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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Francis Hanacek, a wiry little Czechoslovakian cook, stood pinned against the barricade planks in Prague's aging Winter Stadium. The barrier came almost to his chin. His faded overcoat was threadbare and his beret was askew. He had been in that position nearly three hours.
Jammed in behind him, similar-type Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians and Rumanians stood 50 deep. Ten thousand others were shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip on aching pins all the way around the tinderbox wooden rink.
It was only 30 minutes before Francis Hanacek would see the puck dropped to launch the Soviet Union against the defending champions from Canada in what everyone expected to be the key game of amateur hockey's 25th world series, so Francis considered himself a very fortunate fellow indeed.
"I got into line at 3 o'clock [game time was 8] so I might have this favorable position," he explained. "The pressure from those behind me is great, but I still have an excellent view of the match."
Plutocrats who enjoyed the luxury of seats—of which there were approximately 4,000—glanced apprehensively as the fence separating standees from seatees creaked and groaned. They were in danger of being buried by an avalanche of humanity if the ancient wooden wall ever gave way.
This was a scene which was repeated many times in the cities of Czechoslovakia as the hockey-hungry populace waged one of the greatest ticket hunts of all time in sport. Even a game between visiting sportswriters and Czechoslovakian newspapermen drew 14,000 spectators.
Shrewdly scheduled by John Francis (Bunny) Ahearne of London, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, the games were arranged to exploit this hockey hysteria to the last heller ([1/14] of a cent).
Qualifying matches were played in three cities—Bratislava, Brno and Ostrava—with six of the 12 nations in the major series advancing to the round-robin final in Prague. For the qualifying game between Canada and Czechoslovakia at Bratislava, Publicity Man Lubomir Zeman reported that he had 400,000 written applications for the 12,500 seats available.
In store windows and on fences throughout this ancient city of the Slovaks placards appeared: "To our dear representatives of the Czechoslovakian ice hockey team: fight with all your strength. We will all be with you and encourage you. (Signed) Your Bratislava Sports Public." An announcement that every period of every major game would be televised failed to subdue the clamor for tickets. Security guards were placed around Press Agent Zeman's home. The telephone numbers of all his publicity staff were changed.
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