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February, 2013:

"Hope Springs Eternal"

Hope
/hōp/

Noun – A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Verb – Want something to happen or pay for research paper be the case.

As the hockey season begins, that feeling of expectation, that want for success, sits deep in the belly of our stomachs. But out of your control.

You don’t pick the teams, you don’t pay the wages, you don’t call the plays. But blindly you put your hope, your emotion and your trust in YOUR team.

The twists and turns of the season drag you through the mire of your faith. The team will delight and frustrate you in equal measure. But through it all the hope remains. Your own mind sets the targets, your understanding of the game builds your belief in what is achievable. Your eyes witness what is on offer and your voice delivers the joy, encouragement, grief or disdain dependant on how you feel YOUR team have performed.

Yet, again, you never pay attention to the fact that it’s out of your control!

The game attacks your emotions, yet you find yourself drawn back to it. A passion in your faith for YOUR team. The quest for success. From the elation of a win, home or away to the eruption of joy for a goal no matter what the circumstances. Each action builds or destroys your hope.

Less than 10 games remain in the quest for the Elite Ice Hockey League. The levels of hope vary through hockey towns across the UK. But the excitement builds none the less.

Not least in the East Midlands, a team not deprived of success, but wholly ridiculed for decades by one number. 1956.

Year by year their hope began to build higher and higher. Year after year belief shattered time and again as the formula for league success evaded the patrons of Lower Parliament Street. Hope has stood alongside frustration, stood by anger, stood by desperation to stand atop of the tree and finally resign the number 1956 to the history book from whence it came.

As each game this season has ticked by, with sparkling performances, goals and victories, the rest of the league has looked on. In times gone by as the Panthers stood on grounds of league failure, other teams felt a means to hold that stick and beat them with it. The affluent financial muscle of Neil Black’s organisation falling short and giving hope to others who take on the quest for success.

A cycle of capitulation became comfortable for many across the league to believe in, many in Sheffield and beyond to wallow in, as the familiarity bred the contempt of the Nottinghamshire faithful.

But not this year. Hope has reached levels unthinkable in years gone by. But it can only stand as nothing more than just that.

And while hope brings excitement, it draws the unlikely bedfellow of fear. Sport is unpredictable. That is why it attacks the emotions. There are games to be played, twists to be undertaken and opponents to overcome.

Belfast are the reigning champions, and the closest rivals in the quest for the title. And in the grand theatre of sport, it will be Belfast who can twist the story in a means to draw gaze from all fans of the sport. Speak to anyone about the title race and two games are thrown firmly into view. A gauntlet laid down prior to the feast of St Patrick.

These games have been billed as the deciders, the games that will make or break the hope of those that follow the Nottingham Panthers.

Belfast are used to this, last year they won the title by lifting the same gauntlet and striking it across the face of the Sheffield Steelers. But the situation was different then. Belfast were in the ascendency. Today they stand at the tail of the Panthers, forever tapping on their shoulder to remind them that hope can still be taken from them.

Game by game the numbers crunch. The permutations are discussed and the possibilities are debated. Many still fear a prediction of success. While others stand in resignation of what they believe is inevitable, uneducated by unpredictability of sport.

There are less than 10 games to be played. Hope began in September. Many still have it, some don’t even recognise it such is the immense nature of possible success. Others fear it.

For Nottingham, it’s not just success they crave. It’s an end. It’s a vindication. It’s the day the number 1956 can be cast aside.

But it hasn’t happened yet. It may not happen at all.

Because the fans can’t control what happens.

All they can do is hope.

“It’s Complicated”

Stability is something so many crave in life. Stability in our private life, in our employment, in our finances and in our health. But it’s not always possible. From time to time something that you think is ok, something you think will sustain the stability you hold with so much comfort, comes along an takes the legs from under you. Leaving you with little more than the determination to drag yourself back on your feet again, and it is in this instance that your character receives true judgement.

“Money makes the world go round”, an adage recognised by those that have it as much as those that don’t. Financial security is something that can provide safe stability should it be properly employed in life, and no less in sports. The troubles of many professional sporting organisations can boil simply down to poor financial planning or sparse monetary backing. There is very little profit in sport.

So when the dollar signs are flashing and the financial backing is promised, sometimes the desire to prevail can cloud the way of morality. Roman Abramovich rescued Chelsea Football Club from the brink of financial meltdown, purchasing the club for £1 and burdening himself with the debt the team had accumulated in a quest to reach the promised land of the Champions League. The Russian Oligarch’s shady past cloaked by the large sums of money he publically put to increase the profile of a team for so long treading water in the midriff of the Premier League.

