Slashing And Hacking: An Analysis Of the UK Media’s Treatment Of Hockey

Remember yesterday, when I was criticising the UK media and saying that they don’t take hockey seriously in the current climate? Remember how I was worried that even those paid to cover the sport in the mainstream media weren’t exactly doing the sport any favours?

Well, this is a blog that appeared on Sky Sports following the weekend just gone, from their hockey writer, Neil Chiplen. It’s a blog that has made the vast majority of those who watch the sport in the UK go “huh?” But most importantly, it perhaps shows a) how the media treat the sport in this country and b) what happens when someone tries to write for effect and spectacularly misses their target.

But more than that, it shows the glaring gap in the market for UK hockey writers who will write thoughtfully and postively about their sport-like bloggers all over the country.

Let’s go back to GCSE English Language and analyse this article for “style and content” shall we? The original is here  , and is quoted in bold, with my comments in italics.

By the standards of the Elite League, that was actually pretty tame. Coventry and Nottingham set the bar too high last season. C’mon, the goalies didn’t even get into it!

First rule of journalism…check your facts. The Coventry Nottingham bench-clearance was on 4th December 2010. So that was a full season and a half ago. This could have been checked with about two seconds of research in Google if you weren’t sure. Not only that, but Brad Cruikshank, the main instigator for the scrap, didn’t even play in Britain last season. In the first two sentences, a writer who’s supposed to be the sport’s correspondent for the channel that covers the Elite League has made the most basic of errors-one noticeable to any hockey fan reading it. Good start, that.

Shall we blame the officials? Broadway Tom Darnell put on another marvellous performance, super-charging the mid-table rivalry by blowing his whistle when he should have bitten his lip and chomping down when he should have exhaled deeply through his silver aerophone.

Second rule of journalism…try and stay neutral. Applying sarcastic nicknames to the officials just makes you look a little silly-and personal attacks on the man himself rather than his performance? Pretty sure that goes against most sports writing manuals. But then, if you read the writer’s back catalogue Tom Darnell often gets similar stick. Anyone would think there was an agenda here.

Also…”mid-table rivalry?” Not a bad way to denigrate one of the bigger and more longstanding rivalries in the Elite League…as anyone who watches hockey knows, Coventry and Cardiff don’t like each other, and haven’t for a while.

Unfortunately, Broadway Tom always gets confused when he visits Cardiff, forgetting that he’s a stage-hand at the Big Blue Tent and not hogging the spotlight at the Wales Millennium Centre. It’s hardly a surprise that there was another post-game brawl at a Broadway Tom show. After all, he does love an encore.

“Another” post-game brawl? Are you referring to the Coventry-Nottingham one again, which Tom Darnell did ref? You can’t be because that happened during the game, and anyone with an ounce of research/UK hockey knowledge would know this.

Or maybe you’re referring to the Cardiff v Hull Stingrays brawl in 2009…nope, that was Dean Smith reffing. OK…maybe it was Cardiff’s last-minute brawl with Sheffield in 2008? Nope…Matt Thompson reffing there.

Starting to look a little ropey, this argument, isn’t it? If you’re going to mock someone, facts help.

Broadway’s leading lady, Mike Hicks, is also guilty as sin. He only put one sugar in Broadway’s coffee in the second intermission. Broadway never got back on track after that.

Wow. Calling the second official a girl and joking about women making coffee. Did we go back to 1970 for a second? This isn’t even funny. It’s just a desperate attempt to make a joke in a column going off the rails.

Shall we blame the stewards? The fluorescent jackets who get paid with a cup of hot chocolate and a match programme? Are they really willing to sacrifice life and limb for the sake of throwing themselves in between the crazy train that is Benn Olson and whoever the clown was who got all up in his grill?

“Up in his grill?!” Really? You rock that street talk, gangsta. Couple that with a disparaging reference to Benn Olson and this paragraph tries to make a decent point but fails spectacularly due to the ham-handed way it’s made. 

