The announcement that Blackburn Eagles were being forced to fold due to significant changes in their ice contract has caused much debate across a variety of platforms.
For a team who’ve gone from the NIHL North whipping boys to deservedly winning promotion to Moralee D1, the news has understandably come as a hammer blow.
Like many other stories in British Ice Hockey, it’s fair to say this one contains numerous different strands.
Initially created as a link between Blackburn Hawks – the main team at Blackburn Arena – and the junior set-up there, the Eagles grew into something different than perhaps the rink management would’ve wanted.
Undoubtedly that will have caused friction between both parties, leading to the set of circumstances currently in play.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of how things have ended up, the sport once again has a situation where it’s being painted in negative light.
While the people charged with looking at this from a purely business perspective, what seems to have been forgotten is the human element.
Coaches, players, family and friends are left without a team to play for or watch. Fan views are cast aside as if they don’t matter. That, for any right-minded business, must surely be a concern?
If it isn’t, it should be.
While noises have been made about a brand new Hawks U25 team, does anyone realistically think that’ll get any support given what’s happened to the Eagles?
What also appears to have been overlooked is the potential damage to the hockey fanbase in the town as a whole.
It would be fair to say that over half of Eagles fans also support the Hawks. No doubt those people will probably be connected to other Hawks fans too – it’s a small place and people talk.
There’s no rivalry in play between the Hawks and Eagles – “one town, two teams” is the mantra the majority of fans go by.
Blackburn by nature is a close-knit town – “kick one and you kick them all” is another phrase often used by Blackburners.
People can be quite belligerent, argumentative, even uppity – call it what you will – but “outsiders” are welcomed, providing they aren’t seen to be acting in a way that damages the town.
As highlighted down the road at Blackburn Rovers, people there don’t suffer fools gladly.
Having seen their club mismanaged by Venky’s, fans have voted with their feet and stayed away in their droves in protest at how the club is being run.
With that in mind you have to question the wisdom in effectively making it impossible for the Eagles to continue.
Hockey fans across the board will question if this sort of carry on is something they want to be part of.
Parents of junior players will ask whether having their child play under this sort of regime is something they want for little Johnny or Jane.
Players at other clubs will ponder if a move to Blackburn is in their best interests.
On top of all that, when you have a director of the Hawks openly bear-baiting people on social media about the situation, you have to question whether the powers-that-be truly understand what they’ve taken on.
While hockey fans would argue the toss, Blackburn is a football town. Hockey has a core of around 800 fans across both teams.
The Hawks are capable of edging past the 1,000 mark if there’s a championship, play-offs or cup at stake, but there certainly isn’t an untapped audience just waiting to be dragged through the doors on a regular basis.
There’s that group of supporters and that’s it. Kicking a fair percentage of that group where it hurts via the Eagles doesn’t just impact on them, it’s potentially damaging to the Hawks too.
At this stage, it looks unlikely that a resolution will be found. If one isn’t, then don’t bet against plenty of people voting with their feet when it comes to supporting the rink’s activities – whether that’s the Hawks or anything else that goes on there.
With the Hawks having enjoyed success over the past few seasons and the Eagles growing into a successful side in their own right, it’s clear there is room for them to co-exist.
For the sake of everyone concerned let’s hope an amicable solution is found – if it isn’t, the damage to the reputation of the sport in Blackburn could be hard to recover from.
(Image permission: Rob Hutchinson)