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 seven PIHL teams in tier two, eight NIHL1 South teams and eight NIHL North teams in tier three, with five in NIHL2S (East) and six in NIHL2S (West) and finally another eight 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 Ice 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 four, 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 six 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 its 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 its 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 overnight?
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 IHC 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.
(Image permission: Steve Sutherland)