View From The Crowd (part 1)

Is it me or does the off-season seem never ending? As we all wait anxiously for fixtures news and for September to arrive, my next three blog posts reflect, together with three long-term NIHL supporters on the changes to the league, newly announced rosters and the future of the NIHL.

Having selected someone from each of the three top teams from last season’s NIHLS1, I’ll be chatting with three avid supporters of Chelmsford Chieftains, Invicta Dynamos and Streatham IHC.

As I promised faithfully not to name them so they could be completely honest in their responses each contributor will be referred to as CCF (Chelmsford), IDF (Invicta) and SRF (Streatham).

In this first post CCF (Chelmsford Chieftains Fan) gives an insight into his view of the Chieftains. I hope he will forgive me for summarizing some of his very thorough answers to fit today’s blog.

So, CCF has been following Chieftains religiously for three years, and sporadically for a couple of years prior to that. Before then he was a fan of the original Manchester Storm for many years and still follows the fortunes of the new Storm in the Elite league now.

CCF tells me he watched his first ice hockey game twenty years ago. In fact he remembers it well as it was the sad day that Princess Diana died. It was such an emotional time but after listening to hours of TV and radio coverage he decided to take a break. On this particular day, pretty much the only event in Greater Manchester that wasn’t cancelled was Manchester Storm’s pre season game against bitter rivals, Sheffield Steelers.

The atmosphere in the arena was electric, the music was pumping and people danced in the aisles during the breaks. Sheffield scored and the away block went nuts. Manchester scored and the roof got lifted clean off the arena! That was it CCF was hooked on hockey.

As is the case with many fans he’s not sure what to make of the new league set up. The established NIHLS teams consider it to be an enforced promotion to EPL, while the former EPL clubs are seeing it as an enforced relegation. Whichever way you look at it, there’s going to be a big gap in NIHL1 between the ex EPL teams with the bigger budgets and the teams already in NIHL1.

Unfortunately, CCF acknowledges, there will be an equally big gap in NIHL2 between the teams already there and the ones who dropped down from NIHL1 including Chelmsford.

CCF feels that perhaps league management should have capped the number of imports in the EPL to two and then enforced compulsory promotion to the EPL for the league champions from each NIHL region, thus bumping the EPL back up to nine teams for 2018/19. An overall NIHL champion from the 2018/19 season could then have been promoted to the EPL taking it back to ten teams.

As for this coming season our avid Chelmsford fan is happy with the team that Chieftains are putting together and has every confidence in Ben Clements who is building a roster with a good mix of youth and experience. With room for one or two further players in the team he’s hoping hard hitting playmaker Bailey Chittock might make a return.

With a new coaching set up at Chelmsford this season CCF feels that although Ben may not have the experience leading the team, his history with the club, his understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in the team and his experience in coaching the junior goalies will prove invaluable.

Reflecting on Chelmsford’s 16/17 season, the stand out club moment for CCF was the team emphatically winning the league and cup double after a shaky start.

On a more personal note that many hockey fans will identify with he also made many new friends in both fans and players last season and was especially flattered to be asked to photograph Danny Hughes at Riverside. Another special moment being when legend David Carr tapped him on the shoulder at Streatham just to say hello leaving him slightly star struck.

The strength in this season’s team, CCF believes, will come in the shape of the Bartlett twins up front who have proved that they are among the best players in the league. In defence, Matt France and Ethan Boolkah will be the ‘go to’ guys with Sonny Phillips building on last season’s success in goal.

As so many Chieftains players moved on CCF found it difficult to single out players who will be missed although imports Huska and Zatopek deserve a mention because of their huge influence on how the team played last season. Some of the younger players from the Warriors set up will also be missed along with Jake Sylvester, who CCF feels is perhaps the biggest loss to the team.

CCF admits that whilst respecting the financial issues the owners faced with staying in NIHLS1, he’s disappointed that the Chieftains won’t be in the race to defend their title against the EPL teams this season. He does think though that dropping down a league and rebuilding should work and the team will come back stronger.

