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Evolution! Not Revolution!

Today’s magnificent announcement that the EIHL is to receive a weekly live game on, the subscription channel, Premier Sports TV, has rightfully been greeted with delight across the wider UK hockey spectrum.

The opportunity to showpiece what, for me, has been one of the strongest seasons in terms of on-ice talent since the Elite League was established, has been an essential target of the current board. One target that has been achieved with today’s announcement.

However it wouldn’t be the Elite League if it didn’t generate some form of debate between the passionate fans that inhabit the rinks up and down the country.

Alongside the announcement this morning, Aaron Murphy appeared on A View From The Bridge. Speaking to us now as the man spearheading the coverage of the EIHL on Premier Sports he said:

“I fell it will be good to have different perspectives and different voices, adding a different local flavour and a flavour of the individual clubs.”

This has inspired some bloggers such as Lee Sims in the excellent Blog From Block 15 to suggest that certain aspects of the ever expanding “Fan Media” be given their chance and be part of the proposed “new set up” in the Premier Sports coverage.

Which to me brings some interesting points not only on the role and potential of “Fan Media”, but also in what Premier Sports can consider to be a “new set up” and “different flavour” to their coverage.

With Aaron Murphy at the helm you have an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and experienced sports journalist who has interviewed players and called games across Europe and North America. Therefore there is little doubt that the broadcast is in good hands from the start. However the interest comes in the content.

For quite a while now David Simms has ably helmed the Elite League media coverage on Sky Sports. His passion for the sport in this country is unrivalled and his presence on camera is confident and knowledgeable. He certainly retains the contacts within the sport to have a rapport with many current and former players.

However in the last number of seasons the production has been, in my opinion, repetitive and stale. Granted they have worked well with what they have been provided, the highlights being the responsibility of the clubs to provide and the discussion within the show used to add content and spark debate. However interest in the highlights show on Sky began to wain.

Add to that the unnecessarily aggressive, and often insulting, attitude of Mr Simms on social media outlets which have established, at times, a quite unprofessional persona. A persona which, in my opinion, is certainly unbefitting the public televisual “face” of the league. (His response to an invitation by the Coventry webcast last week to join Paul Wheeler, someone with whom he has publicly and repeatedly voiced his disdain, was beyond the pail and one he has subsequently refused to apologise for.)

Therefore a time has arrived for a fresh start. A new channel! Regular live coverage! And the opportunity to redevelop the EIHL TV branding with fresh faces, fresh ideas and a fresh approach.

Murph’s discussion with us on the podcast intimated that with such an active knowledge base in players, ex-players and general manager that usually accompany most teams in the EIHL, the well is there to draw the experience from and put behind the mic.

Adding the perspective of a player, former-player or coach brings a credibility and professionalism to the production. And while we all would expect early productions that focus on bringing out an educational view on the sport (it can be a means to draw new ‘fans’ after all), which may grind on some, the insight from the experienced co-commentator is vital to the success of the production.

So it comes as a no surprise that Ben Olson, suffering an injury that jeeps him off the ice, was used for the test broadcast in Coventry. This would be the road many would expect the production to follow.

The question comes on the wider aspects of the “new set up”. The first three venues for broadcast are Coventry, Cardiff and Braehead. Three very distinct arenas each with a wealth of passionate fans and stories both on and off the ice. One would hope the production would draw from that. Retain the focus on the game, but in period breaks become an advertisement for the sporting experience both watching live hockey, and playing the game can provide.

The focus should be on fresh content, a fresh approach and most of all giving exposure to what we all know to be one of the fastest and most entertaining spectator sports in the country, enough to encourage those who have never been to venture to their local rink.

The other lively debate which has taken place today, as I referred to earlier in Lee Sims blog, is many peoples belief that members of existing Fan and Club based media deserve a position within any new set up. The on-going expansion of Fan Media through shows like The Cats Whiskers TV, our own AVFTB, InfernoTV etc have given an online voice to the general fan in a way mere blogs and fanzines were unable. A name, a face, a voice to the amateur broadcaster with an overwhelming passion for their team and the sport.

