Best Day Ever – a true story

My two friends and I stepped out of the taxi and into the warm spring sunshine. Architecturally stunning Sofitel St James stood proudly before us. As our luggage was unpacked from the car by the driver an immaculately dressed doorman with a trolley approached. ‘Welcome’ he said ‘Please follow me, Francesco is waiting for you’.

Entering through the familiar entrance and into the wonderfully scented foyer, wedding co-ordinator Francesco stood waiting. After a swift check in, he escorted us up to a beautiful and stylish suite. The three of us grinned at each other and Francesco watched as we took in the rooms and the little touches; the gift of a pretty silver photo frame, a stunning cake to enjoy with little china plates, silverware and linen napkins laid out on a glass topped table together with a bottle of champagne on ice and several glasses. Francesco left us to enjoy. We freshened up and popped down to the St James Bar to meet with some of the guests.

With all the arrangements taken care of by the unobtrusive and expert staff, we three simply relaxed with drinks and some bar snacks as we gradually welcomed more of the wedding party. My fiancé and the rest of the family arrived and were whisked away to their rooms to get ready and when it was time; us girls withdrew to the suite to prepare.

Once the registrars had completed their paperwork and it was nearing five o’clock, Francesco arrived promptly once more to take my two handsome sons and me down to the ceremony room. Every detail had been completed with the utmost care so as the doors opened my focus was entirely on my fiancé. The flower arrangements were stunning and as Tansy Aked and her fabulous Too Darn Hot band began playing When I Fall In Love my heart almost burst and happy tears formed in the corners of my eyes.

With the ceremony complete the doors swung open to where guests were arriving for the reception. The most delicate and delicious canapés were served with champagne as guests mingled happily until with a flourish the main doors were opened to reveal our reception suite. It was perfect in every way; the tables set exactly how I’d imagined with the most beautiful candelabra flower arrangements on each one. The band launched into the first of three sets of West End Theatre tunes, the singers took to the stage and the celebrations began.

Having enjoyed the attentions of the head chef just a few weeks previously at the menu tasting my new husband and I reveled in the fact that our guests were about to enjoy some wonderful culinary delights. As expected the beef fillet was sublime, the abundant desserts a triumph and the table of cheeses and port exceeded every expectation. We smiled at each other as our nearest and dearest nodded appreciatively as they feasted on each course and the wine flowed.

The magical evening I hoped would never end slowed and guests took a final drink or a coffee before disappearing to their rooms or making their way home. My husband and I retired to our suite and as we sat amongst the thoughtfully scattered rose petals on the bed we sipped one final glass of champagne and reminisced about our magical five star London wedding day.

Finally settling to slumber in a super comfy bed overlooking Waterloo Place our happy thoughts turned to the sweetest of dreams and the continuation of our happy ever after.

 

 

 

Moments In Time – a short story

Alex felt the heat from the scorching midday sun beating down on the back of her head. It was a dizzying hot summer’s day and the flashbacks flickered through her mind just as she took a small step forward.

First came the school playground. A place where lifelong friendships are forged and where moments shape a person into what they later become. There stood a 7-year-old boy and a slightly older girl. The boy stood quite still, wearing little round glasses with brown plastic frames. He lifted his hand and shielded his pretty blue eyes from the sun. He was a skinny specimen in grey shorts with elasticated waist, a crisp white shirt and knee-high socks.

Alex observed her childish self; she was somewhat taller and thicker set than the boy, her curly red hair forced back into a bunch with a bright blue bobble. She was wearing her blue gingham summer uniform and she carried a purple skipping rope, which dangled down from her right hand.

‘Move’ she said forcefully, standing directly in front of the boy. She stood firmly, hands on hips, her pretty face contorted with contempt. The boy stood still, rooted to the spot. Alex relished the feeling of power she had over him especially since everyone else teased her for being freckly and ginger. She was taking back control. This was the first time she had picked on him; it felt good for those few seconds. ‘Are you deaf as well as stupid’ she said meanly, poking him in the chest with the plastic end of the skipping rope.

‘You could go around me’ he answered bravely, standing up straight, growing just a fraction in height and confidence. ‘The playground is big enough for everyone’.

Alex’s face reddened and screwed up with anger. She took a step forward and leaned in towards him spitting in his face as she spoke ‘Give me your lunch money stupid. You look like a monkey with your messy hair and your sticky out ears. Do it now or you’ll be sorry.’

The boy thought for a moment and chewed his lip. He fiddled with the shiny coins in his pocket and with a considered look on his face he finally held them out in his sweaty hand. He breathed deeply to stop the tears that threatened to fall from the corners of his eyes. As Alex went to snatch her spoils he curled his fingers back around the money, silently put it back in his pocket, turned and walked away.