People say that winning all the time gets boring. It doesn’t. Winning by a huge margin gets boring. So, for CCF, he’ll be looking forward to the games that are close, where every battle for the puck and every face off is crucial, where there’s a goal or two in it and it’s worth pulling the goalie in the last couple of minutes to try and tie the scores. We all love watching those nail biting, heart stopping, edge of your seat games don’t we?

As far as challenges go for the club CCF thinks it’s going to be about keeping the fans that were only there because the team was successful in a higher league. If the team is going to return to NIHLS1, it will need the fans to pay the entrance fees to enhance the budget.

Bearing this in mind, CCF would love to see the club do more on social media for supporters like some of their counterparts do. He’d also like to see more fan engagement on match nights such as competitions with signed sticks as prizes, signed shirts or tickets to future games which might help to keep the casual supporters more engaged with the club.

With Chelmsford Chieftains taking their place in NIHLS2 this season CCF singles out Bracknell Hornets as their greatest rivals. Danny Hughes has been building a strong team during the summer and CCF considers they’re going to be hard to beat. He does however remain optimistic, confident even, that Chelmsford will achieve league champion status again.

A great big thank you to CCF for taking the time to chat who has proved that the fan view can be just as interesting as the player or club view.

All that remains for me to say is good luck to Chelmsford Chieftains this season in the new look NIHLS2 and keep those fans happy with plenty of great hockey.

Look out for part two in this series where I chat with one of south London’s long serving Streatham RedHawks fans.

photo credit: Ice Cold Photography

Not A Hockey Post!

So Offonatangent has primarily focused on ice hockey these last few months and because there has been very little to say of late, the blog has remained desert-like, tumbleweed gathering pace as the hockey news has trickled down to pretty much nothing. So much so that The Hockey Forum loyalists have taken to debating things like ‘who likes the national anthem being played at the start of each game’ which has attracted dozens of inane comments as people attempt desperately to keep with the hockey vibe any old how.

Others (including myself) have resorted to debating Love Island elsewhere on social media and whether Chris is too good for Olivia or if Gabby is ‘real’. I for one have been seduced into watching by a bombardment on Twitter by complete strangers of hatred towards Olivia and love towards someone called Camilla who is fast turning into the Lady Di of summer 2017 and Love Island.

So anyhow, thought I’d do a quick piece on what we’ve been up to this summer whilst I procrastinate over the first chapters of my new novel. Thrilling I know and not nearly as interesting as discussing the relevance of the national anthem prior to an ice hockey match, but wanted to credit a hotel, an inn and a small eatery that probably go mostly un-noticed in the great scheme of things.

So first of all there was Cornwall. Beautiful Newquay. Yes those two words actually go together. Known probably more as a stag and hen venue in the south west, the surrounding coastline is actually completely stunning. So for our seventh visit in two years we again stayed at the glorious and aptly named Headland Hotel. With its claim to fame as the setting for the 1990 film of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’, this majestic hotel was completely unknown to us until two years ago. Set aside from the town and situated beside the famous Fistral beach the views are spectacular. Fistral beach in the off season is an absolute joy, particularly for dog walkers who are welcome all year round and as the tide recedes, leaves an enormous expanse of dog friendly sand along which our collie cross Charlie runs with joyous abandon. We call it “Charlie’s Beach’ and he adores it.

P1000154Headland Hotel

The Headland Hotel is properly dog friendly too – no bedrooms are out of bounds so you can treat yourself to a stylishly refurbished top of the range room with a view of Fistral beach without worry. Pooches are permitted in the lounge where you can also choose to eat from a varied menu (including fabulous cocktails) and the staff there appear to actually enjoy working there. On top of the incredible views, great walks, fabulous beach and excellent hotel, there is also a first class spa on site – oh and if you prefer a little more privacy the hotel has a selection of beautifully appointed cottages just next door.