The demise of the Ice Hockey Superleague and the phoenix of the Elite League was a means to learn from lessons of the past. The fact that financial sustainability was paramount in the development of the sport in this country, however as time progressed it became clear once again that affluent financial backing would be the driving factor and prime nutrient for the survival of many teams. The ‘haves’ prevailed while so many ‘have-nots’ moved on or fell by the way-side, a victim to an entertainment medium so desperate for a public resurgence but so devoid of fresh interest.

Belfast fell victim, in their genesis years, to the vulture of financial backing. The need for sponsors to prop up the club, while the fall of the novelty the sport initially provided brought little in means of support to the clubs gate receipts, while bills soared and creditors cried out. The stability was rocking and it took some large investment, organisation, time and patience to steady a ship on tempestuous waters.

Many years down the line, that investment began to sprout shoots of success. From championship titles to visiting NHL teams, the work done by the General Managers, John Elliot and his successor Todd Kelman, developed a strong reputation for triumph, popularity and entertainment. The Giants, so ridiculed in the early days of their existence, have become a strong sporting fixture in Northern Ireland thanks to hard work and strong backing from Mr Jim Gillespie. An unassuming man who knew that his place was at the back of the ship providing the fuel, while those who knew the course well, took the wheel.

But such backing cannot last forever, few sporting organisations remain under the same revenue stream for significant amounts of time. Short of being under a co-operative structure like FC Barcelona, a representative for further financial stability and continued success needs found, and here you encounter difficulty. Here is where excitement and desperation can mix.

Christopher Knight walked into the Odyssey Arena like Michael Knighton walked into Old Trafford. A man with apparently sound financial backing and a perceived public profile to match. Like Knighton he grasped the limelight as quickly as he took the microphone of the Odyssey public address system. He smiled for the cameras; he spoke to the gathered Giants faithful and promised the world. He brought in off-ice entertainment and attempted to provide an extra “razzmatazz” that he felt the organisation was lacking. Endearing to many, while annoying to some. But sadly all was not to be.

Money can do many things. It can cloak those that have it, while those that don’t can be easily deceived should their want for it be so great. And as the revelations of Chris Knight’s character begin to filter into the public domain, many questions continue to be thrown back to those that accepted him.

“How could this happen?”

“Why didn’t you check?”

“How can a man like this own our organisation?”

Easy for those who watch on from the side-lines to ask, not so easy for those in the mire to answer. Should someone be standing before you providing an answer to a problem, it can be very easy to take them at face value if they provide to you what you need. Equally if that person has something to hide, they can easily shroud that should they have the means.

Knight appears to have had a significant skeleton locked deep within his closet. One he denies, but one that has eventually slipped beneath the door. And as it appeared to those whom he had apparently deceived, a question of “Money or Morality” presented itself to the powers that be within the Belfast Giants.

Morality doesn’t sustain a hockey team. Morality doesn’t pay the bills. Morality doesn’t provide stability.

Money does.

But in a business so public, and so reliant on reputation, morality can make you or break you. To abide in the charade could lead to ruin should it break down. A decision needed made. But this decision lies equally as dangerous.

The action taken was quite admirable. But fraught with continued difficulty.

My hope last night was to interview Kelman for the A View from the Bridge podcast, something I have done many times. But it became clear very early on in our discussion that this story has a long way to run yet and the time is not right to jeopardise any further legal complications with public statements in response to difficult questions. The progression of this story should remain behind closed doors until such time it is resolved to the acceptance of all parties.

Kelman’s position as the General Manager and the first to move from the company puts him as a public figure for the myriad questions both from fans and solicitors alike, while Knight also courts the press with threats and personal clarifications.

Frustration will build as uncertainty and instability will rage across the club and the fanbase alike. But as the dust blows in the eyes of those who try to calm it, there is still an objective to be met. A team on the ice to support. A league title to retain.

Giants fans should take heart from the support the clubs choices have received both domestically and internationally, while discarding the naysayers who pick holes in the actions for a means to their own teams gain.

The choices taken have the backing of the league, they have the backing of those who wear the skates and hold the sticks, but mostly they have the backing of the fans. As fans the decision we should make now should be to leave the board room battle to those who know it best. A constant barrage of questions will sustain nothing but distraction. Many of the problems will be solved as time passes, but in their own systematic way.

The Giants have endured dark days before and found stability through the tempest.