Without hesitation Alex flung her rope out and whipped the back of his legs quickly with a sharp thwack, the cheap nylon leaving red welts on the backs of his knees. ‘That’ll teach him’ she thought as she waited for his response. The boy didn’t falter, he kept walking and he didn’t look back. She was momentarily puzzled. Why hadn’t he cried? Why hadn’t he challenged her? He had turned the other cheek. This was bravery.

Another memory quickly replaced the first. It was a cold and crisp autumn day. Alex’s dad was pushing the rusty red bike through piles of red and brown leaves on the pavement outside no. 47. The stabilisers had finally been taken off. ‘If you believe in yourself you can do it’ he called encouragingly, his hand cupped by the side of his mouth, as she began wobbling down the street on two wheels for the very first time. Dressed in warm clothes and wearing elbow pads and helmet Alex started pedalling, unsteady steering giving way to confidence. ‘Yes!’ Her dad shouted ‘Yes! I knew you could do it’.

As the bike gathered pace down the gentle hill Alex noticed the familiar face of a boy wearing glasses watching her. At about the same time, she realised that the brakes were failing and as her concentration lapsed both bike and rider clattered in a heap on the pavement. Alex stood up and brushed the leaves from her woolly jumper. She was embarrassed having fallen but she waved at her dad from the bottom of the hill and grinned despite the bruised knees and grazed knuckles. She looked around for the boy. He was standing beside his own garden-gate half way up the hill, craning his neck to see if she was ok. They exchanged shy smiles as the boy gave her the thumbs up to congratulate her bike-riding success. With an extraordinary feeling of self-belief never previously experienced, Alex ran back up the hill with the bike. This was confidence.

The fleeting memory of confidence dissipated as the desperate and unnerving whining sound of an animal in pain flooded through Alex’s troubled mind. Like a tidal wave it swept the optimistic feeling of the previous memory crashing to one side.

Barnaby lay on his side, wrapped up in a thick red jumper. He shivered, his eyes opening now and then as a tiny whimper escaped his mouth. The elderly black Labrador foamed gently at the mouth while the boy and the girl sat cross-legged on the floor, side by side and tempted him with water, squeezing a sponge between his lips one last time. Barnaby was the boy’s dog and he was leaving. He had been poorly for weeks and nobody could bear to see him hurting any more.

The lady in the green veterinary nurses uniform picked up his weary body and gently carried him to the table. Family and friends crowded round, each one holding a paw,  stroking their friend Barnaby’s grey chin or his velvet ears. Salty tears rolled silently down the faces of his people as Barnaby slipped gently away from one world, and unseen by the family, bounded into the next released from pain and suffering. Twelve year old, red headed Alex reached out for her best friend’s hand and squeezed it gently as his tears trickled down behind his glasses. Through the dream-like haze, Alex felt the prickle of new tears forming at the memory shared by two childhood friends. This was loss.

Another quick flash and she was looking through the picture window of a small cottage. The man before her was big and strong, much changed from his awkward younger self. He was tall, manly and wearing a smart suit. The woman matched him in height, her demeanour displaying a gentleness brought on by maturity. Her thick red curls were pulled back from her face with a headband of blue flowers. She wore a pretty white cotton dress and no shoes. A ceiling fan above them gently circled, cooling the oppressive summer night.

The familiar scene was a memory from a life filled with remarkable moments. As the sultry tones of At Last by Etta James filled the room, the man took off his glasses to reveal his pretty blue eyes and pulled his love towards him, his lips gently brushing hers. Their eyes locked as they moved slowly back and forth in time to the music. He took her hand in his as they edged towards the door and he tenderly touched her cheek. Electricity filled the air as a storm brewed outside. She smiled at him, an unmistakable look of adoration and longing. He led her into the bedroom and gently closed the door as thunder grumbled and lightning struck. This was love.

One memory merged into the next as the sound of thunder intensified. Suddenly trapped in a harsh memory of war that had played over and over in her mind a thousand times Alex remembered a baking hot day in the desert. The air was dusty and dry, so dry it caught in her throat. The muffled sound of gunfire and exploding grenades in the distance was replaced suddenly by an almighty intense flash of orange and a deafening boom. The full force of the explosion threw a dirt-covered truck carrying military personnel upside down. Panic ensued. Sound became muted, barely audible.

The medic with the thick red hair ran to the aid of the soldiers in the truck. Others ran the other way, their arms gesturing her to safety. Alex was alone as she reached the silently smouldering truck and frantically searched, hands desperately clawing at the wreckage for signs of life. Initially there was none. And then she found him. Once so big and strong, he now lay there broken and bleeding, barely breathing. She gathered every ounce of strength she could muster and pulled him to safety, dragging him away from the wreckage like a doll. The truck exploded and the man’s glasses fell from his pocket and onto the dirt. With one final explosion shrapnel flew through the air and life ebbed away. This was death.

The flashbacks stopped as Alex gulped air into her lungs frantically, her heart beating wildly against her rib cage and her eyes flew open. The pavement rushed up towards her face, her red curls flying out behind her.

