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United: Fans Around the Globe

By Sasha Kandrach - NewYorkIslanders.com

For many, being an Islanders fan runs deep in their bloodline. It is a constant that bridges generations together. It is a community, outside at tailgates, in the stands at the Coliseum, at meetups across the country and around the world. To be a fan of the Islanders means that you are a member of the family. 

 

It has been nearly a full-calendar year since the Isles had fans at Nassau Coliseum. More than just missing the opportunity to cheer the players on the ice, Islanders fans are missing those meaningful connections with other fans in the Islanders family. 

On The Island

For Season Ticket Member and Long Island native, Glen Vogel, being an avid Islanders fan has been a way of life for him since the 1980s. It is something that he has passed on to his three sons. Glen has even created a crazed Islanders fan out of his family's foreign-exchange student from Germany, who - prior to his time stateside - had never even watched a hockey game. 

 

Now, with his oldest son stationed at an Air Force base in Colorado, Glen and his sons relish the moments that they get to catch up over the Isles and bond over their love for the team.

 

"It's one of the most special bonding experiences," Glen said. "For me as a dad, to throw on my gear, for my sons to throw on their Islanders gear, to pile in the car, we stop and grab good ole fashioned Long Island pizza along the way and go to the game. My kids have just lived for those moments."

 

 

"I have two boys still at the house here, but nothing makes me happier than getting a text from my son out in Colorado about a game," Glen said. "When you become a dad, it's a privilege to pass on your fandom to your kids. Sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes it's a curse, but I wouldn't trade those memories for anything."

 

While Glen and his sons have not yet missed an Islanders game on TV this season, it is bittersweet for them to watch the team from their couch instead of in-person in their usual seats near their usual seat neighbors.  

 

"They've become this family during home games and they get invested in each other's lives," Glen said. "There's this community experience with the Islanders. It's not 100% about the game. It's something we've all missed for the last 10 months, the interaction with another human being, but that connection runs deep with the Islanders. Of course, you care about the game and the players - that's what unites you all - but the Islanders were the glue that brought you together. Those relationships and connections, they expand to so much more." 

 

While these circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented and ongoing, the inability to watch games live is not uncharted territory for Islander fans outside of Metro New York. For most, their passion for the Islanders grew from watching the team primarily through the screen. 

Le Meilleur Souvenir

Nestled in central France, in the town of Amboise - where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the later years of his life - resides Sebastien Barrieras, a local police officer, who through a series of chance events, found his way to the blue and orange.

 

Despite hockey taking a backseat to the popularity of other sports in France like soccer, rugby, and handball, Sebastien always enjoyed the sport and would watch the games of nearby pro and club hockey teams. In 1994, Sebastian picked up playing EA Sports' NHL video game, which helped further foster his love of the game.

 

After a few years of playing the EA game, Sebastien joined an NHL e-sports league. When it came time to select his team, he was drawn to the Islanders. From that point on, his connection to the team was solidified.

 

"Islanders was one of the teams left to choose from," Sebastian recalled. "I checked on the internet and I saw [Alexei] Yashin, [Michael] Peca, [Jason] Blake and so many great players. I liked the colors of the team, I liked the orange and blue. I said, 'Why not?' Because at this time, it was a weak team. I lost many games, but I was not bothered with the game. Little by little, I won games. After my first online season, I finished sixth. I remember that because it was my first online season with my computer. It was magic to play against people who live far away from you. Of course, it was only French in the beginning. After that, I played another season. I checked all of the statistics of Islanders players. I wanted to know everything about them, everything about the team, everything about the rink and Long Island. After that, I was in love with this team."

 

Through the years, Sebastien's interest in the Islanders grew as did his desire to see a game in person as opposed to on TV, where games ran into the early hours of the morning due to the six-hour time difference.

 

 

About five years ago, Sebastien planned a 10-day trip to New York and finally made it to an Islanders game at the team's former arena, Barclays Center.

 

"Before the game, I met many fans of Islanders and I took some pictures for souvenirs," Sebastien said. "In France, when you go to a game sometimes you don't have your jersey, but you go with your daily clothes. It was incredible when I saw all of these people with jerseys, scarfs of Islanders, hats of Islanders. I said, 'Oh, I'm in the right place.' Before the game, I saw all of these colors of blue and orange of the fans. It was so colorful."

 

Sebastien remembered being in awe of how fast-paced the game was in-person at the NHL level compared to any game he had seen in France. He was also astonished by the spectacle of the game's production and atmosphere.

 

Just prior to the pandemic, Sebastien was planning to return to New York to see another Islanders game, but those plans have since been postponed until next year. In the meantime, he still is a proud Islanders fan from France and enjoys the souvenirs, the French translation of memories, that he collected from his first in-person Islanders experience.

 

"For me, it was like a dream," Sebastien said. "All people were kind with me. Everybody gave me a smile. I have a very good souvenir of Islanders fans. I have been to New York City four times and each time I have watched Islanders games. I remember I talked to [some fans], but it's not easy for me because the accent is so crazy for me. But Islanders fans are amazing, great and very kind."

Home Away From Home

Similar to Sebastien, Andy Welsh felt the struggles of growing up in a place where hockey was less popular. Early on in his life, Andy was enamored by hockey. However, growing up in Portsmouth, a remote Island in southeast England, Andy was not able to watch live hockey until he was of age to drive and take himself to see the nearest team. 

