I haven't been a Habs fan for very long. Once, way back when, I wasn't really a sports fan at all. I might tune in to the odd championship game and cheer for the home team, but I couldn't name more than a couple of players, if any.
I never saw Rocket Richard play. Or Jean Béliveau. Or Guy Lafleur. And I think I saw Patrick Roy play once, in that Stanley Cup-winning game in 1993. Really, my affection for the team grew out of necessity. As a copy editor, I was assigned to the sports desk at the Gazette, and I would read everything there is about the team. Now I watch all the games and know all the names of the players.
In my short time as a devout fan, I've never been ashamed of that fact. Not after missing the playoffs because of a loss to the Leafs. Not during many slumps. Not when fans would sing "na na na na hey hey hey goodbye" during Game 2, or would so overwhelm other teams' stadiums you'd think they were playing a home game.
Last night was different. Though the news networks and politicians are stressing until their faces turn blue that last night's riot wasn't caused by "real Habs fans" (how do they know?), the images shown to the world speak for themselves.
9:30pm: Though I'm supposed to be working, a little more than half my attention is on the game while the puck is moving. The Habs are running away with this game, but I want to see its final moments.
10:30pm: The paper is sent off for its first edition, and I pack up to head for home. I figure I'll take some photos of the crowd celebrating before hopping on the metro.
10:59pm: Though the streets are littered with garbage (most of it flyers from one organization), Habs fans are celebrating, singing, waving their flags.
11:07pm: The hooliganism begins, as fans rush to topple this truck. It doesn't occur to them that there are other fans on the other side who would get crushed to death if they succeeded. They're immediately stormed by riot police.
11:14pm: Traffic can't get through this part of downtown because of the sea of pedestrian traffic, but they don't mind. They're here to share in the celebration, using their vehicles in very hazardous ways.
11:21pm: Police use pepper spray for no discernable reason. Many unsuspecting passersby (including this intrepid young blogger) get a solid whiff of the irritating-for-irritating's-sake stuff. It won't be the last time I see smoke.
11:23pm: Riot police, who work by literally pushing people around, hustle innocent bystanders along with the unsavoury characters.
11:27pm: The riot cops form a wall from one building to another, so that nobody can go around. On orders from their commander, they'll beat their batons against their shields and start running forward. It's one of the scariest things you can see a police officer do in front of you.
11:28pm: Some idiot in a sports car burns rubber, filling Mountain and Ste. Catherine with smoke.
11:30pm: I don't care how drunk you are. Taking riot cops on by yourself is stupid. No, they won't suddenly realize your rights have been violated and apologize to you.
11:33pm: This car was unfortunate enough to be parked downtown last night. Now it needs a new windshield, a new door, a new side mirror and a new paint job. And it got off easy.
11:34pm: Seriously? You're trying to wreck a garbage container?
11:36pm: This guy, clearly a Canadiens fan (but not a "real" one?) is trying to entice the retreating crowd into storming the riot cops. For some reason they're not jumping at the idea.
11:39pm: Say goodbye to this car. You're about to witness its destruction.
11:40pm: This guy tried to be the voice of reason, standing in front of the car and telling people not to destroy it. For his troubles he got a projectile to the back of the head. It might have been worse if a cameraman hadn't hauled him out of there.
11:41pm: Will these two ever be prosecuted for their (should I say "alleged" here?) senseless destruction of property? Probably not.
11:47pm: This guy (carrying a Canadiens flag, but I'm sure he's not a "real" fan, right?) thought he could set fire to this car with a lighter. He wouldn't succeed, though later his friends would find a way.
11:49pm: OMG d00d! Property destruction is SOO AWES0ME!!!111 Hi Mom!
11:50pm: Trash cans were a favourite projectile. This one was thrown by this guy:
who was a very angry, very involved member of the auto-destruction team.
11:57pm: These people (who are obviously not "real" Habs fans right?) try to flip the beaten-up car. They wouldn't succeed (neither would anyone else). The license plate (FAN1005) is ironic considering the situation.
12:03am: A block away, another car has successfully caught fire, and is filling the intersection with black smoke (not to mention the noise of the stuck-on horn). Before firefighters arrive, some idiots decide to take photos of themselves in front of it (the top photo in this post came moments later)
12:23am: The fire put out by firefighters, riot cops arrive and shoo people out of the way. I get a whack to the chest for my troubles.
12:25am: One of the few arrests for vandalism. This guy (The Gazette identified him the next day as Ioannis Mitzas), shouting expletives at police and trying his best to resist arrest, gets fellow idiots to stand up for him and the POLICE BRUTALITY OMG that he's being subjected to. His friends are promptly pepper-sprayed.
12:31am: Radio-Canada had at least two journalists on the scene. Shockingly, while doing live reports of the antics of drunken sports fans, some of those fans did stupid drunkenly things to get on TV.
12:59am: Guy and Ste. Catherine.
1:06am: A Reebok store with Canadiens merchandise in its display window got those windows broken, showing how much fans care about the team. Here, one guy, wearing a red Canadiens cap he just stole from under a pile of broken glass, goes in for more looting by trying to grab the jersey off a mannequin. He flees when riot police move in.
1:10am: Boston fans look on a torched cop car (one of five I saw that night) with a "so cool" expression. It's fantastic the lessons we're imparting on other teams' fans, not to mention tourists.
1:15am: One of the few bright spots of the evening. This group picks up a toppled mailbox and puts it back in its place.
1:36am: Police officers, who could be out there solving crimes or protecting our neighbourhoods, are instead forced to act as security guards to prevent looting at a Foot Locker.
An SAQ outlet was among the storefronts with broken windows. Rioters quickly climbed through the broken glass to take bottles for use as weapons. Someone might have enjoyed the wine in this bottle one day, but instead it ends its life in the most senseless way possible, as ballast in a glass projectile.
Because this happened late at night, today's papers focus more on the game than the post-game riot (not to mention all the canned Earth Day stuff, ironic since downtown is littered with trash). The story is leading local and national newscasts (though Brenda Martin is stealing some of that fire now).
Expect the papers tomorrow to be filled with analysis up the rear end about what happened. Should we blame the cops for not doing enough to protect downtown (including their own cars?). Should we blame the media for making rioters famous? Should we blame the fans who stood by and filmed the carnage on their cellphones to post to YouTube, providing a protective human shield so the cops couldn't move in and make arrests? Should we blame the cop cars themselves for being so flammable, and the store windows for being so breakable?
Of course not. We should blame the looters, and the rioters. They should be found, prosecuted, and forced to pay for the damage they've done.
The reaction in the blogosphere has been unanimously negative, but that doesn't change anything. It still happened, and everyone who did so much as kick a cop car or toss a beer can is responsible.
Saying "these weren't real Habs fans" doesn't cut it. It doesn't make us look civilized. We need to do more than just join a Facebook group denouncing this.
If this is how we react to a conference quarterfinal win, against a team we beat eight times in a row in the regular season, I hope we don't win the next series. Having self-respect is much more important than winning some stupid hockey tournament.