British Ice Hockey probably has one of the most committed sets of fans amongst the many, many sports played upon these isles.
Many would argue the strength and commitment of these fans is the ‘glue’ which keeps the game together, despite the myriad of problems it regularly faces.
It’s the fans who are often the ‘face’ of a club. On match nights you will see fans giving up their time, often missing chunks of the on-ice action, to help the club.
Selling raffle tickets, 50/50s, manning supporters’ club desks, selling programmes, being goal judges, timekeepers – the list goes on and on.
These fans are indeed the lifeblood for most, if not all clubs. Even the big clubs rely on them.
Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers might sell over 4,000 tickets per game, but even they need fans as volunteers to run everything.
And yet, there is a dark side if you like to this devotion.
For every fan willing to go that extra mile in a positive manner and help their chosen club, irrespective of the situation, there are an equal number who spend an inordinate amount of time bemoaning and belittling every aspect of the sport.
There are negative fans in every sport – ever since the concept of organised sports competitions has existed.
In recent years though, especially with the rise of social media, these fans have become an increasingly vocal and (to many) irksome presence within the sport.
Some of the ‘noise’ is perfectly justified. Using the internet to highlight issues like rude stewards or poor facilities is perfectly fine if done in the appropriate manner.
But recent years have seen a marked rise in the number ‘attack fans’ – those who seek out clubs and individuals and proceed to rain down abuse and aggression with a near total disregard for anything other than their own self-importance.
I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of this in the past 12 months, simply due to the fact I’ve been continued to be a vocal and open supporter of the Manchester Phoenix.
‘Scum’, ‘liar’ and far worse have been hurled in my direction because I passed on information from the club to the public.
Some folks on the UK’s largest and most popular hockey forum took it upon themselves to cast myself (and the club) as the most vile people involved in the sport simply because we presented a version of events that didn’t fit how they perceived the situation.
I firmly believe these people have been emboldened by the relative anonymity the internet affords them.
Hiding behind usernames, at the end of a mouse, these people feel they can express their opinions with impunity, no matter how abusive they may be.
Many of these people have even turned their negativity on the wonderful souls in Bracknell who are attempting to keep the Bees on the ice for next season.
Whatever you think of the Manchester situation, those guys in Bracknell deserve nothing but our support and help.
Ultimately, all this negativity and aggression presents our sport in an increasingly poor light.
On a closed forum it isn’t so bad. People who use those tend to already be involved in the sport.
But when it spills onto social media, it gets exposed to a wider public.
Certainly many of my non-hockey friends approach me in disbelief at some of the nonsense they’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter.
They’ve questioned me over it as I’ve always tried to ‘sell’ the sport to them as a welcoming, friendly one. Stuff like this just makes it harder.
Just think of the effect it can have on clubs trying to attract sponsors. I know of clubs who’ve had potential sponsors scared off after they’ve seen some of the behaviour exhibited online.
Would you associate your business with people who call others ‘scumbags’ just for having a different take on a situation? I certainly would think twice about it.
But the truly sad thing is, if these people put as much effort into being positive about the sport, and helping their clubs instead of throwing out a constant stream of negativity, then we could achieve so much more.
Imagine if everyone got behind the sport, put aside their own personal ‘beefs’ and used all that energy and time in a productive manner for the overall good.
Just think what could be achieved.