In the last moments of her life he was there. The awkward scrawny boy, her best friend, her lover, the broken man in uniform. He had reached out to her from beyond life to remind her of an extraordinary existence of shared moments. They had grown together, the awkward little boy and the feisty red head. Alex had loved him more than life itself and life had tortured her with his loss.

In that split second as the pavement at the foot of the tallest building in the city greeted Corporal Alexandra Stone, she remembered love, she remembered bravery, she remembered all that she had learned with him and from him. She knew he had made her a better person and as her life drew to a close she wished she could have taken one step back instead of forward. This was regret.

 

 

People and hockey – the perfect combination!

My love affair with ice hockey began in the 1980s and it was Christine’s fault. Christine and I both worked on a motor trade newspaper in Sutton. She supported Streatham Redskins and quickly welcomed me into the fold at Streatham High Road as a new fan. Before long I was travelling to Scotland and the North East on double-header weekends with Christine and her best friend Jan. We watched hockey, we ate chip butties, we laughed until our sides ached and we drank far too much. We had the best times.

Jan’s boyfriend Trevor played on the team and when we went to the rink in the off-season I put on the horrible blue skates and he taught me to skate backwards. We all spent non-hockey weekends at Jan’s drinking shots, watching hockey and scary films and laughing like crazy people. My social life revolved around the sport and it’s people, both players and fans alike. Christine and I would stagger in to the office on a Monday morning after long hockey weekends on the road. Bleary eyed and cigarette in hand we’d nip down to the canteen for toast and coffee. We may have been work colleagues but hockey bound our friendship.

Everywhere you look, the sport is about camaraderie, friendship and family. In Whitley Bay we used to stay in this little B&B, The Railway I think it was called. The owner’s daughter needed a place to say near Sutton so Andi became our lodger shortly afterwards. People again. Always people.

So life and hockey moved on and as the team went their separate ways, and lots moved to Slough Jets, so did Christine and Jan. Years passed and eventually we lost touch completely but I never forgot the good times.

And then one Saturday evening in 2014, I was watching Pointless Celebrities. A question about the Stanley Cup jump-started my memory and as I rattled off the names of Stanley Cup winners Brian asked how I knew the answers. Once reminiscing about the Redskins and Monday nights at the Maple Leaf in Covent Garden was done we thought we’d see if Streatham Redskins were still around.

As luck would have it they were playing the following night. We went and watched and hubby was almost immediately hooked. One thing lead to another, I fell in love with hockey again and Brian sponsored the team for a couple of years. We made new friends. The Streatham family did that – it bound us to the sport and to new people like it had for me so many years before.

So when enormous change came to the club last summer and most of our favourites moved on there were choices to make. Ultimately you do what makes you happy right? So it’s easy. We do what Chris and Jan did in the 80s. We decide we will rock up at home games in Bracknell to watch our favourites play in yellow and black for the Hornets, we choose to watch Elite hockey at Guildford because it’s fast and furious and because we can and we support hockey in general because it has this enormous wealth of great people within it who make it what it is.

Finally, as hockey came back into my little world I was shocked and saddened to discover that both Christine and Jan had tragically passed away. We never got chance to catch up and that makes me sad. Just a little bit. But then when I’m standing in a line for chips at a freezing cold rink, when I hear that old Redskins drum beat or when I’m drinking with new friends I remember the girls and smile.

Hockey is still hockey and friends are still friends no matter what change may bring. So to everyone we know on and off the ice, whichever teams you’re into we wish you a successful, fun filled and joyous season of both hockey and friendship.

 

 

View From The Apple Tree (a short story)

Most days, especially on balmy August afternoons, Eliza would skip down to the end of the garden and carefully climb the steps into the makeshift tree house in the gnarly old apple tree. She rather liked her own company and the weatherworn wooden hideaway was a place of calm, somewhere to dream, to watch the birds, the butterflies and peer at the tiny insects on the crooked branches of a tree long since tired of bearing fruit. She’d snuggle up on the cushions there, tuck her legs up under her, and simply stare out beyond the garden at the acres of gently sloping fields.

Scented white jasmine with it’s abundant fragrance would invade her nostrils stimulating vivid memories of warm summer days, playing games in the garden, the occasional barbecue, sitting on Mama’s lap while she read a book or just relaxing in the sunshine. Sometimes Eliza  would close her eyes, let the sun warm her face and allow her mind to go blank. The occasional buzz of a bee gorging on the pollen from the bright blue ceanothus did nothing to divert her attention. She felt at one with nature and at peace.

At around five each evening whenever Eliza was sitting in her treasured tree house or playing in the garden and before her beloved Papa Rufus arrived home her vibrant but delicate Mama, Valentina would appear with a glass of lemonade and call her in for tea, her warm, gentle tones filtering down the garden accompanied by a tiny tinkling bell. The garden was vast, the bell helped.

