A fan’s relationship with their team is a weird thing.
It goes through stages, just like love does. Firstly you have the “honeymoon” period, where you discover this awesome new thing that comes into your life and can do no wrong. This is the “buy every jersey and go to every game while blindly defending the team” stage.
Then, there’s the “committed relationship” stage. You realise that, sure, maybe this team has a flaw or two, and there might be others out there that look much more attractive at first glance, but this is your team, for better or worse. Your relationship might be frustrating, it might be destructive. They may even break your heart. But for whatever reason, you’re stuck together.
Or maybe you’re not. Maybe you just drift apart, don’t care about them in the way you once did. Maybe they commit one dreadful act or loss so irreparable your heart says “I’m done”, no matter what they do to win you back. That’s the “breakup” stage.
A lot of Blaze fans over the past two seasons were drifting between the second and third. There was a danger in Coventry that if we continued to see the uninspired, lackadaisical hockey we were “treated” to in 2010/11 and 2011/12, coupled with the seeming indifference of the owners, there was a breakup on the horizon.
Most importantly, though, this wasn’t a “Coventry” team any more.
I have a theory that, in some small way, the most successful and well-loved sports teams end up being moulded and driven by the character of the places they play-a theory that can be applied to the Elite League. Nottingham, for example, is a city that looks modern, fresh and innovative, but has underlying problems of infighting, warring factions and maybe thinks it’s more important on the national stage than it is. Remind you of any EIHL teams nearby?
Sheffield. Another city that’s fairly large, on the surface looks like it could be a major player in UK sport (two big football teams, rugby, and the Steelers) but gets ridiculously excited about little things and always has a chip on its shoulder. Oh, yes, and prefers to focus on a petty internal sporting rivalry that no-one else cares about ahead of national success. Hmm…that sounds like a certain EIHL team…
Cardiff. Capital of Wales-a place that likes to present itself as the underdog, loves putting one over the English but is quick to assume that any measures made by government aren’t made with the best interests of them at heart and nobody takes them seriously even though they really should. Oh, and with national teams that promise much but can’t quite beat the true quality in their fields right now. Hm. Sound familiar, EIHL fans?
My argument is that the best-loved EIHL teams are those that fans can identify with. That for, whatever reason, somehow reflect their city’s identity.
My home town, and that of the Blaze, is an ugly place. Coventry is not a town that appears high on the list of places to visit. The people here are cynical, with a sharp and often cruel sense of humour. We’re used to having to scrap for any recognition, being in the large shadow of Birmingham 20 miles up the road. Jobs are hard to come by, so people in them work hard, and expect a return for their hard-earned money. They hold teams accountable, and expect their teams to do the same.
It’s a town and people that rose from the ashes to become important again through sheer bloody-mindedness after nearly being erased from existence by outside forces.
They complain about their city all the time, but to outsiders, they’ll defend its honour to the death, and expect their teams to show the same pride in where they come from and the town they represent.
This 2012/13 Blaze team, like the ones in Sheffield, Nottingham, Cardiff and elsewhere, can be said to reflect their town perfectly. It’s not the fanciest, prettiest team in the league. It’s not a team with an inflated idea of its own importance. It’s not a team that’ll go out and complain when things don’t go their way. It’s a team that’s proud to represent the city and people it does-a team that has the same quiet bloody-mindedness and penchant for achieving things against the odds that its town does.
A team that nearly died, just like its home town, and has come back bigger, faster and stronger.
It’s a team built on and by the very scarred, hard-bitten soul of the place it plays in.
It feels like it’s part of us, like our city will forever be a part of who we are.
And that’s why, this season, Coventry loves the Blaze again.
It’s risen from the ashes, tight-knit, hostile to outsiders, and more-bloody minded than a herd of mules, just like the city and its people.
And we wouldn’t change any of it for the world.