Belfast’s Most Popular Sport These Days Is … Hockey?

The Belfast Giants have united the city

Belfast Giants
Darcy Murphy of Belfast Giants celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the IIHF Continental Cup Third Round Group E match between Stena Line Belfast Giants and GKS Katowice at the SSE Arena in Belfast.
Eoin Smith/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The city of Belfast is home to a host of professional sports teams, one of which — the soccer team Linfield F.C. — is one of the most historically successful club teams in Europe, in terms of league trophies won. The city is also home to rugby, Gaelic football and cricket — but it turns out that none of these sports quite has the draw these days of another one, more commonly associated with the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

That would be the Belfast Giants, who play in the Elite Ice Hockey League — which itself has the distinction of being the United Kingdom’s only professional sports league featuring teams from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Guardian recently published an in-depth look at how the Giants have come to dominate their city’s sporting scene. The article makes a convincing argument — that since the Giants were founded in 2000, they’ve been able to become a place where fans from disparate backgrounds can find common cause. Among those interviewed for the article are two friends from opposing political backgrounds who nonetheless bonded over their Giants fandom and started a podcast together.

That sense of unity is something that the team itself has taken an active part in, according to what the CEO of the team’s parent company told The Guardian. “There have never been any football jerseys allowed in the arena,” Robert Fitzpatrick said. “If we see a young kid in a football shirt, we just give them a Giants T-shirt and they put it on.”

That the Giants are currently having a terrific season certainly doesn’t hurt their popularity, but the article nonetheless offers a strong reminder of the ways sports can bring a community together in unexpected ways.

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