The stewards are there to A: Have a nice little chat with the fans. B: Make sure people aren’t spoiling anyone’s view and C: To watch the game, while sipping hot chocolate and reading their match programme. If you want to know where Block E, Row D, Seat 9 is, ask a steward. If you want to stop Benn Olson and a jacked up Devils fan going at it then call the police. Maybe the Devils can leave a few donuts on the back door to avoid having to pay up for a couple of Bobbies to hang around behind the bench and put Max Birbraer in a strait jacket whenever he gets a match penalty.

Oh…a tired police joke about donuts. THAT’S worthy of being published on a national website. The sarky tone about stewards will no doubt polarise people but it also belittles a group of volunteers.

If you’re scoring at home, we’re about halfway through the article and already we’ve had glaring fact errors, mickey-taking of all and sundry and a bit of misogyny. Surely it’ll get better? Let’s see.

Shall we blame the coaches? Gerad Adams and Paul Thompson spent Sunday night washing the blood off their hands, scrubbing with warm water and soap to remove the evidence that it was the two of them who masterminded this whole event.

Yup. Because fights in hockey only happen as staged scraps ordered by the coa…oh, wait, that’s a stereotype non-hockey fans have! Way to play up to it!

Adams signed a middleweight pit-bull in Devin “The Dude” Didiomete, who he has kept unleashed all season long. Devin the Dude is free to tweet, eat and urinate where he wants with not so much as a blink from Adams.

Hm. Semi-valid point. Made horrendously badly. And dude…stop with the sarky nicknames. They’re not funny.

Thompson went to the heavyweight division and signed old Ryback himself, Big Benn Olson, who was last spotted chanting “Feed-Me-More, Feed-Me-More” as he skated a lap of honour around the blue tent. Or should that be CM Olson, after the way he got into it with a fan? G and Thommo knew who they were signing.

A WWE reference?! How old are you, 15? I’m frankly ashamed that I got this one. Had to google who Ryback was, though. Another tip…when trying to be funny…obscure references may earn you high-fives down the pub, but on a national website most people will just go…”huh?”  

They wanted to put bums on seats and other players on their backsides. They didn’t expect that every fan in the building would believe the pantomime they were watching and take it seriously though.

Again with the “pantomime” reference. Comparing hockey to WWE is lazy. Not only that, as someone who watches the sport (I assume) you should know a lot better. But hey…easier to mock than discuss the role of enforcers/agitators, right?

Harsh luck old boys. Devin the Dude and CM Olson are good for business. Devin reminds me of Boris the Blade from Snatch, no matter how many beatings he takes, he keeps coming back for more. He. Will. Not. Die.

If you have to explain the reference explicitly, it’s too ham-handed or you’re not confident enough of it. First rule of writing style. Try Monty Python’s Black Knight next time. It’s funnier, for a start. 

How about Neil “Paul Heyman” Francis and Mike “Mick Foley” Egener? Franny is a legendary trash talker; he can get under your skin like a syringe and fill you full of poison. Egener fell for the okeydoke, taking the bait and walking right into Franny’s trap. Perhaps Egener was eager to get a fight bonus, or maybe the Blaze had put a bounty on Franny’s head? A free trip to Nando’s if you take out the Devils’ assistant coach, that kind of thing.

Oh-talk of bounties! And a hint that hockey players like fighting! We’ve never heard those jokes before!.

Quite aside from the fact that you’re hinting foul play, this is yet another “look at hockey-stuff like this happens all the time LOL” message. Way to sell it to people who don’t watch and have people who DO watch it think you’re someone with absolutely no knowledge of the game.

Everyone will act like this is bad for the game, but deep down everyone knows you don’t sell British ice hockey on saucer passes and soft hands. The attendance for the next meeting between the teams just went up a ton.

Considering they don’t play each other for two months, fairly sure the effect won’t be major.

