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Belfast Giants

"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.

——————

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!

“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

“Did You See What I Saw?”

The enduring enjoyment of a sport can lie in the opinions and perceptions of the game. The agreements and disagreements that come from contemplation over what has been witnessed and the differing mind-sets of what each spectator wishes to gain from the sport they enjoy.

In ice hockey, the action that takes place on the ice is finite. The goals that are scored, the hits that shake the plexiglass, the slashes that shatter sticks or bruise calves all stand as actions with consequence and probable reaction. However they also develop opinion and response. Fair and Foul.

A referee may see a player fall to the ice and in his opinion it was due to the dragging stick of an opponent left to trip his opposite number. However the offending player will most likely see it differently, and a third opinion falls to the spectator in the crowd.

Here, in the comfortable seat of Block 3, the opinion of Johnny-Home-Fan is once again polarised by the shirts the players wear, not necessarily by the action that has taken place. His opinion is split between what he witnesses, what he believes and if this is in line with the decision of the referee.

Yet depending on his opinions, his experience of the game and love of his club, the immediate reaction may be partisan, falling in line with those around him. However deep down his contemplation of the event may lead him to believe his reaction was wrong, the referee seeing the correct incident, the players actions being worthy of the penalty. And here-in lies the tribal opinions of sporting fans. Few willing to stray from the norm of resentment for actions that impede their team’s advances.

On Sunday night in Coventry’s SkyDome Arena I witnessed what, for me, stands in the top 5 British hockey games I’ve ever had the privilege to attend. Over 2000 people stood with me as a saga unfolded which stirred opinions, emotions and elations. When an opening period takes around one hour to complete due to the extreme battle on the ice you begin lose sight of what is controlled and sensible. As a fan you encamp yourself among your fellow supporters and you stand tall against the opposition. As a visiting fan, doubly so.

As I stood watching Belfast and Coventry entertain the crowd with a distracting display of physicality, skill and aggression I also began to become aware of what was going on around me. The responses of the Coventry fans, the Belfast fans around me and my own approach to the game.

Those that know me know that “from time to time” I’m not afraid to express my opinions at games, loudly. Yet I found my opinions in the stands during that game were different to those that I discussed in the period breaks, different to those that I discussed in the bar afterward and different to those I typed up in report of the action. All because I felt a need to show support in the game for my team.

Even if I knew the referee to be right, I berated him for “being wrong”. I witness Gregory Stewart wholly defeated in a vastly one-sided punch up with Mike Egner, yet I cheer like Stewart was the victor upon its tumbling conclusion. Likewise the Coventry fans chant “Hirshy Hirshy Hirshy” for their starting netminder, many already in acceptance that Referee Andrew Carson had little choice but to eject him for “3rd Man In” to the tussle between Chalmers and Stewart. They boo as the angry shot-stopper is shown to the dressing room. Booing and disagreement all round, yet forums and discussions are heavy with understanding by Blaze fans as to why he had to go. But the consequence deemed superfluous to the cause and who such blame lies on.

The game stirs these emotions. The game stirs these opinions. The game stirs these reactions.

The key, however, is understanding these facets of your character and not letting them take the better of you. Such a failure of control leads to incidents like was witnessed in Cardiff over a week ago when one fan saw fit to confront Benn Olson because the game and the actions witnessed had stirred him to feel this was the correct course of action. It was not.

Unfortunately games such as Sunday’s in Coventry are all too infrequent. I am hard pushed to find anyone on the ice, on the bench or in the stands that left that arena without their money’s worth of entertainment. No doubt twitter feeds and discussions between fans across the league that night were rife with information and mis-information from between those walls I was lucky to inhabit.

Games like that reinvigorate your passion for the sport. Remind you why your opinions become so strong and why you follow your team. Belfast fans left happy with the win, the discipline of their team and the way they were able to provoke their opposition to the verge self-destruction.