On Tuesday everything changed. Early in the afternoon, sometime after lunch and certainly well before tea, Eliza’s daydreams were abruptly interrupted by raised voices. She looked away from the acres of fields that bordered a small area of uneven shrub land at the end of the garden and shifted her gaze towards the house next door.

Horatio and Louisa lived next door, he a celebrated painter and sculptor and she, apparently quite the talent in interior design. A sizeable Victorian glasshouse backed on to the manicured garden and was Horatio’s haven, easels, palettes and tubes of paint everywhere, clay pots and unusual metal sculptures dotted around the stone tiled floor. The glass twinkled as sunlight bounced through the panels creating shadows from the many exotic plants of varying type, colour, shape and size. Eliza craned her neck from her lofty position and could just about see the gangly figure of Horatio as he paced the room, deftly avoiding his easels and his precious art works as he gesticulated animatedly. The familiar sound of Mama’s voice rose higher as agitation filled the air.

“Just tell her Horatio. It’s time. I honestly can’t do this for a moment longer” Valentina shouted, exasperation in her voice. “I need you, you understand me in a way Rufus never has. Please my darling, we can be together, our future is just a whisper away, let’s be brave, let’s do it,” she begged.

“No! Don’t you dare do this Valentina” Horatio thundered, rolling his eyes skywards as he turned away from his lover, arms flailing. “We have discussed this so many times. What we have now is enough. It can never be more”.

Valentina clutched at the diamond pendant around her neck slightly too hard and it fell away onto the floor as the dainty clasp broke and she continued “When Rufus gave this to me for our anniversary I was almost physically sick. I can’t bear it. I wear it only because I feel I must. I don’t want to be with him. It’s you Horatio. Don’t you get it? It has always been you”.

“Nothing you say will change how I feel Valentina” replied an exasperated Horatio, shaking his head from side to side. “I just don’t feel it the way you do, I still adore Louisa, no matter how tempestuous our relationship and now it’s time for us to stop. We’re done. This pressure. It’s just too much.” He reached out and put his hands on her shoulders.

Valentina erupted as she pushed his arms away. “Then I shall tell them both and I will do it tonight.” She turned swiftly heading towards the door as Horatio rushed to intercept her.

Eliza lost sight of Valentina for just a split second as the sound of shattering glass reverberated through the air. Jumping to her feet and looking down between the branches of the tree Eliza caught a glimpse of her Mama lying on the floor in the corner of the glasshouse. She was very still. The dark figure of Horatio knelt over her, head momentarily bowed. As silence filled the air a thick, sticky scarlet substance silently oozed down the channel where the floor tiles met the remaining glass. Valentina remained motionless and the red liquid fanned out around her like ink on blotting paper as Eliza looked on.

Rooted to the spot in utter shock, Eliza’s eyes widened as Horatio began to dash about in panic and having mopped and cleaned frantically, ran to the foot of the garden, took his shovel from the shed and hurriedly dug a deep hole in the small patch of grassland between his garden and the fields beyond. “Shit. Shit. Shit” he repeated as he bundled Valentina into his wheelbarrow, trundled quickly to the end of the garden and carelessly tipped her small, lifeless body into the hole. As he pushed the cool dirt over the body of his former lover he wept softly glancing up to the back of each house occasionally, muttering and pausing only to wipe his fevered brow with the back of his hand. Eliza had moved silently to the back of the tree house lest Horatio should see her watching, her heart racing, her breathing shallow.

Finally, with the newly dug grave filled and the almost forgotten diamond pendant hastily pushed as far down into the dirt as he could reach, the artist ventured back into his garden and lit a small fire to dispose of his blood soaked checkered shirt and the towels he had used to clean up.

Eliza sat for a long time unable to make sense of what she had seen and when grey clouds clustered overhead and the flames of the bonfire were little more than embers she climbed tentatively down the ladder and ran back noiselessly to the house. She managed a small drink of water to moisten her dry scratchy throat and sat dumbstruck, silently waiting for her Papa’s return.

“Hello my beautiful girl” said Rufus closing the front door behind him and striding in. He called out to Valentina several times before rushing up the stairs and calling back down distractedly to Eliza “Where’s your Mama got to then my darling, did she say where she was going?” He moved from one room to the next quickly checking but Valentina was nowhere to be seen.

Time passed and his worry grew. Eliza stood behind the half opened door and peeped through the gap as her Papa opened a brand new bottle of single malt and poured himself a double, completely lost in his own thoughts. There had been no message from Valentina and she would never have left eight year old Eliza alone for more than a few minutes. As the hours passed with no sign of his wife, his concern for her safety increased and Rufus dialled the police. With nothing missing from the house and Valentina absent for a relatively short time it was too early to jump to conclusions they had said. So Rufus did what Rufus always did and poured a second large measure of whisky, and then several more as he paced the house. Eventually he stumbled upstairs to bed and fell quickly, fully clothed into a deep alcohol induced sleep. The house remained silent, unlocked and Eliza had been completely forgotten.