During this last visit, on recommendation from son number 2 who has been living the student life in Newquay for two years, we visited The Beached Lamb. Heralded as a vegan café we feared we would be making positive noises about the food whilst secretly wishing we had stayed at the hotel for afternoon tea. Not so! The Beached Lamb is a little gem. Equally dog friendly as the Headland Hotel, this little café, just outside the main town and five minutes walk from Fistral beach is brilliant. Whilst publicized first and foremost as a vegan café, with lots of vegan choice, I can honestly say they serve the best bacon I think I’ve ever tasted as part of a full English breakfast, which completely surprised. The milkshakes, juices and smoothies are to die for and the breakfast burrito and Jono’s breakfast bap are enough to keep you going back day after day for more – which we did. Our four-legged friend was welcomed back each day by staff who seemed genuinely happy to see him (and us) and the service was first rate. So, as promised this is my shout out to The Beached Lamb, Newquay and if you’re ever that way or passing through and fancy a bit of lunch or a delicious breakfast then I’m not sure you will find better.

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Beached Lamb breakie

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Oreo milkshake at the Beached Lamb

So then finally, once the outline draft for my next novel was almost complete, Cornwall was but a distant memory and the boys were on holiday in Spain, hubby and I decided to venture out to Wiltshire for a day or two with a view to moving that way in the next couple of years. The big plus being that we could strategically place ourselves within easy travelling distance of four, yes FOUR ice rinks for hockey. Now this makes hubby a very happy bunny indeed.

As we were looking to book last minute, we struggled to find anywhere dog friendly and eventually managed to find The George & Dragon in Rowde (just outside Devizes) a gorgeous 16th century inn. Again, mightily dog friendly (the owner having a chocci lab and a grumpy looking but very cute little girl dog) the George & Dragon was a revelation that confirmed my suspicions that in order to find the best place to stay sometimes you just have stumble across it. There is an adorable little terrace out back where we ate a very good, realistically priced meal with a perfectly chilled sauvignon blanc. As darkness fell, the fairy lights came on and the outdoor woodburner was stoked up. Blankets were available for anyone feeling the chill and in the winter they even have a stock of hot water bottles to snuggle with. And once we were pleasantly full and slightly squiffy we bimbled on up to our room which was a lovely characterful beamed room with ensuite and a comfy bed.

Breakfast was perfect and probably the highlight of our stay. Owner Chippy came and had a bit of a chat (lovely guy, really lovely – just one of those people clearly in the right job) and we were treated to a delicious breakfast of fresh from the oven croissants and jam, yogurt and fruit, followed by scrambled eggs and bacon on toast and copious amounts of tea and coffee. Such a treat and the entire experience an unexpectedly lovely one.

So there we go, I’ve whiled away a few minutes with some niff naff and trivia. We’ve had a bit of time away from hockey and some lovely dog friendly experiences along the way. Perfect. Now we just need the hockey season to start please.

Insightful, perfect solution or back in a pickle in no time?

The latest EIHA statement arrived on the social media doormat yesterday morning with a slightly uncomfortable thud.

As expected for NIHLS1 the format for 17/18 is 9 teams.

Basingstoke (3rd in the EPL), Peterborough (4th in the EPL), Swindon (6th in the EPL), Bracknell (9th in the EPL) whom I shall continue to refer to as ex PIHL teams and

Invicta (2nd in NIHLS1), Streatham (3rd in NIHLS1), London (5th in NIHLS1), MK (7th in NIHLS1), Cardiff (promoted to NIHLS1) whom I shall refer to as NIHLS1 teams.

The fate of Chelmsford, Oxford and Solent hangs in the balance but it is expected they will be included into NIHLS2.

So, one of the most significant things here was who stuck their head above the parapet, took a chance and withdrew.

Chelmsford, Oxford and Solent placed 1st, 4th and 6th respectively last season now look likely to be given respite in NIHLS2 with the potential I guess that a knock on NIHLS3 will form. However, any club that remained in NIHLS1 and for whom next season results in last place will not be allowed to drop down.

How one year a team can easily win a league and demote itself but the next year a club can come bottom and be denied that same right is baffling so when the news comes about NIHLS2 let’s hope it all makes perfect sense.

If as expected Chelmsford, Solent and Oxford arrive in NIHLS2 then jumping early will have been rewarded with understanding. For those remaining in NIHLS1 battling on, helping to sustain the new format could result in one of two things for the bottom placed club. Struggle on for another year or fold. How does this make for a workable model?

