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March, 2013:

"The Truth Is Out There"

There are three sides to every story; yours, mine and the truth – Robert Evans

The truth can remain hidden. Lost in the opinions of opposing perpetrators. Left to be debated by those they wish to influence or those whose attentions will be caught by the conflict.

Claim and counter claim will stream across a barricade while those who stand in No Man’s Land attempt to filter “the truth” from what’s left in the muddied water beneath.

The ownership of the Belfast Giants became a story of “moral outrage”. A mass resignation for pastures new based on the perceived misgivings of the incumbent owners past. The allegations against Mr Knight were spread across the front pages of the Belfast tabloids, while the legal and financial machinations of the realignment were left to be dealt with “in-house”.

Speculation ran across forums between people whose actual knowledge in the true detail was minimal. There were purely the matters of press record that were available for debate. A majority of which attempted to point the finger of blame squarely at Mr Knight.

Mr Knight’s right to reply focused on his attempts to clarify the allegations. I wish not to comment directly on the legitimacy of the allegations, nor on the legal ramifications in Mr Knight’s aim to clear his record of them. These lie, to me, as superfluous ‘behind the scenes’ machinations. I agree that the focus of them was to assess his character and the suitability of Mr Knight to head a public franchise. However if, as Mr Knight claims, these are ‘under review’, my comment on that is now best left till the review’s conclusion.

What has subsequently taken place, however, has certainly caught as equally much attention from the wider hockey community as the original actions and revelations that led to the en-mass resignation from the organisation.

Questions still remained about the legitimacy of the move from one organisation to another, the legality of it and the next movements of Mr Knight in the conflict. The understanding to this point was that Mr Knight held control of Belfast Giants 2008 Ltd (here on referred to as BG2008), while the team undertook their competition in the league controlled by a new organisation headed up by the Odyssey Trust.

In the last number of days, it appears Mr Knight’s camp have begun to “hit back”, beginning with an article through the site of sports blogger Emmet Ryan. Ryan had previously spent time questioning Todd Kelman on his actions to resign from BG2008 and to clarify the timeline of events that led to his understanding of the alleged incidents slighting Knights character and the subsequent resignation.

On 18th March Ryan published a series of discussions and associated documents he had and received from Knight. In this discussion, available here (SEE UPDATE BELOW), Knight attempted to put his side of the story across. He highlights supposed meeting between Kelman, Knight, Knights partner and Lord John Laird in which, Knight claims, the claimed incidents smearing his character were clarified. Knight also discloses apparent “Non Disclosure Agreements” he claims to be signed and dated by Todd Kelman. He talks about claimed attempts to threaten himself and his children, disclosing what he claims are legitimate police statements, statements signed by Knight himself, but not by a witness… and so on and so on.

Subsequently the blogging site The Truth About The Giants sprung up and it appears to be controlled by the Knight camp, in which various emails, balance sheets and league communications were “exposed” in an attempt to both “clear” Knights name and educate on “The Truth Behind The Giants”.

The last 24 hours have brought some quite unsavoury reading and brought to light even more questions in this whole incident.

It is apparent that the Knight camp, through the acquisition of BG2008, are in possession of Todd Kelman’s email account to the date of the take-over. This has led to them assessing that e-mail accounts content and publishing anything “unsavoury” they can find. Yet to date the most ‘controversial’ has stood as no more than a couple of bawdy e-mails Kelman sent to a good friend.

The blog has also attempted to expose “truths” by highlighting Kelman’s role within the league structure and has further stated, through an associated twitter account, to expose the involvement of Panthers owner Neil Black.

There have been more bizarre e-mails “exposed” including one where the Odyssey Arena inform Kelman on the replacement of a fire door, a possible attempt to suggest Kelman was working for the Giants post-resignation. The “revelation” that the Giants employed a PR company to assess their media exposure. Plus further supposed “exposés” that actually highlight nothing of note at all.

There also appear to be more serious publications that include the contractual legalities of the sale, as well as personal information on the perpetrators and associated parties. Some redacted, some not.

The blog has thus come across as little more than a poorly judged smear campaign against Kelman himself.

Through his work with the Belfast Giants, Todd Kelman has become a heralded figure in the organisation, from player to General Manager, support for him has established a strong footing over the 13 years of the Giants. Something, it appears, Mr Knight is attempting to sully with his ‘revelations’.

The information released through the Action81 site and The Truth about the Giants blog has led me to ask certain questions.

  • If the case against Kelman is as water tight as Knight obviously believes, why has this not been, as yet, picked up by any of the mainstream media? Why has Knight chosen to blog about it instead of approaching the media? Or, if he has and they chose not to report it, what were their reasons?
  • If the case against the Giants is as water tight as Knight obviously believes, is he not jeopardising his own legal case by releasing this apparent “evidence” into the public domain alongside his side of the story?
  • What does Knight believe he will achieve by putting this information to the public domain? Including a very ill-judged publication of Kelman’s private e-mails that highlight some incredibly private family matters. The allegations against Knight himself were matter of public record, the publication of Kelman’s private information appears as nothing more than a vindictive attempt at “revenge”?

Mr Knight’s camp have, this morning, emailed everyone who has ever contacted BG2008, to draw attention to the Action81 blog. An action that Ryan has distanced himself on. The camp also continue to call for and answer questions through their twitter account (SEE UPDATE BELOW).

Whether there will be a response from Mr Kelman to Mr Knights supposed “allegations” is unclear. However it wouldn’t surprise me if Todd’s approach would remain at an undisclosed legal level, rather than become embroiled in the public internet bun fight that Mr Knight appears to want? It is no doubt a complete legal minefield.