Coventry fans left happy in the display of “never-say-die” hockey the Blaze provided in the face of adversity, the performance of young replacement netminder Adam Goss personifying the spirit that brought the blaze fans to their feet in applause over the final minutes of the game. Points lost, but pride intact.

The final buzzer goes and you walk away from the arena. You mind whirring from what you have witnessed. Your opinions chomping at the bit to be expressed. The bar is filled with discussions and disagreements. Not everyone sees things the same way. Not everyone understands the game in the same way and not everyone sees the entire action across the vast frozen rink. But as you piece your night back together and understand your friends opinions, people begin to realise why sport in itself is so popular.

Because I don’t agree with you!

Patrick Smyth

Giants Appoint Keefe As Chief

Adam Keefe, in his second season at EIHL level, has been made Belfast Giants captain. An unexpected, yet certainly not unwelcome appointment of a man who last season was prominent in his ability to lead from the front.

Christiansen’s squads in the last 2 seasons, and this season to boot, have been filled with leaders. Men with significant experience in the game along with time spent carrying a letter firmly on the front of their shirt. So the choice of Belfast Giants captain cannot be an easy one, not least after only a couple of weeks on the ice together.

Keefe’s appointment shows the development of the Belfast Giants, and possibly the league as a whole, over the last few seasons. The original acquisition of the 28 year old Ontarian was met with the typical excitement toward his ability without gloves as opposed to with them. Stepping into a Giants side that in the previous year had lacked the grit needed to pick the Elite League title, many Giants fans maybe hoped he would have even a pinch of hockey nuance to meet with his pugilistic skills, so fresh was the memory, and disappointment for some, of Sean McMorrow in many minds. Adorned with the monikers “AK47” (*wince*) and, alongside fellow new-comer Daryl Lloyd, “The Bash Brothers” (*double-wince*), pre-conceptions and expectations followed the #47 shirt onto the Odyssey ice.

What was received was a breath of fresh air. A physical yet intelligent game. A player willing to do his part for a team-mate but not at the cost of the team or the game. A player who entertains as well as undertakes his role. 13 goals in a 31 point season truly banished the memory of McMorrow and re-introduced a long forgotten ‘tough player’ role in Belfast, not seen properly since the days of Schulte or, to a lesser extent, Skihar.

To pick, as I have, on McMorrow may not be unexpected and some may consider it to be unfair, but in comparison to the product Keefe produced for Belfast last season, it really highlighted what a fish-out-of-water he was. Though not his fault, his ability and roles were not unexpected and one which the coaching and management staff obviously believed were required and of use. The appointment smacked of commercial desperation rather than sporting ambition. Memories will live long of McMorrow standing on the blueline frantically pointing with his stick toward the man he was picking up, only for said player to skip away easily. Likewise the look of amusement on Jay Latullipe’s face while a rampaging McMorrow met nothing but plexi as his intentions of a hit were lost in the vastly differing speed of the Cardiff Devil’s centre.

Keefe’s appointment and his performance in the Giants side last season may have once again redefined how the league recruited for this forth coming season. Of course this role is no stranger to those in South Wales. Brad Voth, sadly now retired, captained in such a way for many years. However in Sheffield, Coventry and certainly in Nottingham such a player has been sporadic in their influence on the ice in seasons gone by. So much so that an appointment such as that in Belfast would come with equal surprise.

Supported by Craig Peacock and Robby Sandrock as alternates, the new Giants captain will have both experience and youthful creativity at his side as the season begins. His public approach has been commendable, not least on social network Twitter where his banter, while not reaching the (admittedly humorous) abusive depths of new Devil “hard man” Devin DiDiomete, has been both entertaining and respectful in its approach toward fans, fellow players and nay-sayers alike.

I have to wish Adam good luck this season. There is no doubt he will be a fine captain. We look forward to him proving that the responsibility of captaincy is merely a feather in the cap rather than a weight on the shoulders.

Patrick Smyth