It has been made clear that the door to NIHLS2 will be firmly locked. It is not however clear what the plan is if one of the four ex PIHL teams were to decide to give Elite hockey a go. Add to that the possibility of one or more lower placed clubs folding this would put the league back where it started – with seven teams, which we are told is unsustainable.

Interestingly a statement issued by London Raiders reveals they are buoyed up and ready for the challenge and were seemingly building towards the PIHL in any case. With a shiny new rink on the horizon and a new coaching structure in place this is a club with high ambitions and a positive outlook on the current situation. So why weren’t they supported in joining the PIHL? Was it simply a step change too far for them at that stage? Perhaps the PIHL could have continued as it was with London Raiders waiting in the wings to be included upon their return to Romford.

Will we see the collapse of NIHLS1 only to find the PIHL resurrected next season with the original 7? Much will depend on how the season plays out in the south and also in the north.

The 2017/18 season may have been better served by a 7 team PIHL with a crossover cup. I’m still not clear why Ken Taggart deemed it unsustainable. Is there clarity and transparency about the reasoning behind this entire restructure for all the clubs affected?

Clubs may have been unhappy with the cross-over cup in the past but if it were a choice between a regular NIHL with separate PIHL and compulsory crossover cup or an integrated NIHL/PIHL I wonder which option clubs would have chosen.

It’s interesting to consider that if the original 7 PIHL clubs had stayed together there would have been 24 competitive games for each club (based on two home and two away) which could have been added to with a cup competition.

As it stands the 4 ex PIHL clubs in the south will now get just 12 competitive games each (when they play each other) with the expectation they will then thrash the NIHLS1 teams in the other 20 games. This hardly seems like an appealing and sustainable standard for anyone.

NIHLS1 teams on the other hand will have 16 competitive games and 16 games where they may suffer significant losses. Which teams are likely to retain their support in those circumstances? Those doing the winning or those on the losing side?

Before I forget, hoorah for the playoffs. 8 of the 9 teams will go through to the playoffs with the 9th team being offered momentary respite from a miserable season before remembering that they aren’t going to be allowed down to NIHL2 anyway. If 1st place plays 8th and 2nd plays 7th etc then how can that ever be a joyous proposition for the NIHLS1 teams when they are more likely to be those placed 5th to 8th?

Fingers crossed there will also be an announcement as to the naming of the new league. Surely those who were to be honoured with their names heading up the conferences won’t be forgotten in the melee.

The knock on effect to NIHLS2 cannot be ignored. With nowhere to go you have to feel for those clubs who have limited resources with players signing pay to play contracts who will suddenly find themselves up against the likes of Chelmsford and Oxford – unless of course NIHLS3 is created.

So the timescale for restructure did not adequately take into account the enormity of the change and it’s impact on the teams at various levels. Conversations should have been happening one-on-one well before the end of the season. The proposals should have been provided prior to the meeting and clubs should have been able to have honest and private dialogue about what would and wouldn’t work,

This post can’t even begin to consider the implications for coaches, players and fans, the financial aspects of this new structure on clubs or indeed what ‘the NIHL1 standard’ mentioned in the EIHA statement actually means. This blog post barely scratches the surface and others will no doubt be better placed to write meaningful and perhaps more upbeat comment.

As an eternal optimist I would love this post to be about how bright the future looks for ice hockey across the various tiers, however it’s hard not to see the downsides at this point. Having said all this, I honestly hope it all comes together and works.

In simplistic terms as posted in a previous blog (EPL vs NIHL or Fruitcake vs Chocolate Fudge Cake) you can’t make a chocolate cake out of fruitcake ingredients. The frocolate cake is upon us folks, step right up and take the taste test.

 

 

Another Day, Another Drama

Sometimes a week can feel like an awfully long time in hockey. This week however has whipped past in a frenzy of drama, leaving some completely bemused and others angry at the current situation.

Having had a count up on the EIHA website from last season, a few short weeks ago there were 7 PIHL teams in tier two, 8 NIHL1 south teams and 8 NIHL North teams in tier three with 5 in NIHL2S East and 6 in NIHL2S West and finally another 8 in the N2 equivalent. Despite my complete mathematical incompetence I make that 42 teams across all the levels. 7+8+8+5+6+8 = 42

So when I wrote my original blog post about the potential impact of attempting to integrate the PIHL and NIHL1, I think we probably all knew in our hearts that it was going to be (diplomatically speaking) a giant challenge.