Productions like these take time and are a credit to those that create them (he said as modestly as he can) and while I am personally flattered by the suggestion and belief some people have that such productions can translate into a professional medium, I would fall on the other side of the argument.

My belief is that in order to retain a valid and professional approach that translates to the common sports fan, you require suitably experienced and qualified personnel to professionally present the content. This is the approach intimated by Murph in this morning’s interview.

The enthusiasm of many to want to provide assistance is admirable, but I am not saying fan and club generated media does not have a place alongside the national broadcast.

With rapidly gained experience in publicly presenting their knowledge and opinion, people such as Jono Bullard, Paul Wheeler, Aled Lloyd etc. certainly stand as a valid source of fan opinion. One that the Premier Sports coverage will undoubtedly draw on in some capacity, for short interviews etc, come the wider scope of the show. Murph has always been very accommodating in his support for those passionate fans who do their own productions, appearing on AVFTB on more than one occasion, likewise inviting members onto the GiantsLive production for discussion.

There is no reason to believe that as he helms the Premier Sports production he will not draw on the opinions of those same fans that provide fantastic and cost-free promotion and coverage for their team and the wider sport.

However the show itself will be, rightfully, left to the professionals!

And I even think David Simms will be involved in his own small way, he may divide the fanbase of the UK and at times act unprofessionally, but his experience and enthusiasm put him in the box seat for some sort of a role.

But I personally look forward to having a regular game on TV, and a fresh approach to the broadcasting of the sport in the UK. Piece by Piece we will have a change and hopefully it will be for the better. The opportunity is there.

Premier Sports have provided the medium, it’s now up to the Elite Ice Hockey League to provide the content.

Patrick Smyth

"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

“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

“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

Wir schaffen eine Atmosphäre

It dissertation editors can be strange how attitudes vary in life, never mind sport. But there is something tribal and visceral about sport spectatorship that effects so many people across the world. Even sports that appear as tame as darts or bowls can draw a competitive empathy from an onlooker who, though not competing themselves, wants to believe that his or her actions in the stands have added to and inspired the success of the team at task before them.

Thus comes the common misnomer that “we’ve won the league”. When Belfast lifted the Elite League title last season I was among friends looking on and to a man (and woman) we were proclaiming how great it was that “we won the title”.

“We”.

There is an emotional link with your sports team. The gentlemen who pull on the hockey shirts of your team are felt to be representing you. Each person in the crowd, while knowing little of the personal life of the team members, uses the abilities of the individuals and team as a whole as a representative of themselves on the national sporting stage. You watch your team win and cheer, you watch your team lose and gripe. Those in the stands cannot will the puck into the goal. They cannot put a hit in on a player at the boards, nor can they snatch the puck out of the air as a forward snipes on goal. Yet the emotion that such actions create draws the support or the derision of all spectators.

And when the season is complete fans of opposition teams congratulate the fans of those teams who took the ultimate spoils, again without merit of creating the achievement themselves, merely through choosing to support the successful team. Be that choice be consciously or through birth or abode.

Despite all this, can fans actually have an input to the game, can a collective create an atmosphere that can intimidate a visiting team and inspire a home team to victory? There is little analytical doubt that yes, a boisterous crowd can certainly have an effect. But inevitable there are varying theories on how and why. A BBC Online article from July 2008 cites everything from the adrenaline boost given by home advantage to the effect of a partisan crowd on the subconscious of the referee. While in 2004, Hilary MacGregor of the LA Times, was quick to highlight how, in certain finesse sports, a crowd can actually have a negative effect to that intended.

It does take a crowd to provide the atmosphere to give this sway. And it’s astounding how differing lands can give differing approaches and atmospheres to sport. Last week I was privileged enough to travel to one of my favourite cities in the world, Berlin. And to once again travel to see local DEL side, and reigning German Champions, Eisbaren Berlin as they took on Dusseldorf. This wasn’t my first trip to see them play but every time I enjoy it greatly for two distinct reasons.