 

Years later, Andy was preparing for his first trip to New York with his then girlfriend. When planning the itinerary, he was sure to fit in an NHL game, but at the time, he was impartial to a particular team. After doing some research, he discovered the Islanders. 

 

The connection clicked. 

 

He bought a pair of tickets to see the Islanders against the Dallas Stars at Barclays Center. 

 

"The morning that we went to go watch them for that first time [in person] I proposed," Andy said. "After that, we went to the game so we were buzzing anyway. Luckily, she said yes. We went to a game against the [Dallas] Stars and [the Islanders won 6-5] and I was just hooked. I was watching lots of games anyway from over here, but as soon as we went to a game and I experienced the atmosphere, I was hooked from that point. Most of my passion grew from there." 

 

Andy recalls the loud and intimate fan experience of the game driving his connection to the team and the indistinguishable feeling of familiarity as he joined fans in ebullient, 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' chants.   

 

"One of the main things that drew me to it was the fan base," Andy said. "Over in England, I support a football team - a soccer team - which is Portsmouth. They're known for the passionate fans. Similar to the Coliseum, where the fans are right on the ice and they're loud and passionate, that's the atmosphere at Fratton Park. I'm a season ticket holder there. When I stepped into the arena you still felt this same buzz among the fans. I was hooked. It was like being home away from home. That was the thing that really grabbed me. Everyone around us was talking with us and it made you feel part of the family right away. It was the feeling of being part of the community when you're not part of the community."

 

 

In the time since, Andy has developed close relationships with fellow U.S.-based Islanders fans and simultaneously expanded the U.K. Islanders community through Facebook and Twitter with his @NYIUKSupporters account. 

 

And after having to cancel a trip this season to Long Island to watch his first game at the Coliseum, which he called 'soul destroying,' Andy is looking forward to coming back to New York to cheer on the Isles live and in their brand new home of UBS Arena when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, he is looking to pick back up local meetups in the UK. 

 

"I had already started the process for a UK Meetup somewhere in London," Andy said. "We had located somewhere an easy meetup spot in London that shows NHL games and contacted them. We gauged everyone's interest and it seemed like it was going to be a good turnout. I'm staying confident that sometime soon we'll all be able to get together and make it happen. Until then, we're all just interacting over Twitter and our group chats which is still good fun.

 

"The Islanders new arena looks pretty sharp," Andy continued. "I've watched the videos and it seems like there's a ton of detail that's gone into it. So, I'm quite looking forward to that."

Ola From Brazil

One of the unlikely Twitter fan accounts that Andy helped welcome to the Islanders fanbase is the Brazil-based group @NYIBR

 

Compared to the United Kingdom and France, ice hockey is even less popular in Brazil. However, against the odds, in January 2015, Danilo Santiago of São Paulo found himself an Islanders fan. His interest in hockey began after watching an episode of the sitcom "Everybody Hates Chris," which focused on the main character's idolization of Wayne Gretzky. From there, Danilo began to tune in to NHL games via ESPN Brazil, despite being nearly 5,000 miles away. 

 

Danilo was drawn to the Islanders after identifying with similarities between the cultures of Brazil and the Islanders, notably being resilient in the face of adversity. Danilo also admired the team's rich history and its vibrant blue and orange colors. 

 

By May of 2020, Danilo took his fandom to the next level and created the Islanders Brazil fan club and associated social accounts.

 

"I always wanted to create something cool to promote the Islanders here in the country," Danilo said. "But I was always afraid of not doing something really good and I ended up postponing it a few times as I didn't know any fans of the Islanders here in Brazil. I didn't imagine that the profile was going to grow so much."

 

In addition to the Twitter account, Danilo also created a Facebook account and a group chat on WhatsApp to increase interactions via other countries. In May, Danilo met Leticia and together, they have grown the account from a team of two to nine. 

 

 

"I started to get very excited and had many ideas of things to do, and I understood that I would not be able to do it alone," Danilo explained. "That is where Leticia and other people we met come in. I graduate in Marketing at the end of this year, so I command the actions of the NYIBR community. Letícia is a designer - my right hand - she gives me a lot of tips and does arts for the profile. We divide the tasks among other people; about covering the games, writing texts about the Islanders, making memes, etc."

 

The account has grown to nearly 1,000 followers on Twitter and they have even created their own Brazilian-inspired Islanders mascot, Luigi, the capybara, to go along with Sparky. 

 

Neither Danilo nor Leticia have made it to an Islanders game in person, but it remains a goal of theirs. In the meantime, they'll continue their prideful support from afar and their quest to broaden the Brazil-based Islanders fans. 

 

"Unfortunately, not yet," Danilo said of attending an Islanders game. "But I intend to realize that dream in the coming years."

 

While it is uncertain when fans will be able to attend games again, it is no surprise that the Islanders fan base has found a way to continue fostering its meaningful connections with one another, while providing the Islanders with unwavering support. 

 

Whether it is a generational fan who was born directly in the community like Glenn, or newer fans like Sebastien, Andy, and Danilo, the Islanders family welcomes everyone. It is that unity that helps drive the most passionate fan base in hockey and creates an atmosphere unlike any other.