Just prior to the meeting rumours developed of a defiant NIHL1 standing firmly and not surrendering to the demands of premier teams. We held our breath as a bold and confident statement was released declaring that everything was resolved, everyone was happy and a new day was to dawn with a combined tier two and three. We tentatively sighed with relief. Sadly the relief was short lived and two short weeks later as the weekend approached the news broke that three NIHL1S clubs had left the league.

As we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day and with hindsight the lengthy do-it-all-in-one-day meeting should probably have been several meetings enhanced by frank and honest dialogue between each club and the EIHA or LMC as to the financial viability of the proposal.

Good old ‘financial viability’ – popular phrase of the moment, generally a little vague and interpreted differently depending on who you are and what your situation is.

The entire exercise was about focusing on creating a stable environment for the seven teams of the newly named PIHL. And whilst the focus was on the magnificent seven of the PIHL, 35 teams supporting the infrastructure of hockey in the UK have been inadvertently affected to various degrees.

If a more robust review had been in place then perhaps Solent’s issues would have been properly heard. And not just heard but listened to and acted on. The concern for the impact on British hockey of the folding PIHL took centre stage and the needs of the NIHL were disregarded.

Meanwhile, the north has been quietly getting on with it. Perhaps a week behind in the thinking process or maybe nobody is in a Solent-like situation. It’s possible that the bigger impact will only be seen in the south whereby in order to protect the fortunes of the 4, 19 others have been overlooked.

Anyone familiar with NIHL1 would have been aware that Solent, with their small rink, limited audience and resources would struggle against the likes of Swindon, Basingstoke, Bracknell and Peterborough.

One or two comments exclaimed surprise that Solent, Oxford and Chelmsford took two whole weeks to withdraw. And although this is the equivalent to a lifetime in the management of the NIHL where the entire situation was hoping to be remedied in a 6 hour meeting, the reality is it’s no time at all to consider the future of a beloved club.

The timeline of disaster is a little unclear as to who said what first and it probably doesn’t matter. Solent appear to have spoken up prior to the meeting about their situation but were swept along by the tide of positivity and didn’t want to let anyone down. This became clear via a heartfelt, well written statement apologizing for the situation and it’s knock-on effect. We felt your pain Solent and we half saw it coming.

What we didn’t see coming was Oxford and Chelmsford. Particularly Chelmsford, heavyweight of NIHLS1 and I’ll come on to them shortly.

Oxford however may have been a victim of their first-rate PR. A club seemingly on the up and committed to developing hockey in their local area. But beneath the surface lurked a less stable situation for the future than perhaps we read into and they admitted. So a statement of leaving was issued along with a volley of tweets explaining and defending the actions of a club desperately looking for a way forward.

And then there was Chelmsford. Unexpectedly revealed as the third club unable to take on the challenge of the new NIHL1 a somewhat baffling statement was released. A picture quickly formed of a club down on it’s luck, with players leaving in droves, financial stability compromised and struggling to see a way of competing at NIHL1. An astonishing piece of PR that left even the most die hard hockey forum supporters speechless.

The general feeling seems to be that nobody quite understands the improbable and sudden demise of Chelmsford, always promoted as a well-run machine with a development ethos that is second to none. Is it too much to believe that it has crumbled to nothing over night?

Leadership right now is vital for the league and a reflective period of silence is awkward. An organisation that makes the rules must enforce the rules and therein lies the rub. If the rules are allowed to be manipulated then they will never be taken seriously.

A clear and defined way of reviewing what has happened and why needs to be undertaken and a way forward established. It’s mid May and clubs are now in limbo wondering what might happen next. Will Solent take their place in NIHL2? Will Oxford and Chelmsford find themselves without hockey in 2017/18 and is the knock-on effect of teams requesting demotion fair on the likes of Haringey Huskies and Slough Jets?

Will London Raiders, Invicta Dynamos, MK Thunder or Streatham be next to remove themselves from the increasingly unpopular NIHL1 for fear of folding or will they continue in the hope that the storm will settle and calm waters will prevail?

