A shorter version of this article also appears in the November edition of the Coventry Blaze magazine “On Fire”, available at the Skydome. Well worth a purchase if you visit Coventry:
It may seem easy being a sports pundit. Simply watch as many games as you can, make sure you know about the sport you’re watching and try not to say anything too stupid, and watch the money roll in. As long as you know what you’re talking about and come out with bland sports cliches left right and centre, you’ve a job for life.
This is a formula that’s been replicated by ex-footballers since time immemorial. In British hockey, though, the “expert” market is a little narrower…in that there just isn’t one.
Or at least until recently, there wasn’t.
If you wanted “expert” comment on UK hockey in the post-Grandstand era of the late 90s/Superleague, at least punditry-wise you listened to Dave Simms up in Sheffield. That was it. It didn’t matter whether you agreed or (as many did) disagreed with his opinion–he had all the access, knew all the coaches, and perhaps most importantly spoke the loudest. If the media needed a quote on British hockey, they turned to him.
Over the past few seasons, though, challengers have begun to pop up to Simmsey’s throne, as the world of UK hockey blogging has got bigger and more polished, and clubs have begun to produce their own webcasts, letting new voices come to the fore. Simmsey may still be acknowledged by most to be top of the pundit pile, but his days are increasingly numbered as UK fans discover new voices to get their opinion fix from.
Amongst some of these new(er) expert voices worth keeping an eye on are Craig Anderson of the excellent Slapshot Scotland, Katy Parles of UKAmerican Sports Fans, Jono Bullard of Nottingham’s “The Cat’s Whiskers” fanzine and Anthony Russell of Basingstoke’s “Banners On The Wall” blog. Coventry fan Craig Summerton (@craig_s96) and Fife’s Laura Duff (@hockey_laura) have also gained large Twitter fame with their intelligent and well-informed updates on the EIHL and their clubs.
Because of this, increasingly fans are turning away from Simmsey’s blustering or the carefully-managed club press-releases, or the infighting and flame wars characteristic of forums, and looking for more intelligent comment.
In fact, purely by reading this you’re contributing to the UK hockey media revolution. As clubs become more aware of what good PR and writers can do, more and more fans are stepping forward and letting their creative talents show-as evidenced by the superb work done by all the contributors I’ve mentioned.
All it needs is for fans to hunt them out. Hull Stingrays’ F Block Blog. Belfast’s A View From The Bridge. Coventry’s Sky Blue Hockey. Braehead’s Clanoroma. All over the EIHL fans are letting their fingers do the talking with knowledge, comment and argument that’s blowing that available in the “mainstream” media or from more “established” reporters into the shade.
This is a trend UK hockey needs to embrace, and more to the point pass on to any interested media partners.
Some clubs (such as Belfast and Nottingham) are incredibly supportive, while others, based on my own experience, are far more wary. The Blaze are making tentative steps with their excellent “On Fire” magazine, produced and edited entirely by fans, but still seem unsure of the true power of the Internet, as do many other teams.
Belfast’s Doug Christiansen, however, appears to be far more aware of the power of fan media, with he and the Giants actively promoting A View From The Bridge wherever possible.
However, the recent closing of Fife Flyers’ forum shows that some are still not entirely sure (or indeed aware) of the benefits opening the door to bloggers can give. Certainly not to the level in other leagues-for example Slovan Bratislava of the KHL actively promote fan blogs, giving their writers free tickets in return for coverage.
Whether the UK hockey hierarchy realise it or not, the days of UK hockey journalism being a small, closed shop that may have existed in the past are over. There is a thriving group of nationwide UK fans who know the game well, are careful with their considered opinions and could easily do a job covering the sport, who have built up a following amongst their peers. It’s up to the clubs to find the right way to harness this talent and use it.
The next step is for these talented voices to be given a chance on the national stage, alongside the sterling work of those like Simms and Chris Ellis in Nottingham. I’m not saying that the current journalists should be replaced by the new breed, but it can’t hurt to have them supported.
The wind of change is blowing through the world of UK hockey media-it’s up to the league and their clubs to use it.
Knowing UK hockey, that may take a little while.
In the meantime, I’ve given you the names of those spearheading this silent revolution. Get out there, hockey fans. Read the blogs. Seek out a new view of the sport unfettered by press releases, petty rivalries or the same old tired hype we find in club PRs everywhere.
In short, there’s a whole world of UK hockey coverage out there waiting to be discovered. Next time you’re on-line, get out there and read it.
You’ll be glad you did.