Eliza slept fitfully, waking often with a start as the details of the previous afternoon came rushing into her mind. A new day dawned, the sun peeked through the curtains and Eliza got up. Without hesitation and desperate to be close to her Mama she quietly picked her way down the stairs, out of the open boot room door, and down the path to the bottom of the garden. The familiar scent of jasmine once more filled her senses as new, distressing images crowded her brain.

A skinny little thing, she was able to duck through a gap in the fence, finding herself standing on a patchy grass area alongside the freshly turned dirt that covered her beloved Mama’s hastily hidden body. Haphazardly disguised with some garden clippings and old slate roof tiles, the upturned wheelbarrow had been strategically placed to shield the grave from view.

Eliza was almost certain she could smell her Mama’s perfume in the gentle morning breeze and as disturbing flashbacks suddenly cascaded through her mind she flung herself onto the mound of dirt and began to claw at the earth, pushing it away as fast as she could in a furious attempt to reveal Valentina’s whereabouts.

Back up at the house, Rufus pulled back the heavy curtains and squinted through the window as daylight filled the room. He rubbed his eyes and then shielded them from the sun as he stared distractedly out towards the end of the garden, his mind entirely occupied with his wife’s disappearance.

As his eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight something caught his eye just beyond the garden fence. It was not just a very grubby looking Eliza, the pretty little white cat he so adored, but something sparkling in the dirt beside her. Something that twinkled like a diamond.

Behind the scenes with …. Richard Carpenter, NIHLS League Manager

With the 2017/18 season less than a month away, fixtures almost complete, rosters (mostly) announced and updated rules in the bag it feels like a good time to catch up with League Manager for NIHLS, Richard Carpenter.

Hi Richard, first things first, most of us know you as the League Manager for NIHLS but what is your full time occupation?

I’m a Senior Member of the University of Oxford, working in the Humanities.

And when you’re not busy running the league, what do you like to do with your spare time?

During the off-season like right now, I’m typing this from next to my tent camped out in East Sussex and enjoy seeing different parts of the country and enjoying the break off from the game. During the season, I typically attend over 50 games of hockey a season, so my weekends are fully booked up from September until the end of April. On a Monday night however, I can be found playing in the Witney and District Cribbage league, myself and Nancy won the Mixed Pairs a few years ago.

Everyone seems to have a favourite NHL team – which is yours?

For reasons that are long forgotten, I support the Columbus Blue Jackets. One of these days, we might even make it to round 2 of the playoffs!

You’re married to the powerhouse behind 482days.com, how long have you and Nancy been together and do you always agree about hockey?

We often agree, but when we disagree we tend to fight our corner. We’re both individuals that are very passionate about the sport but those who sat on the committee when we were running the Oxford City Stars will tell you that we hardly agreed at all! We’ve been together for coming up to 10 years now, married for four. Unsurprisingly, we met through hockey.

Do you play piamg and do you drink your tea out of a piamg mug?!

No, I don’t play it. I don’t drink tea or coffee, so typically for me a 482days.com mug means that I’m not feeling well and drinking a lemsip out of it!

Which is your favourite rink in the UK?

So hard to pick just one. For sheer history and atmosphere, either Kirkcaldy or Whitley Bay. As a modern facility, I love ice Sheffield and it’s design, it’s always such a pleasure to go there. It wasn’t love at first sight but I’ve come to really like the new Streatham rink, although, for me, the original was such a special place. However, if I had to pick a winner overall, one that has the whole package, I think it’s hard to look past Ice Arena Wales in Cardiff Bay. Brilliant exterior, two great pads, outstanding sight lines in the main arena, it’s superb to have it in both NIHL1 and NIHL2.

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Action at the old Streatham Rink (courtesy of Rick Webb)

What is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen at a game?

Plenty that I can’t say! But one that always makes me smile is at Coventry back in the 2000/01 season. Hilton Ruggles, ex-Whitley, Manchester, Cardiff and Newcastle forward, signed for Coventry in the first season after the move from Solihull and was very much a character. He took a 2+10 and went to the box for his penalty. After getting in the box, he had a quick read of the Coventry Evening Telegraph and then after a few minutes, a fan turns up and passes a packet of chips from the café through. Suffice it to say, sat in the block right behind this, it was hilarious. He was also the best ever player to be refused a contract for the Murrayfield Racers, but that’s another story.

So tell us about your first ever experience of ice hockey?

My parents took me to watch Sheffield Steelers vs Durham Wasps in the old Heineken Premier League back in the 93/94 season, and I loved it from the first moment I watched it. Because my mum and dad knew people that worked/volunteered for the club, I had the full tour as well which was great!

Have you ever played hockey and if so, who for and what position did you play?

