State of 2013 Address

British hockey is in a weird and interesting place right now.

The sport as a whole has seen more debate as to its structure, its focus and its future than it ever has in 2013.

The Great Britain national side went from being one step from the Olympics to pooping the bed at the World Championships which led to a debate over the national programme, how the sport is run and how the junior setup in this country desperately needs to change if the national side is going to be anything close to a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

The EIHL plodded along as it normally does; eyes firmly off the long term gain in favour of the short term one. A league structure that still, to me, makes no sense with regards to what the league wants to achieve with it and within the last week a further demeaning of the Challenge Cup. The league however does deserve praise for at least trying to be forward thinking; a new TV deal with a better show than was on Sky with a better front man (and if you prefer Dave Simms to Aaron Murphy then you are probably drunk very early this New Year’s Eve), an attempt at a consistent disciplinary process headed by Moray Hanson, these things deserve crediting. Whilst the execution might not be excellent, the ideas themselves are.

The EIHL clubs as always have provided their usual dose of fun and nonsense. Nottingham finally grabbed the brass ring of the coveted league title and then began claiming they’d won a Grand Slam when they hadn’t, Sheffield were just Sheffield and if you didn’t roll your eyes at something the Cardiff Devils did this year then you probably aren’t human. The top flight of the British game is still providing an entertaining product for some but I beg of those in charge to stop staring at your shoes before you walk into that oncoming lamp post. If you want parity, have a set up that promotes it; sensible fixture and league standing structures, a cup competition that isn’t devalued and a WAGE CAP with a roof and floor of any description. You want a league on an even keel then address the overspending at the top and under-spending at the bottom and don’t stuff your fixture lists with too many games against too few opposition. The issue of Brits making their way through to the top flight will have to wait though I venture there’s more than a few in the current lower echelons of British hockey worthy of a shot if someone will give them the chance.

The English Ice Hockey Association as ever continue to perplex many but the English Premier League, which for my money is the most competitive league in British hockey is beginning to suffer a crisis of confidence. Slough in financial strife (all the best to you Jets fans), Peterborough in flux with coaches and players, Bracknell reportedly facing the remainder of the season with 3 imports but somehow it still feels like a really tight, close league.

The obvious talking point is the Telford Tigers. Having spoken to Wayne Scholes, I cannot fault the man’s politeness or his ambition. I agree to with his vision that the best thing for the EPL is a competitive league and a competitive, high quality Telford Tigers would and will be an asset to that. My issue is that it feels like too much, too fast in some ways.

Allow me to paint a picture; Mr Scholes has bought a terraced house on EPL Road. It’s a nice house in a row of ten; maybe a little worse for wear around the edges and this owner wants to remodel it. Nobody has any issues with the new owner making this new house look nice but you can’t remodel a terraced house by running a bulldozer at it. You’ll damage the houses around it. You can’t just smack that wall with a sledgehammer and make a hole because of what it might do to the house next door and that’s what it feels like a bit with Telford. Freddie Mercury once sang “I want it all and I want it now” and there’s nothing in the rules of the sport or business to kerb the desires in Shropshire at the moment but Mr Scholes said to me that they wouldn’t sign a contract if it wasn’t good for the player, the team and the league. Now I don’t doubt the first two but I am struggling to see evidence of the third at the moment as it appears that an arms race is developing and that’s not good for the league. I hope for all our sakes that this is put right. That or the clubs and EIHA have their heads banged together to agree on a standard contract for the EPL and all levels of NIHL, that would be nice.

From the perspective of Banners On The Wall, we have the Bison poised to mount a title challenge for the second straight year and have a genuine chance of obtaining all 3 trophies on offer. We have a club that has a few injuries, has rolled with the punches in terms of the new landscape of the EPL and still keeps going strong.

This is a team with its issues (altogether now, “too many penalties”) but this is a 25th anniversary side to at least take a bit of pride in. The 20th anniversary season being the damp squib that produced so few heroes (Kevin Reiter and Jeremy Cornish) sees the fans of the premier hockey club in Hampshire treated to a side filled with skill, grit and determination. We have young British players making a statement about the quality of player not only playing in Basingstoke but being produced by Basingstoke. We can attract quality players to come and play hockey in a Bison jersey. At the end of 2011/12 I actively questioned what this organisation’s goal was and it appears that they are trying to answer me some 18 months on. That said there’s still a space on that wall at the far end of the rink by Little Frankie’s that needs filling and the waiting that has lasted since the 2000/01 B&H Plate win has to be close to coming to an end with the quality in this roster. We dare to dream.

As always, thanks to Grant King of 5 Hole Photography for the images (visit the site, buy a print) and wherever and whoever you spend it with, have a Happy New Year. 2014 promises much, I’ll see you along the way.

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