One thing is certain; it’s not over yet. Last weekend we thought things were settled, this week the future is again cloudy with a chance of rain. If nothing else the players and the fans deserve a resolution. And a resolution that works because they are the biggest losers in this.

Whatever the solution is it might not be pretty and it probably won’t be perfect but a solution must be found by the EIHA / LMC for the good of the future of hockey because as we know, turning a blind eye and hoping for the best with what we’ve got simply isn’t good enough.

 

 

Que Sera Sera or Seize The Day?

So I’ve come out of hibernation today to offer a slightly different and hopefully useful take on the responses so far to changes to the league and our clubs as we all move on to the challenges of a brave new hockey world.

The sun has set on the great Premier / NIHL debate and as the sun rises on a new day for hockey it’s a good time to reflect on how we’re all dealing with it.

Blog posts have been written, opinions shared, texts sent, phone calls made, tweets tweeted, forum posts read and now is very much the moment for people to share how they feel.

The universal truth here is that for each person, what they say and how they feel is based on their own personal experiences. It is each person’s own reality and is therefore never wrong. It’s important to remember that sometimes people merely want to be heard. To be listened to and absolutely not judged.

We all know that change is rarely simple and often controversial. How change is handled and communicated is key to its longer-term viability and whilst it is true that many organisations handle change poorly that in itself is never a valid excuse for not dealing with it well ourselves.

With any luck then, with this in mind and as the changes relating to second tier hockey in the UK bed in, let us have faith that the overarching infrastructure of hockey will take the time to monitor progress, listen to clubs and plan. Quick fixes to complex issues are rarely successful in the long term so it is important to continue to plan properly for the future.

It’s also true that for change to be the most effective it must be viewed as positive by those affected by it. Will people ever invest in change fully if there’s nothing in it for them and no way of feeling positive about it? Taking this into consideration, communicating well at every opportunity is crucial and is where so many falter.

Equally important is the ability to see the perspective of others, not least because it’s possible to miss something important if we don’t.

Now stick with me here because it should become clear. When you’re thinking about change within the league or your own club, imagine you are in a room with dozens of other hockey people. An assortment of managers, coaches, players, fans and sponsors. You are squished around the edges of the room, which is almost entirely taken up by a gigantic multi coloured beach ball. You can’t see past it and you can’t see over it you only see what is directly in front of you. Some people in the room will see the beach ball has red and blue sections, and others will see it has green and orange sections – it simply depends on where you’re standing.

With hockey at the moment everyone sees the changes differently. Whether it’s managers, coaches, fans, players, sponsors, officials or referees. Each perception is valid, each is real and none should be rejected or rubbished as wrong.

But wouldn’t it be the most useful to look down into the room from a detached perspective and see it for what it is? To take into account other views and to move forward. In order to see the whole beach ball we have to somehow rise above it and whilst we could all do with the big picture perspective it is most important for our governing body.

It is natural that for some the perspective will be a negative one and there’s nothing wrong with that (in small doses). It’s a valid expression of how something or someone makes us feel and it often surfaces as a result of a feeling of injustice. And it’s ok … but it needs to be temporary.

We are all entitled to our own truth – our own feeling of what is and was, right or wrong. And while we are sharing our own truths and opinions that are shaped by our personal experiences, it’s helpful to remember that the company we keep will often influence our thinking. Take The Hockey Forum for example, as well as being a source of interesting facts, light hearted communication and fun it is also a safe haven for BMWs (somewhere to go to Bitch, Moan and Whine). It can also be a dark and harsh place where it’s deemed ok to rudely challenge, judge and rubbish other people’s views under the safe cloak of anonymity. However you view it, it is rarely constructive.

So here’s a suggestion. Find a way to express yourself but step back from engaging in a continued dialogue that will prevent you from moving on. Spend some time wallowing in the sadness or injustice that you feel but don’t wallow too long. Being dropped from a team, offered less money, feeling undervalued, or being forced to move on are all valid reasons to wallow but let’s not wallow endlessly. Step away from the misery and move towards thinking positively.

