Former Hull Stingrays captain Matt Suderman isn’t happy.
The Canadian left Hull on Sunday night after their game against Braehead, and hasn’t exactly held back in telling us why.
Criticising the officials of the league was guaranteed to gain him sympathy in EIHL fandom (after all, fans of teams all around the league have been saying that officials are inconsistent, the standard of calls varies widely and all is not well in the EIHL stripeyland) but following up by saying that the Stingrays’ fanbase was one of the major reasons for him leaving is one heck of a parting shot which has caused the odd discussion on Twitter, predictably divided along the “we pay your wages, stop moaning” brigade and those who think he might actually have a case.
“The fans think they know hockey, but they don’t” is one hell of a line by itself, but following it up with claims of fans messaging him off the ice or going after him during games from the stands in a fashion beyond the odd yell has, predictably, caused accusations of Suderman being a softy who should just accept it because he’s a pro sportsman.
The fact is, though, that much-maligned Matt is probably only expressing the views of many players in the EIHL, including those of your favourite club.
I’ve personally had players (and owners) of several clubs rip into their own fanbases repeatedly, violently and often profanely. The simple fact is that all the “best fans in the league” stuff players come out with is often nothing more than manufactured PR fluff.
Some fans in the EIHL seem to think that players are somehow “their” property, and that merely happening to pull on a jersey opens them up to public consumption, obligates them to spend any amount of time having conversations with fans and completely negates any right they have to get away from being a hockey player, being offended by criticism or maybe being a bit peeved when the people they’re risking serious injury every night to entertain decide to hurl abuse at them on social media.
You see it in bars around the country…groups of players huddled in the corner trying to gut their way through another night out while the same, small group of kids and (creepily) middle-aged men try to act like their best friends in some sort of forced social interaction.
Naturally, there are a lot of players who aren’t really happy about this, but they mainly manage to keep themselves going without causing any problem.
However, that surely doesn’t mean that when one player does finally let rip after (by his own account) suffering some pretty horrendous stick from his own fanbase, he should be told to “man up” and “it’s part of the job” by those same fans (who, let’s face it, would probably go absolutely postal if someone turned up and criticised them at their jobs or then decided to follow them away from the ice and send personal messages to be sure the player knew their highly-educated opinion that they were “****”, and then defend it because they “pay their wages” by buying their product.
There’s a line, and in the EIHL and indeed most minor-league hockey it’s crossed increasingly often by fans under the guise of “entitlement”. Suderman’s comments on his fanbase are simply him expressing publicly what players and indeed pretty much anyone else feels-that anyone who feels entitled to send them personal abuse away from the rink is something of an arsehole, and when they’re making a job climate intolerable, eventually there comes a point where you’ve had enough and want to leave that job-a point Suderman (a player, let’s not forget, who’s battled back from illness to play for the Stingrays) clearly reached with the EIHL and its fandom. His comments stating that fact are thus not “moaning”. That’s just a hockey player being human-and is a rare glimpse behind the carefully-managed PR curtain that’s even put up by minor-league hockey players nowadays. Granted, with his subsequent signing for the CHL’s Brampton Beast, he’s potentially weakened his case on the “may retire from hockey” comments he also made to Hull, and the Stingrays management will have a right to feel a little aggrieved.
But as for his comments on the EIHL-he’s only saying in public the frustrations felt by many players about the EIHL and its fanbase. Such frankness shouldn’t be mocked-it should be praised.