I’ve never played. I was learning to skate once and broke my ankle on both sides. And so, can’t play, can’t skate. Can’t coach either.

How long have you been League Manager and in a nutshell what does this entail?

I joined the NIHL LMC as NIHL Assistant League Manager (South) in August 2015 and became NIHL League Manager in August 2016 and we’ve just appointed another NIHL League Manager to cover the Northern Conference as of this May.

Each of us League Managers does two things, we are responsible for the day-to-day running of the league, answering queries from clubs, approving matters under the rules where required. We do not do fixtures or registrations, nor do we suspend players. A typical week for me is about handling any club correspondence. On a gameday, we stay available to help resolve any issues that may occur across the country

Each League Manager also has a specialism and mine is rule-writing/NIHL Governance, hence why I write the Rules of Competition and bore people about them on twitter.

What’s the best thing and the worst about being League Manager?

Personally, I do this role to try and make a difference for ice hockey in the UK, hence why I volunteer my time for it. I honestly believe that the governance we’ve built over the past few years is starting to pay off in the game and that’s the most pleasing thing about it.

The worst thing simply is having to clamp down, when we have to do this. An example is what happened at the start of last season in NIHL1 South, when the league was nearly out of control with huge numbers of brawls in the first month of the season. The EIHA and myself prefer a more passive approach to league management, but if we have to get more involved, then we will. It’s still not something that anyone particularly enjoys though.

What do you love about hockey in the UK.

For me, the best thing about it is seeing the away support, people travelling from their own rinks, making lots of noise and supporting their team. I’d really encourage people that are just home game only fans to give it a try, travelling away from home, you’ll find it’s a totally different experience, and probably a better one from an atmosphere point of view.

If you could wave a magic wand and change three things in hockey at NIHL level what would they be?

There’s no doubt that this has been an eventful summer already. I certainly didn’t expect that we’d be in this position, with the EPIHL folded and the NIHL now the remaining EIHA Senior League. However, it’s a great opportunity to build something new as well. In terms of change, I think we’ve had enough of that already thanks!

Out of all the games you’ve watched over the years which NIHL game has been the most memorable and why?

As a fan: Feb 2010, Chelmsford Chieftains 2 – 3 Oxford City Stars. Stars go three up, Chiefs hit back to 3-2 then hit the crossbar, bounces on the line and out. Referee awards no goal, Oxford fans go crazy and seal the victory. Hockey at it’s passionate and controversial best.

As club secretary: April 2013, Oxford City Stars 4 – 3 Slough Jets. Stars trail three times but Joe Oliver scores the winner to win the league for the Stars. First time Oxford had been sold out in years and years, great to see.

Since becoming League Manager: April 2016, Streatham 4 – 4 Chelmsford Chieftains. Streatham, it’s fair to say annihilated in the Cup Final a few weeks before, edged past Oxford in 1st round playoffs, but produced a stunning performance. Redskins edged ahead but Chelmsford leveled it up late at 4. Outstanding game of hockey.

What would your stand out moment of last season be in NIHLS1? And NIHLS2?

Probably the playoff finals, 2nd legs for both. Both had a Chelmsford team, well behind after the first leg, making an incredible start to the game and everyone thinking, “surely, they can’t actually do this”. It ended up with two superb finals and I really enjoyed them both.

Of the players that you know who would you say are the most talented young players in the new NIHL currently?

I think that at the moment, it’s difficult to start answering questions on this because of all of the changes that have taken place already with this season. I think it’s fair to say, it’s going to take some time for this league to settle down and then we’ll be in a better question to think about such things.

What are you looking forward to most next season?

Without a doubt the playoffs. Sixteen team, joined up playoffs is a dream come true, it really is and I personally can’t wait for it.

And finally, I have to ask, who’s going to win the league?

As you didn’t define the league, I’ll pluck for the mighty Columbus Blue Jackets to lift the Stanley Cup.

Very sneaky of Mr Carpenter there to elegantly side-step the final question but there you have it, a brief insight into the man behind the scenes managing NIHLS. Thanks to Richard for taking time out to answer some questions whilst enjoying the great outdoors in what little we have left of summer. Don’t forget to give him a wave when you spot him next season if he happens to be at your rink.

Now, let the hockey commence …

 

Featured image from Chelmsford v Invicta playoff final courtesy of Ice Cold Photography 

 

View From The Crowd (part 3)

As the Off On A Tangent series of fan reviews draws to a close it’s the turn of Invicta Dynamos under the spotlight. With his team placed second in last years NIHLS1 and crowned play off champions, IDF (Invicta Dynamos Fan) takes us through his thoughts.

He first started watching Invicta when he moved to Medway seven years ago and has been a loyal supporter ever since. Like the two fans in the previous reviews it was the excitement, grit and determination shown throughout the game that attracted him to watching. As he says ‘There is nothing like watching the end to end rushes, ending in a highlight reel goal to get you on your feet’

IDF has chosen the 2008/2009 season as his favourite so far as a hockey fan when the Mo’s were ENIHL Southern and National champions. It was a great team with both talent and character.

