In 2010, Jono Bullard wrote about attending a bitter rivalry German Hockey game between Cologne & Düsseldorf on the old TCW website. Almost 10 years later David Spence took in the intense local derby game between Cologne Sharks & DEG Düsseldorf in the DEL on 3rd January 2020. He writes about the match experience now and how it compares to our own ‘biggest rivalry between Nottingham & Sheffield.
“The biggest rivalry on European Hockey” is the line we are routinely sold from our own organisation whenever a game against the Steelers comes around. Now whilst the rivalry may seem stale compared to years gone by, there is no arguing it’s the ‘biggest’ game within the Elite League based on attendance alone (I’ll come back to this) which is where the Panthers try to base their claim. I also don’t doubt for one second that the rivalry is still there within the fan base as it is the game that both fan bases hate to lose the most.
However, no matter what Gary Moran, Panthers, Steelers or Bill & Ben in the pub will tell you it isn’t the biggest rivalry In European hockey, it’s not even close.
Based on attendance alone it is eclipsed more than twice over based on the NIC attendance by the 18,600 fans that cram into the LANXESS arena in Cologne, Germany for what needs no more billing than Kölner Haie vs Düsseldorfer EG. The fans and residents of both towns do not need to be told it’s the “coolest clash in sports” as we were told in advance of New Years Eve. They know nothing more needs to be said, the hatred is evident between the two fan bases. The small pocket of away fans trying to applaud their team onto the ice are rendered irrelevant by the vociferous booing from the home fans as the players from DEG enter the ice. This booing was louder than the cheer they gave their own players at the start of proceedings. There is also a sense of identity with this fixture as the home fans make it a sea of Red, White and Black in line with the clubs colours almost as if they are all ready for battle against their bitter rivals, whereas the NIC is more a sea of sequins and stilettos for those making the game their pre-night out entertainment.
The hatred is further on show throughout proceedings with the frequent chant of Scheiße, Scheiße Düsseldorf, which is so basic it is brilliant. There was a response from the DEG fans but they were so far away, and my German isn’t that great to know what exactly it was but you could tell it was less than complimentary. Now in the UK the “family” atmosphere is so rammed down our neck that in recent years the “If you all hate Steelers” chant has been described by someone as a hate crime (yes this is serious). If this person were in attendance at the LANXESS I would expect them to be calling for the big red button to be pressed against the entirety of the DEL.
There is more money in the DEL, the venues are larger, and the presentation is much better and there is less player turnover compared to the EIHL which helps build these rivalries at least during the match night experience. Panthers have the new screen which they are starting to utilize better could look to create some “rivalry” specific content for future games as could Steelers with the technology they have in place at their rink.
A sense of realism is needed to stop with the unnecessary hyperbole when it comes to describing our rivalry because I reckon if Cologne or Düsseldorf had the time to look into our rivalry these days I think they’d say our claims are a load of old Scheiße!