We know we have the right people with us to do that again.

Have patience, but mostly, before you judge their character, support your team!

Patrick Smyth

“Calm Down Dear!”

Todays article by Jonathan Liew on the Telegraph Website’s TV Blog; has brought the ire of many UK Hockey fans following the wonderful ESPN coverage of Team GB in Latvia.

All too rare coverage of the game on national television was greeted warmly by hockey fans who sat to watch the game they love and know so well. The bare bones coverage was excellent for those of us starved of it on television. Provided at no doubt a relatively low budget in comparison to other sports.

Mr Liew’s opinion however has brought anger, through his pointed approach to criticise the coverage. Through no fault of his own, and quite openly in his own ignorance, his comparision of this one-off coverage to more seasonsed televisual sports developed strong negative opinions. While forums and twitter have been rife in the airing of said opinions.

This is but an incredible storm in a miniscule tea cup.

But for said storm this minor opinion TV blog, online only, by a young writer trying to make his name at a major national, would have been ignored.

However the response, instead of being that of a moral high-ground “thank you for your opinion, you are welcome to it”, has been nothing short of an embarrassment to the sport.

The abuse this writer has received via twitter from “hockey fans” has been nothing short of a disgrace. And while his replies have been equally jagged, the on-going debate of this blog brings credence to his musings that many, including myself, do not wholly agree with, and probably encourages him to press further with more extreme opinions in order to develop his name and incite more ‘debate’.

This should be an opportunity for understanding, development and education. Not attack, abuse and resentment.

We are all welcome to our opinions and many voice them in various pointed ways. While others are employed to fill column inches with said opinions.

Not everyone is informed on hockey.

Not everyone likes hockey.

Not everyone’s opinion on hockey is positive. Such is the way of the world.

To jump on the back of this journalist in the means the wider UK Hockey Community have, has done nothing to promote anything other than the overly protective insular nature that has perpetrated through our sport for many years.

While you may think that in order to have an opinion you must be fully informed. This is but an ideal for life. It isn’t always the case.

What Mr Liew’s blog did demonstrate is what could be considered a wider view of our game, and an initial challenge to those who attempt to promote the sport further as to what stereotypes exist from the casual football/sports fan in the UK.

The coverage from ESPN, while great for the seasoned hockey fan, could most certainly be considered niche. The lack in funding meant that there was little to inform the new fan as to the minutiae of the game. Something highlighted in Liew’s point regarding terminology.

While we all found it to be a fantastic opportunity to watch Team GB and Aaron’s own commentary to be one we all pick up simply through our experience, Liew has highlighted that he, as a new fan, was lost by it. Again, a point for consideration in the future.

In the past some within the Hockey fanbase have unfairly attacked Dave Simms for his approach in media outlets, the community rally round when an “outsider” makes a similar suggestion.

Many of us know how to read the game, know how plays are set and as a puck is passed can see the movement of the passer and the player receiving the pass, something that comes from many years of watching the game. An ability to see a pass without actually needing to look at the puck, a distinct differnce to a game such a s football where the ball is so distinct. Those who cannot see this should not be ridiculed for that!

It was disappointing to read Craig Anderson’s “open letter” to Mr Liew on facebook earlier this afternoon. Once again the jagged approach did very little to retain any point other than how insular and protective we are of the game when it comes under even the most minor of attack. Rather than provide means to resolve Mr Liew’s negative opinions, it attacked his writing style, his qualifications and at one point inferred problems with his eyesight. Disappointing to see someone whose writing has been well respected across the UK hockey community stoop to this level in a means to “protect” the sport. A letter that, in my opinion, did more harm than good.

Where do we go from this? Mr Liew has received an afternoon filled with pointed abuse to the point that his understanding of the attitude of hockey fans may now surpass his understanding of the game.

We as a hockey community need to remember that an ill-informed opinion of hockey is an opportunity to learn and develop a better media presence. Not a reason to attack.

The best means to deal with opinions such as Mr Liew’s is not to tighten the chin-strap but to find a way to promote the game in order to develop a more positive approach. To change opinions, not attack them.

Hockey isn’t for everyone, but those that don’t like it should not be abused for such an opinion.

Mr Liew may have no interest in furthering his knowledge of the game. But we should not consider his opinions to be singular, but see them as a means to understand how to bring more people to the game.

Sadly however, many’s reaction would do little to allow that to happen. And a piece about the negitive aspects of watching the sport on TV has brought to light the negitive aspects of the fanbase.

Patrick Smyth