Firstly I find the standard and style of hockey played there to be very entertaining. While not running down our own product, I wouldn’t be shocking anyone by giving my preference to the game in Central Europe.

But the second and most notable reason is the atmosphere. Taking up my position in the ‘Fankurve’ terrace at the O2 World Arena the atmosphere is overwhelming. The crowd all bedecked in their colours, their scarves, all in fine voice as the players take to the ice, joining the announcer in the introductory role by announcing the surnames man by man. The drums are loud, the songs are boisterous, the beer is flowing and the caldron is brewing. It is, quite simply, breath-taking. Short of my experience at the Ryder Cup in 2006 it is difficult to draw a memory of a more overwhelming sporting atmosphere than that in Germany.

From first puck to final buzzer the noise is persistent, both from the terrace and the seats. The songs are both complimentary and encouraging to the hosts while also providing derision and defamation to the characters of the visitors. Scarves are swung around heads as goals are scored, the visiting team subsequently mocked. And in all this the atmosphere remains relatively friendly. As a foreign visitor I have received nothing but welcomes and fantastic hospitality since my first visit back in 2005. Though there is little doubt a rival teams fans would not receive the same.

The question that bugged me a day or so later as the adrenaline and excitement of that experience, once again, began to fade; Outside of the crowd size, what is different to allow the atmosphere in German sport to be so vastly superior to our own?

Do we in the UK have a certain inbuilt subconscious inhibition that prevents us from going as far in our boisterous support as our European cousins? The Fankurve terrace sits as the hub of noise that influences the rest of the arena. However a “call and response” instance between fans midway through the final period demonstrated the attitude was not limited to those stood at one end of the arena.

The involvement of a terrace is one thing, yet outlawed in the UK Stadiums since the Taylor Report in 1990, standing does not overtly influence attitudes. A history of loud chanting and songs through the ages, passed from father to son could be cited, however teams like Nottingham and Fife can claim to somewhat have this history intact, while other fans will have been watching ice hockey through various franchises for almost 20 years, at what point does a “Culture of Noise” develop.

Crowd capacity is certainly an issue, the empty blue seats of the Motorpoint Arena etc cannot make noise on their own and this is certainly an “atmosphere killer”, something that commercial development to bring larger number through the door could try to rectify. Yet it would need those who are regular patrons to inspire the newly arrived into regular chants, into regular songs and demonstrate what the atmosphere could be like.

Sadly in my years following the sport in this country such an attitude is all too rare. Silence has been deafening in many arenas from the NIC to the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle. An all too unwilling fear that to make noise would set you apart, or disturb someone watching the game.

I look forward to travelling to Germany in the next few weeks, many Giants fans maybe travelling to a German hockey arena for the first time. I pray that the atmosphere that will meet them may inspire them to pack it in their suitcases and return it to the Odyssey Arena. To be creative in their support and in such good voice that they regularly leave Queens Island hoarse.

The sport on the ice is only one half the entertainment. The atmosphere we create should be the other, because in the end our home arena should have its identity determined by the one constant fixture.

The Fans.

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

Look To The Sky…

Elite League Ice Hockey is to return to Sky for another season. However the question cialis online remains as to its value.

There is of course no doubt that media coverage is paramount in the successful promotion of professional sport. And while Sky Sports remains the leader of sports coverage in the UK, EIHL’s partnership with Televideo doesn’t come without some question as to its actual ability over the last 5 seasons to “pull in” the casual sports fan.

The main problem has been scheduling. I’m not so naïve to think that such a minority sport deserves primetime “front and centre” exposure, however over the seasons the magazine show in whichever form it has taken, has been sporadically scheduled and rescheduled across different Sky Sports Channels. A lack of scheduling consistency has led to the lack of regular viewing from many. ‘Jimmy Sports Fan’ may catch the end of one of the shows, and despite interest, return the next week to see that it no longer resides at the “same bat-time” on the “same bat-channel”, and thus the potential pull has gone.

