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.

Broadchurch …. racing towards the grand finale!

The third series of award winning drama Broadchurch will draw to a close next Monday evening (17/4) and we will all no doubt ooh and ahh with surprise as the identity of the serial rapist is finally revealed.

This corker of a drama has focused on the shocking sexual assault of Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh) and the ensuing police investigation. With the rape scenes and immediate aftermath portrayed with enormous sensitivity by the cast, writer Chris Chibnall has amassed considerable praise for the way the drama has been written.

Trish’s rape is revealed via flashbacks as she is coaxed into recalling as much detail as she can so that Miller and Hardy (Olivia Colman and David Tennant) can uncover the perpetrator. Blue fishing twine used to tie her wrists; a condom wrapper and a football sock that was stuffed into her mouth become central components of the investigation.

Over the course of several episodes suspects are identified and include a significant proportion of the male residents of the village. So who are they?

Ed Burnett. Ed is Trish’s boss at the local shop and her greatest admirer. He sent flowers anonymously after the attack and was discovered with hundreds of photos of Trish on his phone. His daughter DC Katie finds the bag of twine outside the shop at the end of episode 7. Initially he’s the most likely candidate but seems so obsessed with Trish he’s unlikely to be a serial rapist with multiple victims.

Ian Winterman. Trish’s estranged, meek, polite but slightly weasely spy of a husband who has nothing good to say about her at the start of the series but towards the end declares his continued love for her. Is the character too weak to be the culprit though?

Clive Lucas. Lucas is the rather shifty taxi driver who is never where he is meant to be and appears to have keys to Trish’s house (again episode 7). He is well known to her and went for a drink with her. He has a downtrodden, sad wife whom he treats badly and a penchant for porn.

Aaron Mayford. Mackerel catching, creepy IT guy and ex con. Possibly involved with the distribution of porn which is a continuing theme throughout but whether he’s central enough to the plot to be the perpetrator remains to be seen.

Jim Attwood. Jim is the garage-owning husband of Trish’s ‘best friend’ Cath. He’s an all round baddy with a mean streak and a nonchalant attitude to the investigation. Likes porn (don’t they all?) and puts it about a bit. OK a lot. The evidence all too clearly points to him at the moment, which means it probably isn’t him.

Leo Humphries. Leo started off as an annoying, arrogant little pipsqueak but has shown himself to be manipulative and devious. Runs his father’s fishing supply firm (blue twine). A friend gave him a fake alibi and he is guilty of setting up the spyware on Trish’s laptop. He coaches football (remember the sock) and he’s another one in what is potentially an actual porn ring (that’s porn not prawn) and I for one, think it’s him. Unless I dreamed it he was watching Trish the morning after the rape and he’s a character that has been in the background all the way through but seems to be involved in pretty much everything. IT’S HIM, IT’S HIM! (possibly)

Finally there are less likely ‘possibles’ that I suspect will be mere red herrings or possibly only in the frame in my mind because ‘someone must have done it and quite frankly at this point it could be anyone’. There’s Tom Miller (son of Ellie and yes you guessed it, into porn), Michael Lucas (son of taxi driver Clive, also into porn) and maybe, just maybe (because this is Broadchurch and anything could happen) even the grief stricken, driven to the brink of suicide, Mark Latimer.

The crazy good acting performances have been the highlight with Julie Hesmondalgh leading the field with her poignant portrayal of a woman in crisis. This show’s big strengths are that the crime is believable and the characters are real. Writers will say that actors bring the characters alive and actors will often credit superb writing. When you have both great actors and great writers the magic happens. So I will be tuning in to the last ever Broadchurch to find out who the sock DNA belongs to next Monday evening at 9pm …. will you?