As a member of the Mo’s ‘barmy army’ his stand out moment from last season was the playoff final second leg at Chelmsford. Dynamos held an incredible five-goal lead from the first leg but conceded after only seven seconds. Chelmsford were at their brilliant best for most of the game and got the lead down to one goal before Scott Bailey and Callum Fowler scored to take the pressure off in the third period. The feeling of relief when the final buzzer sounded was incredible. The celebrations afterwards were something that this particular Invicta fan will always remember.

In agreement with the previous two reviewers IDF feels the new league set up is lop sided to say the least which he feels is a shame as the previous NIHLS was such a competitive and sustainable league where there were often upsets to expected outcomes. The facts that the ex-EPL teams had no salary caps placed on them and have made little effort to down grade their teams means that the NIHL teams are all going to struggle.

IDF doesn’t think that the new set up is a long-term solution and that one of two things will happen. Either the EPL teams will decide that this league is not good enough for them and break away to form their own league or teams such as Invicta, Streatham and London will get smashed week in, week out and request a drop to NIHL2.

Even though he doesn’t see the league working well IDF believes that the NIHL clubs did the right thing accepting the ex-EPL teams into the league or they would have had nowhere to play and nobody wanted to see them go under. However, he did think that the league chairman could have done more to protect the NIHL teams and put more restrictions in place to prevent the EPL teams spending so much. One of the side effects of the current set up is that the bigger teams have been able to poach the top players from their previous clubs by offering better contracts. All this has a destabilising effect on the new league.

Invicta’s roster seems weaker than last year according to IDF although it’s still early days. The club’s habit of drip-feeding signings is frustrating particularly as it looks like the team has only signed one player so far that has recent EPL experience in Chamberlain. Lots of quick and exciting youngsters have been signed up but the fear is the higher-level players will quickly capitalise on their inexperience. Additional EPL standard players need to form part of the team such as Callum Fowler as this is vital to a successful season.

Although he’s a little disappointed in the level of some of the signings so far, IDF feels that the influence and presence of netminder Damian King will be huge if he can stay fit. Damian was massively instrumental in winning many games last season and kept the team with a fighting chance in many more.

With Callum Fowler yet to be announced, IDF believes he will be a huge loss if he doesn’t sign. He knows the club and despite being a bit feisty he can always bring the fans to their feet and light the lamp.

When I asked about the coaching set up at Invicta, IDF thinks Kevin Parrish gets a raw deal from a lot of fans but he always has the clubs best interests at heart. You can’t like everything a coach does and IDF hates the way signings are revealed but as Parrish is the head coach, it’s done his way. Prone to the occasional melt down the head coach is often criticised by some but IDF accepts that’s just the way it is!

As far as the competition is concerned this season IDF predicts London Raiders will be the Mo’s greatest rivals as they now have Sean Easton as their head coach and will be looking to move forward. They have signed a lot of players from Chelmsford who have winning experience and could even give the EPL teams a run for their money at home. IDF also mentions how much he enjoys the banter with the Raiders fans and in an aside says they probably have the second best social team out there (behind Mo’s of course!)

IDF is refreshing in that he’s looking forward to all the games this season. The NIHL games will be competitive and Dynamos should get a few wins from them but he’s also looking forward to seeing the skill levels of the new teams especially Basingstoke Bison who have a lot of quality and have added to it with ex Mo’s players Elliott Dewey and Ashley Jackson.

As an ardent fan IDF feels that he will support the team no matter what, even if they dropped down a league. He loves travelling to away games with the noisy and team-motivating barmy army and he says nothing will stop that even if the team are getting hammered.

Joking that either ‘staying in the league’ or ‘winning a game’ will be the big challenges for this season IDF thinks staying competitive and keeping the fans entertained will be testing for the club. Trying to not only attract new fans but keeping hold of the some of the casual ones will be hard if the league is as one sided as it looks at the moment.

I asked all three fans what could be done to improve their club or to help meet the challenges of the future. After joking that signing Conor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) would help, IDF said he hopes that the club will be more receptive to fundraising ideas from fans to help move the club forward. He’d also like to see more of a partnership with the two local football teams (Gillingham FC and Maidstone United), which could bring new fans.

In terms of a prediction for the coming season IDF thinks Invicta will struggle to get out from the bottom three alongside Milton Keynes and Cardiff. This is however based on current signings and comparisons with other teams, which could all change with roster space still available. A couple of key additions could make all the difference. Whatever happens you can expect the Invicta Dynamos fans to be noisy and passionate when the season begins.

So as the third and final fan review draws to a close all that remains to say is thank you to IDF for a great interview and good luck to the Invicta Dynamos for the coming season in the new look NIHLS1.