What worth is a place on Sky Sports 3? The latest press release is full of platitude as to the “national exposure” the continuing deal provides. However, OfCom estimates there are 60million televisions in the UK, while SkyTV has only around 11 million subscriptions to the service, and around 6 million to Virgin Media, thus the actual subscription to Sky Sports package will only be a low percentage of that. So a 28% coverage of the UK with an *ability* to watch the EIHL does not take into account the uptake of Sky Sports, nor the actual viewership of Sky Sports 3 or 4 at a sporadic time on a Friday evening.

Would this time, money and effort (it’s not hard to see where I’m going with this), not be better served in an attempt to curry favour with the national terrestrial broadcasters? Be it BBC or commercial. Be that Radio, TV or Online. Yes it’s not as easily said as carried out. However such a prospect would no doubt give higher return. Of course scheduling slots are probably more in demand terrestrially than on subscription channels. But the frustration in loving a sport that is practically ignored by the nationwide media does not stop the dreamer from hoping for a better time and better way.

I do understand that despite my gripe, even a 1 hour magazine show for Aviva Premiership Rugby is relegated to 9pm on a Sunday night on ITV4, but even this has a larger potential audience than its Sky Sports counterpart.

It would be interesting for the EIHL to be forthright and upfront about the success of the Sky deal. With the renewed contract for a 6th season there must be some implied value in it that this blogger isn’t really picking up on. And while I’m not running down the content, my belief in the product is such that, like a lot of people, we hope for more.

Lets Get Physical, Physical…

“Hockey is a physical sport” a line used time and time and time again by both its promoters and its detractors. Be it by those defending an action on the ice or by those who feel there just isn’t enough action. But needless to say in a sport with such physical contact there are always going to be conversation inducing incidents.

In the last couple of weeks such incidents have dominated forums, press releases and blogs concerning my own team, the Belfast Giants. It was only a matter of weeks ago that a much watched hit between Benoit Doucet and Sam Zajac in Braehead took over pages and pages of debate across the league, many initially calling for a ban for the Belfast Giants forward. Subsequent slow motions and assessments caused opinions to change, to an extent, and the league itself saw fit not to impose a ban, but to expunge the penalty awarded by referee Moray Hanson on Doucet at the time from the Canadians disciplinary record.

As such a lot of talk about “retribution” circled last weekends return game between the two sides, but the outcome was one no one wanted.

I am not going into too much depth on the rights and wrongs of what took place other than to say my sympathies do fall with the linesmen who, despite undertaking what I see as correct initial action, due to Zajac being flat out on the ice from a Ryan Crane hit and Doucet moving toward him in that position, they became embroiled in an unfortunate sequences of events which has now led to the end of Doucet’s season through injury. There was no malice in the events and the loss of Doucet is certainly frustrating, but to point fingers at the linesmen who, in their correct initial actions, were doing a thankless job, is to ignore what can certainly also be deemed a “grey area”.

I am sorry for Doucet’s injury. And certainly wish him a speedy recovery. He has been an excellent servant to the Giants in his all too brief period in our shirt.

Since the incident the shouts have been about “let them fight” and “Linesmen never let the players do what is an important part of the game”. This has led to me thinking about the initial statement of this blog.

“Hockey is a physical sport”

Is it? Or is it a “Skilled sport with physical tactics”. No doubt folk will claim there is no difference but in my opinion there is. And it’s this difference that polarises the approach to the sport, not just by fans but by many in the wider media.

I make, nor have ever made, no bones about what I prefer in the sport. The beauty of a tic-tac-toe play, watching an offensive d-man picking a pin point pass to perfectly placed one-timer from an advancing forward, that perfectly timed poke-check when it looks like the breakaway forward is destined to score. But this isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the physicality employed in the sport. I adore a brilliantly executed hip check. Taking out a forward mid-ice because his head is down, perfect example of how physical tactics are part and parcel of the game.

