Between The Gutter And The Stars

(all I ask is that if you’re reading this, read the whole post at once before reacting. Warning-there is swearing)

Part I: In The Gutter…

“But it was not your fault but mine
And it was your heart on the line
I really fucked it up this time
Didn’t I, my dear?”

Mumford and Sons: “Little Lion Man”

Well, that’s that then.

The Coventry Blaze lost to the Braehead Clan tonight, Jade Galbraith scoring the winner with 36 seconds remaining after the Blaze had led twice. At the end of the game (which incidentally I wasn’t at) there are reports of Blaze players going after Clan players, non-handshakes, non-acknowledgement of Blaze fans and most importantly, rage.

Rage of the players, who know that they had the chance to progress and that they had every hockey fan in Coventry behind them, and lost in the cruellest way possible. Rage of the fans, who reacted with comments on Twitter like “Well, that’s the season over”, “this team is another joke” and “it’s a team that can’t play for sixty minutes”.

The after-match reports (again, I stress I wasn’t at the game so didn’t see any of it) weren’t that nice to read. Following the game on Twitter was agonising, as updates went back and forth, and Blaze failed to convert a 5 on 3 powerplay at the end of the second, gave away leads twice and then had their old nemesis Jade Galbraith rip their hearts out at the end.

This is the lowest point of the 2012/13 Blaze season, bar none. A team that promised so much in September is making the journey back from Scotland tonight full of anger, recriminations, and wounded pride. And they’re coming back to a fan-base that has swung from pride and joy in their team to one lining up to stick the knife in while they’re down, everyone picking their own individual targets and some even going so far as to question Paul Thompson’s position of coach.

In short, all that we feared would be unleashed by a Blaze loss-a veritable apocalypse of anger, self-recrimination, criticism and self-loathing-is poised to break upon the team the moment they get back.

And the 2012/13 season stands at a crossroads. The Blaze fans can turn on their team and accept that all is over til April and there is no way to change things.

Or they can fight back.

Part 2: …But Looking At The Stars

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again
Mumford & Sons: “The Cave”

Coventry is not a nice place to be in hockey terms right now. There’s sniping back and forth, questions about effort, anger, cynicism and mistrust. After the beginnings of a new dawn in the first half of the season, injuries and player departures have smashed the Blaze sideways like flotsam on a storm-tossed sea. Blow after blow has worn down the fans, players and pundits like me to the point where nothing is greeted with optimism any more.

Tonight, if we want, can put the tin lid on the season. The fans can give up on the team, and we can swing into a cycle similar to that seen in 2010/11 and 2011/12.

And this would seem to be the way things are going. But y’know what? That giving up on the team just because things aren’t going brilliantly? That’ll pretty much make us harsh, fickle-all too ready to turn on our team when things aren’t going their way.

In short, it’ll turn us into Nottingham Panthers fans.

I don’t know about you, but fuck THAT for a game of soldiers.

Look, there is no way I can be called a happy-clappy fan. I pride myself on being a play-by-play guy/pundit who’s objective, and not willing to blindly support the Blaze wherever they play. I’m angry at the Blaze loss to Braehead too. I’m hurting right now, just like everyone else is. I’m tempted to look at the league table, look at recent results and let my cynical head kick in. I’ve been criticised for it in the past-criticised for not being “supportive” enough. And sure, I saw the result and was all ready to stick in the knife and leave the hopes of the 2012/13 season bleeding and dying on the floor as so many others are doing.

Then I remember what this team has. The speed and vicious shot of Brad Leeb. The heartstopping skills of Shea Guthrie. The offensive artistry of Greg Leeb and Mike Schutte. The sheer tenacity of Dustin Cameron. The raw power of Mike Egener, Benn Olson and now, Adam Henrich. The pure dogged workrate of the Brit-pack, often outdone in salary and experience by those of other teams, but rarely outgunned in the heart department. And a hundred other things.

Oh, and of course, and as a minor incidental, the MOST SUCCESSFUL COACH IN ELITE LEAGUE HISTORY.

This, Blaze fans, is a bloody good team going through a nightmare patch. It’s a team that performed MIRACLES when shortbenched earlier in the season. It’s a team that we KNOW can perform when it wants to.

And right now, it’s a team that’s backed up into a corner, hurting and beset by wolves of criticism from all sides. The players and fanbase of the Nottingham Panthers are coming into town this weekend ready to pick over the bones of a team and fan-base they think is there for the taking, ready to lord it over us and the team in their own barn and revel in our self-destruction that they’re sure is coming after tonight.

And as a fanbase, staring at the team and Coventry’s pride wounded and bleeding in front of us, we have two choices. We can either join the ravening pack of Panthers and tear it to shreds, or we can cross the barricades, hold out a hand and say “look, lads. You lost on Tuesday, sure. Things look bad right now. But we are Coventry, the Sky Blue City, and we are with you”.

And then we can turn round to the pack of hungry wolves that we could have chosen to be a part of, stand shoulder to shoulder with the players at the door to the Skydome and say “We are Blaze. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”.

Me, I’ve already made my choice. It might not seem like it but at times like this, my wounded pride is bleeding blue.

Now, ahead of Nottingham on Saturday, it’s up to everyone reading this to decide which side they’re on.

Into battle, people.

I am a Coventry Blaze fan. And still proud.

And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand

Mumford & Sons: “Timshel”

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3 thoughts on “Between The Gutter And The Stars

  1. Another very interesting and honest summary of this current blaze team Paul. As a football fan firstly, I am no stranger to being constantly disappointed by my team. When it comes to the Blaze I feel more frustrated than disappointed. The team have shown how capable they are yet injuries etc have really ruined what could have been a memorable season. But shit happens… Thommo has built several title winning squads over the years and every summer we all get excited over what he puts together. Let’s keep the faith… And any damage we can do to the panthers title bid is more than worth backing the boys for this saturday!

  2. Fantastic post – couldn’t have put it any better. As fairly new fans (this is our third season) we haven’t seen the glory years but we love the Blaze and the sport and being a supporter isn’t just for when things are going well. Thank you for the voice of reason.

  3. Good post Paul, but you did actually say yourself in your previous blog only yesterday that if we didn’t win last night then the season could be over two months before it finally is! Which is what some folks were only echoing last night.
    We are all human and we all react differently to disappointment, some a lot more harshly than others I have to say after what I read last night!
    Yes, we will stick with our team but I think the most frustrating part this year, is what we saw before Xmas. After 2 or 3 lean years, we really saw a Thommo team, a team that battled and gave their all and a team that was skilled as well. And then it all goes awry and the season drifts away from us yet again.
    Lets see what Saturday brings and I will still be there!

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