Now, can we have some fixtures please so we can all start planning our winter season?! 🙂

photo credit David Trevallion

 

View From The Crowd (part 2)

In this second part of ‘View From The Crowd’ I’m chatting to SRF (Streatham RedHawks Fan) who has been a loud, proud Streatham supporter for a long time, catching the hockey bug ten years ago when offered tickets to see a Streatham game and then becoming, like so many of us, well and truly captivated.

In reflecting over the past ten years there have been many memorable moments but the most outstanding and enjoyable time SRF can remember was the year Streatham beat Slough in the struggle to avoid relegation. One of the most noteworthy things for SRF was the support from fans, which was unwavering. The Streatham v Slough game was particularly exciting to watch – exactly how it should be.

When I asked what the outstanding memory was from last season for Streatham I was expecting an exceptional goal or a surprising, hard-fought victory but instead felt moved as SRF described the disappointment of seeing Will Sanderson (Streatham’s long serving netminder and fan favourite) being left on the bench week after week, being refused ice time and then finally leaving the club. Seeing a talented goalkeeper sidelined certainly seemed to have a detrimental effect on some fans and even some teammates, which unfortunately made it memorable for all the wrong reasons. It is perhaps a reminder to us all that not every stand-out or memorable moment from a fan perspective is positive and that not everyone will see things from the viewpoint of the coach.

As we all know, the league set up for 2017/18 has put the cat amongst the pigeons and SRF feels that the new league is a challenge too far for the long standing NIHLS clubs and commented that what was a previously successful and competitive league has been destroyed as teams that had worked so hard to remain within it have been forced to leave due to financial reasons.

SRF agrees with those who have commented elsewhere in various blogs and on social media that the league will now be very much split with the ex EPL teams dominating and was surprised that league management did not implement financial controls so the EPL league could run for one season with seven teams. The future of the NIHL in the north and south could then have been debated more thoroughly and had the league put options forward for consultation teams would have had plenty of time to adequately reflect on the consequences and perhaps come to different decisions.

With the new season just a few weeks away SRF is satisfied that Streatham have made some good signings and is really hopeful that the new players gel quickly in pre-season training and the early matches to make it happen for the club.

It will of course be a challenge to follow the game for some initially as time will be lost checking the programme to identify so many new players during play. SRF feels that’s frustrating from a fan perspective, especially for those who like to shout encouragement to their favourites.

With favourite players in mind SRF singles out Joe Allen as key to the squad this season. Not necessarily renowned as a top points scorer Joe is seen as a loyal hard-grafting Streatham player who fans will continue to identify with. He’s ridiculously quick and can cover the entire ice in a flash.

As we all know, every year clubs say goodbye to players, some of whom make a particularly big impact on fans. For Streatham this off-season has seen much change and SRF singled out popular D-man Jack Tarczycki as the player that will be most missed siting his strengths as a great all rounder who is happy to play anywhere, is never afraid to get stuck in and is always happy to chat to the fans after the game. Jack, along with a number of other core players will be sorely missed by the Streatham faithful.

As far as the coaching set up goes, SRF readily agrees that Streatham needed a new face on the bench and very much understands that a coach should be allowed to coach. As a spectator though, SRF struggled with watching a new coach come in part way through the season, bringing many players from the disbanded Wightlink team and then casting aside so many good, long serving players, denying them the chance to shine.

For this, next trickiest of seasons for a club who made a very hard choice in staying in the NIHLS1, SRF says the games against the EPL teams will be the hardest to watch with the potential for some heavy losses and the more competitive and interesting games to see will definitely be those against old rivals Invicta, London and Milton Keynes.

As a long-term fan SRF felt that despite the best efforts of some, last season’s atmosphere down at the rink in SW16 was a little more diluted than previously and for some fans it was a disappointing year with so much change. With the additional challenge of potentially big deficits against the better quality teams this coming season, supporters may look to go elsewhere and SRF feels that could become quite challenging for the club.

Reflecting on this, SRF would like to see more chances for supporters to engage with players at Streatham such as post game photo calls and autograph opportunities, and hopes the club might arrange a meet and greet for the fans before the season starts. This would be especially beneficial to families who don’t go to the pub after games and for everyone to get to know the new players. If flyers advertising events as well as games were distributed regularly to local supermarkets, retail outlets and take-aways it might also help to gain the support of new fans locally.

As the Streatham faithful ready themselves for what is likely to be a difficult season in south London there is still optimism as SRF predicts a realistic sixth place behind the ex EPL teams, remaining thoroughly competitive with the original NIHLS clubs.

A massive thanks to SRF. You know who you are although nobody else does of course. You have managed to be honest and forthright in your comments which you said you found hard to make and although you may feel a little jaded right now I’m sure there will be good times to come.

Finally, good luck to the fans, players and management at Streatham IHC ‘The RedHawks’ for the coming season, stay loud, stay proud and keep the faith.

photo credit Joe Allen by Dave West