For anyone making decisions and communicating change whether it is on a personal level or club level remembering self-awareness can really help. Understand the impact of your words on others. Never underestimate the impact of a small gesture or of a few brief words. Treat people how they want to be treated and not how you would want to be treated and always try to be fair, honest and courteous. Successful communicators are able to step back and see how the situation looks through someone else’s eyes.

And if things go wrong we should ask ourselves some questions. What can we learn from this? What will we do differently next time and what is there that is positive in this situation? Learning from the past is important but knowing when to let it go and move on is invaluable.

Finally, in a sport where players line up together at the start of the game to battle for the win let’s none of us subscribe to the ‘que sera sera’ philosophy that whatever will be, will be, let us instead ‘carpe diem’ and seize the day.

Bloggers note. Thanks to Paul McGee (@TheSumoGuy), international speaker and author who gave me his blessing to use some of his ideas in this blog.

 

EPL vs NIHL or Fruitcake vs Chocolate Fudge Cake

 

Firstly, let me clarify … this is an original ‘off on a tangent’ alternative, lighthearted view.

In the last couple of weeks, the NIHL (3rd tier ice hockey for the uninitiated), which is currently a stable and nicely competitive league has been rocked by the shock announcement by the Chairman of the English Ice Hockey Association that the 7 remaining EPL teams (2nd tier hockey which is financially ‘in a bit of a pickle’) have been advised to apply to the NIHL for next season.

Just like that. No clear plan or structure as to how it might work just a cheeky shove in a downward direction for the existing EPL teams. Annoyingly for NIHL followers the statement from the EIHA casually pointed the finger at the NIHL where teams have stood firm of late in refusing to meander carelessly upwards into a precarious premier league and potential financial ruin.

So I thought I’d write about it. Everyone else seems to be. From each team’s fan base on Twitter to the endless hijacked threads on The Hockey Forum – we all have an opinion and this, such as it is, is mine.

So let’s digest what has been suggested. The cunning plan so far is to take something that doesn’t work and isn’t financially sound and dump it unceremoniously into a league that is perfectly fine thank you. Terrific idea, well done and worthy of a slow hand clap and an eye roll.

On the one hand we have the premier league. A league above the NIHL and rightly so. The crowds are bigger (both home and away support), the entry price is higher, the numbers of imports are greater, the standard of hockey is superior with quality players and higher wages … there are numerous sponsors and therefore substantially more money is involved. And it hasn’t worked. The league is crumbling for a myriad of reasons.

And then on the other hand we have the NIHL. A league split into two divisions complete with a North/South divide that actually seems to work. It’s not perfect but it’s sustainable, has teams striving to join the first division from the second and it’s completely different to the premier league. Fewer imports, less sponsors, lower prices, less training sessions but competitive hockey pitched at the right level and it works. It isn’t crumbling.

So here’s where the cake analogy comes in. Bear with me – it will sort of make sense in the end. Possibly.

Imagine the EPL is a fruitcake competition. Each fruitcake is made up of slightly different ingredients or combinations of ingredients. In order to win the competition you have to have the best fruitcake. You work with your ingredients, tweaking it as you go to ensure that your fruitcake outshines the rest and beats the others when judged. Each fruitcake is the same but different. Each has the same constituent parts but they look different and taste different and so it is with EPL teams. To all intents and purposes they are different fruitcakes in a fruitcake only competition each vying to be the best.

And then let’s say the NIHL is a chocolate fudge cake competition. For chocolate fudge cake fans it is the only cake and the fruitcake competition is irrelevant. Again, within the chocolate fudge cake competition each cake is made up of similar ingredients although each competitor makes it slightly differently in order to reign supreme and so it is with the NIHL. The teams are all structurally similar, some have slightly altered ingredients but the recipe is fundamentally the same.

So each year there’s a fruitcake competition and a chocolate cake competition. They are separate. They are meant to be separate. They are both cakes but they are different cakes and can’t be judged against each other.

So if you have guessed where I’m going with this or have managed to stay with me to this point without glazed over eyes you’ll guess what’s coming next.

