CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 10 . . . .January 20, 2006
In Northern Ireland there is no Protestant hockey team. There is no Catholic hockey team. There is simply the Belfast Giants. Hockey has done something soccer has been unable to do in Northern Ireland. It has created a place where any person, regardless of religious background, can come together to cheer on their team. A team made up players from many diverse religions and backgrounds.
The Belfast Giants is mostly made up of Canadian players who volunteered to come to Northern Ireland and be part of a project that would include erecting an ice arena, playing on the Belfast team, and coaching youths. The film focuses on the lives of two of these youths, one Catholic and one Protestant, who come together, despite their religious differences, to play hockey and to share a friendship.
Paul, a 15-year-old Catholic, lives in a mixed (Protestant/Catholic) estate and goes to a mixed school. His parents have a mixed marriage. Andrew is a 15-year-old Protestant who lives in a Protestant estate and attends that same mixed school as Paul. His parents are Protestant. If not for their love of the game of hockey, these boys would probably never have given each other a second glance.
Paul and Andrew overheard conversations each was having with someone else and discovered both played hockey. Anywhere else this would not be significant, but this is Belfast. Paul and Andrew formed a fast “hockey” friendship. Each wants to play hockey in Canada professionally, and each values the friendship they have made while enjoying this cool, icy game.
Hockey brings together a diverse group of people from different backgrounds and different religions to enjoy an event united as one. The Belfast Hockey fans personal disputes are set aside in this time and space because the ice arena is non-sectarian.
Paul and Andrew’s friendship goes beyond the game of hockey. They like the same food, dislike each others’ taste in music, enjoy hanging out, and appreciate each other’s uniqueness. Their parents worry sometimes about the boys being in “living districts” where mixing religions is frowned upon, but the boys are very aware of the dangers and take extra precautions. Distinctions between districts are clearly marked with colours, flags, and murals, and Paul and Andrew are careful to keep their conversation guarded.
However, the boys go to the Belfast Giants hockey games relaxed and free. A non-sectarian rink means both Protestants and Catholic fans support their team. Paul and Andrew see the religious conflicts as being a power struggle—one group of people wanting to be better than another. There is no power struggle for these two. They respect each other's distinctions and take responsibility for each other's well-being. Their friendship comes first.
The soccer teams come from opposing districts of Belfast and team colours represent Protestant and Catholic beliefs. Wearing one’s team colour can result in violent encounters, and new reports have attested to this, but the hockey team is for all the people of Belfast—neutral.
There is a wall that divides the Protestant and Catholic districts—a peace line:
Fear keeps people apart. They are afraid that, if they accept each others’ beliefs, theirs will be lost. Paul and Andrew do not see each other as a “religious belief.” They see each other through similar interests, ideas, and the responsibility friendship brings. They work harder at their friendship because of the circumstances in which they live. Their parents have become friends because of Paul and Andrew’s acceptance of each other. Oh yes, and they all love the hockey.
Jocelyn A. Dimm is a sessional instructor and PhD Candidate at the University of Victoria where she teaches drama education and young adult literature in the Faculty of Education.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.