Firstly, let me clarify – this is an original ‘off on a tangent’ alternative, light-hearted view.
In the last couple of weeks, the NIHL (third 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 (EIHA) that the seven remaining EPL teams (second 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.
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 v 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 seven. Leave the NIHL be and don’t fix what isn’t broken.
(Image permission: David Trevallion)