The recent news regarding the relocation of Manchester Phoenix to Widnes, (the third move in two years), and the release of their remaining non-British trained players, has prompted a number of questions.
Namely – what is the Phoenix’s future? Do they have one, and will Neil Morris remain involved?
For anyone looking for an answer from history it may be worth casting your minds back to the acquisition of MK Lightning by Planet Ice when they began playing out of Coventry in the 2013/14 season.
Vito Rausa was kept on as the public face of the team, however the business was registered with Companies House as having its head office at Planet Ice Peterborough.
It had directors in common with Bison in the Community and Peterborough Winter Sports club, at least one of whom is a regular on The Hockey Forum and, as of April 2016, no longer a director of any of the above companies or a number of other organisations he was involved in.
While this sounds shady, it’s actually completely above board. The information was in the public domain and available to anyone who wished to look for it, (as per one THF contributor who suggested “following the money” in the wake of Wayne Scholes’ purchase of Telford Tigers).
The only downside is you had Bison and Lightning fans bemoaning Scholes having bought the Tigers then taking minority shares in two other clubs, and crying foul at the notion that one person should control multiple organisations, were unwittingly made to look hypocritical given that Planet Ice, at that point, owned two clubs outright.
This acquisition would not have gone through without the approval of the EPL Owners Committee, so was not hidden from those with a genuine need to know.
However, it did give Planet ice, through their appointed officer, effectively two votes at the table.
Rausa remained as the figure head for the Lightning until the beginning of the 2015/16 season, around the same time that Nick Poole was moved to Director of Hockey, (although he’s recently retired).
Pete Russell was brought in from elsewhere in the Silver Blades organisation, and the change of ownership was announced.
So how does this relate to the Manchester Phoenix?
If Silver Blades have acquired the Phoenix from Neil Morris, (and a number of recent non-playing departures from the club would support this in a circumstantial way), then it’s entirely likely he’ll be kept on as the figurehead in the same way Rausa was.
Under normal circumstances this would enable business confidence, but in this situation it also buys Silver Blades some time in which to stabilise the operation without the glare of the spotlight or the expectation of immediate cash injections to bring in new players.
This would certainly tie in with the line from the company’s press release that states:
“Silver Blades Widnes offered the Phoenix the use of Widnes Ice Rink in the best interests of the British Ice Hockey as it would enable the Phoenix to continue to operate until the end of the season, thereby enabling stability for all the teams, and would also provide the opportunity to assess the viability for the Manchester Phoenix playing out of the Silver Blades Ice Rink Widnes in future seasons”.
Coupled with this information attained by BIH:
“Based on a telephone discussion with Silver Blades this morning, it’s our understanding Morris will be involved when Phoenix relocate to Widnes for the rest of the season”.
This is a very calculated statement – he will likely be involved in the relocation of the club to Widnes.
It does not state that he will be running the club, nor that his involvement will continue beyond the relocation.
This is, of course, circumstantial, a point that must be made very clear as this is solely based on information currently available in the public domain.
Later in the release, it states that the decision has the support of the Widnes Wild NIHL team, and will allow Wild players to play up to both the EPL Phoenix and the EIHL Storm when available.
On one level this is simple cooperation between clubs, and a very positive note. On another, it’s also worth noting that Wild are owned by North West Winter Sports Club Ltd, who share two directors with a number of organisations.
These include, but are not limited to, MKLIHC Ltd and Bison in the Community, as well as BHIHC – the Blackburn Hawks.
This shows the commitment that Silver Blades has to ice hockey in the North West without a doubt – however, with a near monopoly on the sport, while it has the potential to present a blocker to progress, it equally has the potential to smooth the pathway to progress.
This has been the saga that has kept on giving, polarising opinion on Morris, the club and associated individuals, often unfairly, but now it appears his time with the Phoenix is coming to an end.
It’s a shame that it’s come in the manner it has. It tarnishes the memories of all the work he did to keep the sport in and around Manchester following the loss of their rink and the move to Altrincham, the demise of Manchester Storm and the birth of the Phoenix.
Their EIHL years, the move to the EPL and their successful championship winning years, the huge crowds at the play-offs and the ‘singing’ of the Choir Boys, and the fight to keep the team alive on the road – it’s the end of an era without a doubt.
However, for the fans and the remaining players, there is the hope that, in name at least, the Phoenix will rise from the ashes one last time.
(Image permission: Steve Bird)