Pucking the trend
There’s a new sport literally sweeping its way across the south of Spain. Unlike the more traditional games of football and basketball which have dominated the Spanish sporting scene for a number of years, inline hockey will still be alien to most. However, the game’s popularity along the Costa del Sol has snowballed in recent years thanks to the presence of a local team who have found a home in Fuengirola.
The Fuengirola Lions were formed in 2014 and have been a catalyst in raising the profile of inline hockey in Malaga province since their formation. Assisted by a large local Scandinavian population and the all-encompassing reach of social media, the Lions have converted Fuengirola into a southern hockey hub and, despite a relatively brief existence, they can already boast an international title as well as a couple of promising junior teams.
If anything, the Fuengirola Lions are a team founded out of convenience. With a number of players having to travel to the centre of Malaga in order to get their weekly fix of hockey action, a decision was made to form a new team closer to the Fuengirola area. With bags full of unwieldy equipment and the majority of players in full-time employment, the discovery of a local club offered players living outside the city centre the perfect opportunity to get regular practice.
Two years later, the team have two dozen members and train for a couple of hours a week on Wednesday nights at the Estadio Municipal Santa Fe in Los Boliches where they also play their home matches.
What is particularly interesting about the Lions is the diverse profile of their team. With members originating from Finland, Spain, Sweden, Colombia and Mexico, the Los Boliches-based team are a soup of different nationalities. When visiting on a match day, the Santa Fe rink echoes with a cacophony of different tongues which compete against the thunder-like clap of the puck crashing into the barriers. Consequently, the obvious question is what language do the players use on the rink? The answer: “We have four different languages, there is no one common language we can all speak. Our only common language is hockey”, explained Jari Nyman, 44, a co-founder of the Lions team, who relocated from Finland thirty years ago.
Like Jari, many of the international members of the team moved to the Costa from countries with a rich hockey background. Naturally, upon arriving to Spain, many current players took to the internet to search for a local hockey team and stumbled across the Lions. As Jari says: “Google finds a lot of people”.
Primarily, it is the desire of foreign residents to continue to play hockey which has driven the sport’s surge in popularity. The Lions are even managing to attract ex-professionals to Los Boliches. Juha Salo, a Finnish ice hockey champion with Jokerit Helsinki in 1992, has swapped his blades for a pair of roller skates and now plays alongside casual players of the game. The inclusion of former pros like Salo is only helping to enhance the reputation of the Lions as well as the game itself.
The presence of a number of international schools in the Fuengirola area has been another factor which has helped to boost the demand for inline hockey along the south coast. With Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian schools located in close proximity to the Estadio Municipal Santa Fe, the Lions have been able to engage with a young audience, setting up two junior teams, an Under 16s and Under 14s. Despite the fact that the junior teams are currently unable to train because of a lack of suitable facilities, the juniors were crowned champions of Andalucía last year; something which Jari was very proud of.
But it’s not just the younger generations who are supporting the growth of the sport. Inline hockey is a game which can be enjoyed by players of all ages. Jari’s team will soon have three members over the age of 50 while their youngest member is just 18. “That’s the good thing about hockey: it’s the Olympic Sport with the most people aged over 40. So, you can have a big variety of ages and it’s probably the only sport where son and father can play in the same team,” he explained.
The Fuengirola Lions compete in both the Liga Andaluz and the Liga Sur (the south’s top division) where they currently sit in fourth position after eight games. Despite a slow start to the season, the Lions have recently picked up form, winning three out of their last six fixtures. Last year, the team from Fuengirola finished as a runners-up, so expectations are high.
The Lions have also tasted international success, winning the fourth edition of the International Inline Hockey Tournament which is hosted at the Santa Fe stadium in Los Boliches every few months. In January, Jari’s team beat Göteberg City when the match was decided by golden goal after the teams drew 0-0 in regulation time. The Fuengirola Lions will host their fifth international tournament on 23-24 April and will be hoping to repeat their success.
Yet, the sport is not without its problems, the biggest of them being a lack of suitable playing facilities in the area. Both junior teams are currently unable to train during the week, while the senior team are struggling to expand due to limited rink hours. This is frustrating for all involved with the Costa club given the fact that inline hockey is one of the fastest-growing sports in the region.
But this is an obstacle which Jari and the club are looking to overcome. The Finn revealed that the club has plans to construct a new multi-purpose arena which will allow the Lions to grow. “At the moment we have so many players that not everyone gets game time. A new rink would change the equation”, the 44-year-old illustrated.
With a new arena, the club would be able to expand their senior team and ensure that the juniors would be able to train for matches. Jari also expressed his desire to see five new rinks built in the area but has his focus on the new arena for now.
The Finn continues to work on the evolution of inline hockey along the Costa del Sol and believes it can get even bigger. When quizzed whether the sport had a big future, he responded: “Absolutely! I’m a positive thinker. So I think with the population here, the international population here, with the Spanish that already have ten teams in Andalucía, the future must be bright. I think the towns here on the Coast haven’t yet actually realised the huge potential.”source surinenglish