Friday, 25 March 2011

Bye Bye Vipers, hello the new Warriors ?

Ice Hockey doesn't usually get a lot of column inches  in the local  paper but it got a lot yesterday. 2 pages of linked articles

In 1980 I was in Canada and followed the Calgary Flames on TV and also went a couple of times, getting tickets from a work colleague. When we came back to the UK in 1981, I went along and watched my local team - Whitley Warriors. I could take  the children as well, and it didn't cost the earth, even with programme and junk food included. Whilst the standard of hockey wasn't North  American, it was a good 3 hours of entertainment on a sunday night at a reasonable price.  And I went to the Warriors vs Durham Wasps derby games. Hillheads Rink would be packed out ( even though Whitley usually lost, as I recall).   The other thing is that the kids went to ice skating lessons on a saturday morning. So paying to go to  Whitley Warriors games kept the whole thing afloat.  We were frequent irregular attenders. If the team were awful (happened a few times) , you just shrugged your shoulders and went home. I'd still had a reasonable night out with the kids.
Then along came  the ISL, a regional franchise arrangement with the intention  of modernising hockey and making it an attractive spectator sport in modern arenas. And in the North East Sir john Hall wanted ice hockey as part of the Sporting Club. Durham Wasps were bought and moved to Sunderland. Durham Ice rink subsequently closed (and a local sporting resource for kids and families closed).  In addition the Newcastle Arena was built , and Whitley Warriors senior team moved  there, with all the skating, junior and development teams still back at the Hillheads rink.  I went  to their first match in the Arena. A crowd of about 3000 as I recall . But after a few months, the SJH team , now Newcastle Cobras, replaced them and Whitley went back to Hillheads.
All these shenanigans were a real problem for a minority sport trying to establish itself. Many Whitley supporters didn't/wouldn't put money into SJH's enterprise and removing a core of several hundred supporters from Whitley Warriors meant that setup ran into financial problems as well.
So the hockey team in Newcastle struggled on going from owner to owner, and Whitley Warriors moved down the leagues to find. I've heard it described as  "if you don't pay the players, you don't have to charge the fans". The better players who can hold their own in UK hockey as professionals will move on and the team will be people playing for fun and individuals who need or want to stay in the Northeast.

So if there are no Vipers, some fans may drift back to Whitley, the finances will improve, they can start paying the players a bit more, the team will go back up the leagues and Ice Hockey in the North East may end up back on a sound financial footing ? It would be nice if some of the money also went on upgrading the facilities both for players and for fans.

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