockey

So rings the loudspeaker at the Stade Nautique. We’re at an ice hockey match.

I’m not the sporty kind, but as baseball is obligatory for the American exchanger, rugby for the Welsh one, so it seems necessary to come and sample this one of Grenoble’s many winter sports.

It’s not a disappointment.

The hockey disc whizzes up and down the ice rink while the blink of an eye suffices to miss a goal. I’m impressed by the players; robotic like creatures padded up with protection and towering in their skates, they power around the rink, slamming into walls and swinging back like punch bags. Plus, the majority of them are amusingly mustacheoed, resembling anything from Monsieur le Français to my scary Year 5 PE teacher.

The Grenoble team are called “Brûleurs de loups”: literally, “Wolf Burners.” Apparently this logoname originates in Grenoble folklore, harking back to the harsh old days in the Alps. In 17th Century St Christophe en Oisans, prowling wolves would terrorise livestock and cause all manner of problems. This continued until the peasants finally went up in arms, trapped a wolf pack in a small area of forest and burned them alive.

Nowadays, not much is to be seen of these effective, but gruesome measures. The team mascot, a giant fluffy wolf, plays tennis in the rink and shake’s my friends hand, all the while that material sparks of flame stick out from its head and tail. Four centuries later, he’s probably used to it.

Grenoble vs. Strasbourg; the match is full of suspense. Off to a shaky start, Grenoble scores its first goal in the final minute of the second round. Frankly, the rules of the game are beyond me. Yellow Strasbourgiens get sent off cursing, vulnerable looking referees dodge flying discs and charging players, while the mysterious words “dégagement interdit” require a stop in play as 70s disco music rains down from the heavens.

In the end Grenoble wins: 1 – 0. The atmosphere in the stadium is brilliant. We all cheer.

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