Then of course we’ll go for the “hockey must be sold on fighting in Britain cause it’s crap” trope. Presumably you’ve never seen the likes of Jeff Legue, Shea Guthrie, Rene Jarolin or Daymen Rycroft, then? Either that or you don’t realise the level of skill you’re actually watching here as far as world hockey goes (at least on import standard, anyway).

The bans will be heavy. Devin the Dude will not be allowed breakfast on the second Thursday of every month. CM Olson will be forced to watch Hull vs. Edinburgh in slow motion. Franny will be banned from the bench, and will have to endure the mental torture of discussing powerplay philosophy over cocktails with Paul Ragan in the crow’s nest.

Oh, let’s mock the EIHL disciplinary system! And several of the league’s teams! Presumably you’ve not seen Edinburgh OR Hull this season, so don’t know about the likes of Janis Ozolins, Michal Dobron or Rene Jarolin, all of whom are joys to watch skill-wise. If you know what you’re watching, that is.

Broadway Tom will no longer be permitted to watch Glee the night before a game.

Yay! Another pointless shot at an official! Oh, and a hint of homophobia/sexism in there too. He’s a big diva, so he MUST watch musicals!

Egener will be condemned to a darkened room with nothing but a stopwatch, calculator and a DVD player showing back episodes of the EIHL Highlights Show and will have to count the number of times the words “Galbraith” and “Jade” are mentioned on average.

A shot at the Sky Highlights Show! That’s OK, a decent amount of hockey fans have do…wait a second. You WORK for Sky. Belittling your own employer’s product?! Hope the bosses don’t see this one….

The fan who got involved will be punished the most severely. He’ll have to go for coffee and cake with Corey Neilson at least four times this season.

As a Coventry fan, I have to admit to a semi-grin at this one. As a writer. Wow. We can see which players/teams Neil Chiplen doesn’t like, can’t we! A gratuitous shot at Nottingham! Normally as a Blaze fan I’m a fan of these, but here it just seems out of place and shoehorned in.

And finally, Brad Voth will be suspended for six games.

Finishing with an inside joke. Would be good if it wasn’t the same joke that’s been made since about 2006, though.

So basically, what we’ve got here, on a national website, from a correspondent who’s supposed to a) know the sport and b) works for the organisation that covers the Elite League, is an article full of basic factual errors, supposition, borderline libellous innuendo about two coaches and two officials in the Elite League, and a message that basically all people in UK hockey care about is fighting.

Oh, and a joke at the expense of his own employer, but that’s the least of the worries for us reading it.

This article sums up how even those supposed to be covering hockey in the UK see the sport-as a joke-something to fill dead  airtime at 11pm on a Friday night and be mocked (except when a big fight happens-then they’ll put it on earlier so people can laugh at the silly skating thugs like they are this week).

There are people out there writing excellent hockey analysis every week-passionate volunteers writing for websites like UK American Sports Fans or Slapshot Scotland, or their own blogs. These are the people who the EIHL SHOULD be looking to to promote their sport.

But until those people are promoted and given the chance by either the UK hockey administration or the media outlets, this is the kind of treatment it seems the EIHL can count on from at least some areas of the Sky Sports empire.

Granted, with Sky Sports being a massive concern there are several departments involved…Sky Sports News is an entity which is seperate from Sky Sports, and the scheduling is another department. As long as the highlights show team continue to produce the show and the UK blogging/writing talent out there continues to plug away, there is hope that all this talent and its hard work will eventually bring reward.

However, this still raises the question-are the EIHL and Sky the right partners, or should the league at least consider taking their highlights show and trying to place it elsewhere-on the BBC for example?

After all, if a company who the EIHL claim are “great in promoting the sport” are willing and consider their coverage of little enough importance to seemingly take aim at the sport itself on another arm of their empire just to fill a slow news day…all I can say is…god help UK hockey if it ever gets what the EIHL consider “negative” mainstream media coverage.

Clearly, with both certain areas of Sky and the UK mainstream media in general, hockey still has some way to go to be taken truly seriously…


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