Where we’re at with the EPL vs NIHL debacle is this. A crazy person has suggested putting the fruitcakes into the chocolate fudge cake competition. Yikes! Along the way, they’re keeping their fingers crossed that the cakes will somehow gel; they will come together and miraculously create a hybrid that works for everyone. A ‘frocolate cake’. How mad is that? As separate entities, each looks different; each performs differently and is made up of different things. Surely combining them can never work?

In order for such a bizarre plan to come even close to working one will have to compromise so much that it no longer looks like it did before. EPL and NIHL hockey are two different things. Ultimately yes, it is all hockey but each one is too different to be slung carelessly together with little regard for the consequences.

For many of us we simply support our local team, we are in it for the loyalty factor. We love the team because it’s OUR team and most of us are probably not thinking about the future sustainability of hockey in the UK we just want to see our own team flourish and cheer the lads on to winning and that is why we all have an opinion. They are our soldiers in a valiant battle to win OUR league. So please, let common sense prevail for simple souls like me. Remedy the EPL separately. Find a solution for the 7. Leave the NIHL be and don’t fix what isn’t broken.

 

St George & The London Marathon

Happy St Georges Day! And what a great day it has been. For me, a run of the mill kind of Sunday where I rolled out of bed, wandered into town in the sunshine with hubby for a coffee, walked the dog, watered the garden and then spent the vast majority of the afternoon, like millions of others, sat on my backside watching TV. My most major achievement today has been not succumbing to the temptation of drinking wine and eating chocolate whilst watching other people running the London Marathon.

So there are few facts about our patron Saint. Famous mostly for slaying the mythical dragon and saving a distressed maiden, Richard the Lionheart apparently also adopted him as the protector of his army whilst on crusade. St George is typically depicted as fearless and courageous and therefore it is kind of fitting that his special day falls on a day where an army of over 40,000 embarked on the annual 26 mile grueling run through the streets of London.

Alongside the elite racers – those heroes of world championships and Olympics, the Bekele’s and David Weir’s of this world, were club runners challenging themselves to be the best athletes they could be. Following on came the life and soul of the London Marathon, the fundraisers and the fun runners.

Year after year ordinary people rise to the challenge of running, walking and staggering the historic route around our incredible capital city. They turn from ordinary to extraordinary in front of our eyes. Their stories melt our hearts and bring tears to our eyes.

We chuckle at the clown outfits, the giraffes and the rhinos. We watch incredulously at a man carrying a tumble dryer on his back and we begin to care. We hope that each and every one achieves his or her goal. They run for lost friends and family, to say thank you for the heroic deeds of others, to raise much needed funds for charity or as a personal struggle in a fight against illness.

We watch as those who are completely spent, whose legs have finally given way are helped to the finish line by others showing the incredible generosity of spirit the London Marathon engenders.

Today I watched with special interest. Months ago, my dear friend Keeley (yes mate it’s all about you) threw her hat into the ring and volunteered to run for the charity MIND. So, Keeley is a 40-something mum of two who works for MIND and is the sort of friend that we all should strive to be – a ‘do anything for you’ kind of girl and today she fearlessly embarked upon the enormous challenge of her first ever 26 mile run. In recent weeks family and friends have watched as she has embraced her relationship with running, boldly overcoming each injury with her trademark sense of humour. We shared her training experience from our armchairs and nudged her on through her ‘maranoia’ phase when injury not only slowed her progress but brought her to a standstill.

Today she lined up with 40,000 others, all with their own personal challenges and battles, like Tori, the former Wightlink Raiders ice hockey physio, fighting her own personal battle with cancer and countless others with brave stories of overcoming adversity, being courageous and finding strength they didn’t know they had.

So St Geroges Day felt special today. It was about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Thousands of people ran, jogged or walked through the pain barrier. They were fearless. They were courageous. They were a bit mad in my view. Today they put others first in the name of charity. Marathon runners I salute you and I’m pretty sure St George would salute you too.

And Keeley, I might not have managed to catch your epic finish on the BBC live feed but I’ve seen the photographic evidence and am so proud that you made it. You didn’t have to crawl over the line, your make up was still intact and you raised a bunch of cash for MIND. Big congrats mate, now go eat bacon crispies, drink wine and put your feet up.