Earlier this year, Pittsblogher Kim Lyons wrote about the British Pens Fan Club, aka "Brinzers," a devoted group of hockey fans who cheer for the Pittsburgh Penguins from across the pond. One of their members, James Bird, visited the states last week and took in three Penguins games, two at Consol and one in New Jersey. We asked James to write us a little dispatch about his visit (and left in his British spelling for the sake of authenticity).
November 19th started like most days, I woke up at around 9 a.m. GMT, got out of bed and took a look out the window. The difference being instead of gazing out at a residential street in Bedfordshire in the east of England, I was looking out over Point State Park from the 19th floor of my hotel at about 4 a.m..
And it was a hockey night in Pittsburgh!
I should probably start with why on earth a 23-year-old Englishman from the old mill town of Burnley in Lancashire is a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Well it all started with a PlayStation and with my favourite animal being the penguin, there was only one team that was ever going to catch my eye. I fell in love with the computer games and gradually the game it was based on. In the late 1990s and early 2000s watching hockey in the UK wasn’t always easy, especially not when you weren’t allowed up beyond 10p.m.! I would print out and stick pictures of my favourite players into a scrapbook every week, hoping that one day I’d get to watch my heroes Jaromir Jagr and Alexei Morozov in the flesh. I didn’t even get to listen to a game until I stumbled on Pens Radio in May 2001 when, as a 10-year-old, I sat at the family computer captivated as I listened to an early face off between the Penguins and Sabres. Fast forward seven years and I was watching every game of the 2008 playoffs in the middle of the night, and it’s been that way ever since.
Now on to my trip. I should mention this isn’t my first visit to Pittsburgh, as I came over in mid-March earlier this year for three games. But this one was a bit more special, as the British Penguins Fan Club had built up a much larger following, with many living in the city itself. One of our Twitter friends, Angela, had arranged to meet up with me for lunch and as we ate in Il Pizzaiolo, she pointed out that several Pens had just come in to eat. So once we and they had finished eating I approached Robert Bortuzzo, explained I had come over from England and asked if they’d mind having a picture with me. Obviously, they were more than happy to and I ended up with a fantastic picture of me, in a British Penguins t-shirt, with several members of the roster!
On to the evening and the game against the Flyers. I had the best seats I had ever had at Consol and was two rows from the glass in the corner. The big difference you notice as someone who rarely sees a game other than on TV is how much quicker the game looks up close, in particular the big stars like Sidney Crosby, who make what they are doing look so effortless. Another big difference to UK sports is how friendly everyone else in the crowd is. This only became more evident when they heard a British accent, and it was amazing to see how pleased people were that someone had travelled across the Atlantic to see the Pens. The result wasn’t what I hoped for and it was disappointing to see my first Penguins loss, but the experience was still worth the long journey because of all the people I met during the intermissions and the fantastic Bob Grove of Pens Radio.
Thursday was a rest day from hockey and I took in the Carnegie Museums, a big difference here for someone from Britain is that you have to pay?! Most of our museums are free but the Carnegie was well worth the $20, as it has an impressive collection and takes several hours to explore properly. A few drinks in the bars of the South Side that night polished off the only hockey- free night of my trip, and then it was game day for the Nashville Predators game.
I took my seat in the upper bowl to watch the 4-1 win, which was a big improvement on Wednesday night. It was also interesting to see my first live fight when Tanner Glass dealt with his opponent after receiving the challenge. The only downside to the game was hearing the woos for the fourth time at Consol.
That was all for the Pittsburgh portion of my trip and I had an amazing time, ate several fantastic Primanti’s sandwiches and met a lot of fantastic people in the friendliest city I have ever spent time in. I was sad to be leaving a city that has been so welcoming to me not once but twice, but the game at New Jersey and the Kings @ Rangers game were ahead of me as well as seeing the sights of New York.
One thing is for sure, I’ll be back, Pittsburgh!