The writing was on the wall for Manchester Phoenix as soon as Manchester Storm joined the Elite League nearly two years ago.
Like it or not, there was never going to be room for two teams in a city where the only ice facility comes at the end of a tram line in a suburb that doesn’t even carry a Manchester postcode.
The history of these two clubs are intertwined, and perhaps now their future will inevitably be too.
It was the free ticket policy that ultimately brought down Storm Mark I that got me in to hockey back in the 1990s at the age of 11.
Barely three years later, there was nowhere to fulfil a burgeoning passion as the team disappeared after a handful of games.
The man who had taken me to my first match, my grandad, signed us up to Friends of Manchester Ice Hockey (FOMIH), the supporters organisation which would ultimately be the catalyst to the foundation of Phoenix, and the cornerstone of its fanbase for the last 14 years.
Founding members of the Elite League, Phoenix would play for just one season before taking a hiatus for the next two seasons, before eventually returning at the start of the 2006/07 campaign, albeit only moving to their home rink in February.
By that time I was old enough to drive myself to games, and so I did.
Soon after, the Phoenix became only the second club in my life that I would buy a season ticket for (the other being Widnes Vikings rugby league). I would never have called myself a passionate fan of the club, I just followed them as my most local team.
The Joe Tallari year was by far my favourite at the Phoenix, and the year after was pretty good too. Heck, I still have Scott Basiuk and Bruce Mulherin’s play-off gameworns in my house somewhere, back in the days where my student loan could be put to good use.
The sell-out play-off game against Sheffield Steelers in 2008 will live long in the memory, partly because of the scramble to get a seat on the other side of the rink to where we usually sat, as it was so full.
My first away game too, a 4-0 win at Sheffield Arena in the depths of January and perhaps the most horrific drive back over the Pennines ever.
The drop to EPL was disappointing, if understandable, and despite the drop in technical quality, the entertainment level remained. By now, I was joined by a close friend each week, and we thoroughly enjoyed watching Tony Hand roll back the years alongside Ed Courtenay.
There were some outstanding memories from the first few years in the EPL. I remember a 7-6 thriller against Basingstoke that was decided by Luke Boothroyd of all people in overtime, and Blaz Emersic put in perhaps the finest individual performance I’ve ever seen live in a 5-4 reversal for the Phoenix.
Ultimately, work commitments and perhaps a little disillusionment at the declining quality of the EPL saw me get to less and less games, and crowds by this stage had dropped off alarmingly.
The ticket prices were always a little too much for that level of hockey, and the club lost a bit of its identity when Andy Costigan left.
The sheer dedication of the fans is what has been most noted since the demise of the Phoenix, but there were times I thought the club could have been more welcoming to casual fans.
Sometimes you got instructions to “see person X for more details” when you didn’t have a clue who that person was or where they would be, which ultimately meant someone such as myself decided not to seek further info.
I was never a massive fan of the Phoenix name. I understand its origins and the meaning behind it, but it’s awfully difficult to market as a brand longer-term.
The basketball equivalent in Cheshire will experience the same problem in coming years, although they have at least tried to be ‘cool’ by adopting Nix as a shortened version.
Most people in the North West will have heard of the Storm brand, such was their reach in the 90s.
It was a point I made in a meeting with Neil Black in August 2015 – that the Phoenix’s problem was they should have adopted the Storm moniker that was so well known.
It was of course a mere coincidence, and a pleasant surprise, several weeks later when a source revealed that the Storm brand would be returning, in place of the Hull Stingrays.
That came as a result of Phoenix’s dispute with the Altrincham Ice Rink, and the ins and outs of that are probably a story for another day.
At that stage, it didn’t seem likely that Phoenix would remain. But they battled on.
Along with plenty of other casual fans the trip to Deeside to watch the Phoenix didn’t make a great deal of sense, particularly when the Storm was the brand that connected me to hockey, and also when it was still playing at the rink most local to me.
I did venture to Deeside once, for a defeat ironically against Hull Pirates, but it was clear from that visit that the Phoenix fire was starting to burn out.
In the summer, I met with Neil Morris to discuss his plans for the new rink in the centre of Manchester. His main trump card was the unwavering loyalty of Tony Hand, a legend of British Ice Hockey.
But by this time, Storm had started to flex their muscle. Their marketing and fan engagement has been tremendous, far superior to anything the Phoenix had managed, themselves perhaps too reliant on the faithful that had kept them going for so long.
As it was, the race against time proved too much, and the Phoenix will cease to exist.
Whatever your opinion of Morris and the Phoenix, they kept the hockey flag flying in Manchester for the past decade and without them the foundations for what is turning into a successful Storm franchise wouldn’t be there.
Here’s hoping that the Phoenix fans aren’t lost to the game. Their value has been acknowledged almost immediately by the gestures of goodwill from Sheffield, Telford and Widnes, to name but a few.
While the Phoenix as a club may no longer exist, they have provided memories that will last for a long while yet.