Bob Ballard column: GB – what are you going to do about it?

Amazingly, or frighteningly depending on your point of view, it’s almost thirty years since I first started covering Great Britain’s ice hockey team.

Journeys to Belgium, Copenhagen and, famously, Eindhoven, when we got promoted to Pool ‘A’, are still among my favourite sporting memories.

Going ballistic when Tim Cranston got the all-important goal in 1993 to take GB to Ice Hockey’s promised land, ranks as one of, if not my favourite commentaries in my three decades and more of covering sport.

So I was particularly interested to read the comments made by the President of the IIHF, Rene Fasel, in an interview he gave to the BBC during the recent Olympic qualification tournament in Cortina, Italy.

In essence, Mr Fasel was saying something many of us have been voicing for some time now – that the ‘politics’ of British Ice Hockey holds the National team back.

The lack of investment and development in junior hockey was also raised and, most revealingly of all from a man who has been in his post for over 30 years, he said: “Everyone has to move in the same direction. We are ready to help. We tried – but you are not easy people.”

The question I pose in return to those that run the big clubs, and those in the second tier, is are you taking any notice? If so, what are you going to do about it?

Or is, as many suspect, the National team, at all levels, nothing more than an irritation?

Let’s go back to the Worlds in 1994, coincidentally also in Italy.

Alex Dampier went with a squad largely made up of dual nationals, in marked contrast to his predecessor Terry Matthews.

But that line-up contained the Durham-reared Johnsons, Coopers, plus Tony Hand and a young upstart called Nicky Chinn.

Watching a grainy VHS of one of their games the other day it struck me that the British-born players were not there to make up the numbers, but belonged there – they were included on their own merits.

Fast forward to 2016 and I saw a squad who worked hard, but slipped into the old GB disease of cheap penalties and were ultimately lacking the ingredient to take them into the world’s elite.

Is that ingredient the addition of dual nationals, used by many of the top teams in Europe, or is it that the Elite League is not as good as the Superleague, or before that, the Heineken League was?

Remember, in the year that Britain got promoted to face the likes of Canada and Russia there was still the enormous sponsorship money of Heineken, the large investment from Benson & Hedges and before that, Norwich Union.

Sponsors do affect, if not dictate the direction a sport goes in, and without them there can be a rudderless feel to the way things progress, or don’t.

But, removing my reflective hat and replacing it with an optimistic one – I’m very impressed with the response from IHUK’s newly installed Chairman, Richard Grieveson.

Reading between the lines, he knows that the chasm between the sports’ governing body and the all-powerful clubs has to be breached before any concrete progress can be made.

He made the analogy between Premier League football and the FA and, on a smaller scale, that’s what we have here.

Vested interests who don’t necessarily share the same aims – but for the sake of everyone involved in this great sport they need to – HAVE to – find common ground.

The appointment of Grieveson and former Streatham, Medway, Slough and GB netminder, Gary Brine, to the IHUK team encourages me greatly.

They are both very good people whose top and bottom line is getting Great Britain to be the very best it can be.

Gary is a highly successful businessman who hasn’t forgotten his hockey roots and wants to give something back to the sport.

GB Head Coach Pete Russell is cut from the same cloth, but can only work with the material he’s got and the depth of players available to him is not where it should be – as the result against Italy perfectly illustrated.

Ice hockey’s profile in this country should also be much higher than it currently is.

The boom time of the mid-90s when 16,000 would pack into Manchester’s MEN Arena and 11,000 plus would witness play-off games in Sheffield can come again – and that would be enhanced if there were more local heroes to support.

Yes it really did, and does, make a difference.

3 Comments

  1. Well written and so true Bob. It is about time the in fighting and politicking ended to better this sport, and only then will it continue to grow as it should.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*