And yes, fighting is certainly part of those tactics, but I do have issues in its application. There is a distinct difference between “Fighting for the Game” and “Fighting for the Grandstand”, examples of both have been seen at the Odyssey over the years gone by.

Physicality in the game is a tactic of intimidation. Putting the skilful players on their toes, looking over their shoulders and keeping out of the way of someone they feel may hurt or, worse, injure them.

The need to pay attention to the intimidation, and not to the game objective, goal scoring.

The fighting I wholly prefer in the game is that which spawns from the ongoing action of the match. The kick back from a skilful forward tired of being picked on. The enforcer sent on to change momentum and show support for his team mates is something that seems to have been lost in recent years from the Elite League. The arrival of the so-called “Sherriff” Sean McMorrow was a sad turn down the road of ‘fighting for fighting sake’.

The repetitive articles in the paper ‘calling out’ forthcoming opposition tough guys like Voth and Knight got tiresome. The grandstanding like David Haye in order to goad a fight became nothing but tiresome. In this there was no real tactic. The player didn’t have that in him. Empty threats of player intimidation in the press were never fulfilled. It was lost on me what he brought to the game outside of a “fight a night” promise, further ammunition to the anti-hockey elements of the media and beyond who saw us not as sportsfans, but as those who wave foam fingers at WWE style ‘Sports Entertainment’.

This caused immense amounts of frustration to those of us who had seen the job of an enforcer/fighter/tough guy taken to it’s zenith on Odyssey ice by the likes of Paxton Schulte and Paul Kruse. Two players who could intimidate the opposition, put pucks in the net and also stick up for their team mates when they needed to. But if I was to name one of the toughest players to wear the Giants shirt, Paul Ferone would be among Kruse and Schulte without a doubt.

A player who demonstrated that sometimes size doesn’t matter. He’d throw in a late hit, a slash behind the play and agitate like few others, but would also surprise, that when the gloves hit the floor he’d probably be one of the favourites to take the tilt. Fist waving furiously he knew that his actions needed backing up, and he had that ability.

An element of physical play that over the seasons have been sparse from the Giants line up. Pat Bateman and more recently Daryl Lloyd have displayed elements that bring both energy to the team and entertainment to the crowd. While Adam Keefe this season has also proven that you don’t need a ‘fight a night’ to please the crowd with physical play.

So from that we come to those in the stands, and the entertainment that the physical tactics of the game bring. I’m not so naïve as to believe fighting has little role in the sport, its need is palpable when the conditions are correct and few things bring the crowd to their feet more readily than a punch up. But in a game dominated by persistent physical play the crowd can be taken and kept on the edge of their seat, waiting for the moment when one of the teams crack and lash out. And even if they don’t a feisty game can leave the punters happy, provided of course those tactics brought the win.

Can fighting be used as a “bums on seats” means? Most certainly, but can it keep them there? Slapshot is a great film, but is it really a means to educate the running of a hockey club? Not really. In my opinion the bums return to the seats due to success. While the fights may be the opening of the door, the skill and success of the game should be the means to hold that door ajar.

No doubt I’ll be taken as a ‘hockey snob’ and not for the first time. I don’t profess to be any authority in the sport, and not least the physical tactics of it. For that I bow to those who have experienced it first hand, or someone like Vic Silverwood in Cardiff who has studied it in depth. Nor do I claim to hide behind the defence of ‘It’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it’; I am certainly open to the debate on the forums or twitter.

The subject is such a widely written about one I feel I can’t do it any real justice in this modest blog.

I do feel however that sometimes the physicality aspect of the game is misunderstood to *be* the game.

And while it has its role within the plexi-glass walls, it is but a means to the objective.

Putting a vulcanised rubber disc through a rectangle of metal and ice, by fair means or, sometimes, foul.