This is a conflict fraught with grey areas as to the actual truth, but after all the mud has been thrown there needs to be a bigger picture considered.

The Odyssey Arena welcomed almost 10,000 hockey fans over the weekend for an intense battle between the now league Champions, Nottingham Panthers and the Belfast Giants.

Over the 13 seasons the Belfast Giants, in the light of early hardships, have finally developed a sound footing in the Northern Irish sporting landscape. A history of success and entertainment.

In my time in watching UK Hockey I have had the gutting misfortune to witness fans lose their teams for one reason or another. From watching the demise of Ayr and Manchester from a distance, to seeing good friends and passionate hockey fans in Newcastle be deprived of top flight hockey and feel some of the pain in losing a passion you hold dear.

This is a sport and a team that draws the emotion and passion from thousands of fans. And despite the horrendous battles that take place at a political level in the game, it’s the team on the ice and the name on the front of the shirts that retain the support.

Fans do care about how their club is run, they do care about the politics behind it, however at the end of the day they just want to watch and support their team.

Many will ask the questions in interest of the team’s organisational undertakings, which will always be the case, even when it’s none of their business. But even then, sometimes it’s best to hold tight and hope some storms are weathered.

This season still has a few weeks left. And a team that still requires support. Where the organisation goes after that is a concern, but a concern that lays outside of the fans hands. We put our trust in those who have been with the Belfast Giants for many years and appear to have the support of some significantly strong backers.

The eyes of the wider hockey community are on the Belfast Giants for the wrong reasons, the best response the team and fans can provide is to succeed on the ice and support from the stands, in the face of the public political conflict.

Because we may never know the actual truth, we just have to accept the outcomes.

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UPDATE 20/03/13: Mr Ryan has removed his blog from the site, explaining via twitter.

In addition the Knight camp’s @GiantsTrueStory twitter account has been suspended.

Not In Our Barn!

The season is a long hard slog.

It’s a fight where one by one the real challengers rise to the heat of the battle while the pretenders fall by the wayside. Emotions are stoked as rivalries are developed and victories are fought for with blood and sweat.

When you start the season as reigning champions you stand atop of the pedestal looking down, your position under fire from 9 teams fighting for the throne! Belfast have learned that to stay atop of the pile can be even more difficult as reaching there in the first place. But if or when the time approaches to vacate your title, pride must remain, respect must be gained and a fight must be made!

The Nottingham Panthers have struggled for many years in their attempt to reach the pinnacle of UK Hockey. The year 1956 is thrown in their faces, a simple means of ridicule. It of course ignores the twenty years spent in hockey limbo before Gary Keward revived the franchise and laid the foundations for the club to grow. Keward’s decision to move a team from Sheffield to the Ice Stadium in Nottingham brought delight to many in the town who recalled the older days of the Panthers and began creating a newer generation of fans. Their first game, a 7-4 win over the Solihull Barons signalled a winning return to what they hoped would be a winning team.

Many many seasons had been spent toiling in regional lower leagues. Paying dues and fighting to develop and expand the franchise. Watching on as the likes Durham, Whitley, Cardiff and, most horrifyingly, Sheffield celebrated win after win, success after success, title after title. Watched on, for 33 years, watched on when time and time again they came up short, they fell by the wayside and suffered ridicule.

Time has passed, the game has changed. The Nottingham Panthers are a much larger, more successful business that Keward could maybe ever have imagined, yet still they wait to be top of the pile. Still they look for vindication. But that vindication could only be round the corner. It is only two points away.

But where are those two points?

They lie in one of 3 places. The Odyssey Arena. The National Ice Centre or the Cardiff Ice Arena. The key to ultimate glory sits in one of these three buildings.

But the first hurdle they meet are the Champions in situ!

This may be, and most likely will be, the year Nottingham finally reach the top. But one thing is for sure, it wont be easy for them.

Tonight is the first of two games between the Champions and the Champions elect. Nothing would please a winning team more than to rip the trophy from the hands of their title rival. To show them what they have achieved. To hold silverware aloft by conquering their army in a foreign land!

But not today!

Not Tomorrow! 

Not In Belfast!

Emotions run strong in history. Belfast may be a relative newcomer compared to many teams in this league. But their history of success runs deep. Their record in the EIHL is one of victory and top level competition. Silverware and success. And pride runs through the organisation and the fans.

Pride!

This season they have pushed the Panthers to within 4 games of the title. They have worked hard to retain their place on the throne of UK Hockey. They will not step away without a fight!

Nottingham need 2 points form four games. Any two points will suffice. But there is no doubt in where they want to gain those two points. They want them in Belfast. They want them from the champions. They want to land the knock-out blow and take the title home.

But that will not be simple. There is emotion in the Odyssey Arena. There is pride. There is passion.

The Giants take to the ice with belief behind them. And with a stubborn attitude of defiance!

The fans believe in their team. As Panthers fans arrive in their droves to push their team to victory, likewise Giants fans must respond with defiance.

The eyes of hockey fans across the nation are all turned to these two game!

Two games in which the Giants must make the Panthers PROVE they are worthy champions.

Two games in which the Giants must instil PRIDE in the organisation.

Two games in which the Giants must drive the EMOTION in their fans! This must be a cauldron for the opposition to compete with!

Two games in which the Giants and the fans must send a very distinct message to the travelling team!

“You may believe you will win the league.

But you aren’t going to do it here.

NOT IN OUR BARN!