Tonight, we’re seeing an event in British hockey that hasn’t been seen for a little while. An event that could potentially have important ramifications for all EIHL fans, in fact In Cardiff tonight, a group of fans will move beyond the usual expressions of dissatisfaction on forums and attempt the first step in taking a stand for the rights and hopes of the Devils fans, as they stand outside the Big Blue Tent in open and clear protest against the way their club is being managed and controlled under the banner of “Devils Outside”.
This protest, while not unique in British hockey history, is certainly a sign of changing times in the EIHL era. Previouly, while there have been oft-expressed concerns regarding the way clubs and the EIHL have been run, “Devils Outside” marks a watershed-it’s the first time in EIHL history that a fanbase has openly and clearly sent a message to its ownership that lax standards, intrigue and questionable practices (all of which have not exactly been unknown in UK hockey in the past) are not something that they’ll tolerate any more.
It’s also a watershed because it’s the first time that a team ownership has been openly challenged by its fanbase. Certainly, we’ve had cases in the past where tricky questions have been asked at fan forums and on social media (in fact, often) but these have always been isolated incidents or seen as worthy of being ignored by those in the EIHL hierarchy.
All season, Paul Ragan has continued to dismiss the concerns of his team’s fanbase, lurching from bad decision to PR disaster to (even this week) dismissing fans expressing their grievances as a “minority” despite the overwhelming opposite impression being given on social media.
Tonight, Devils fans are sending a message to Ragan that enough is enough. Fans are not commodities, or an infinite resource to be milked for profit as EIHL teams are run into the ground. Tonight, supported by much of the rest of EIHL fandom, a division of the Red Army are taking a stand and saying “we want our club run properly. This is not acceptable.”
Some outside Cardiff are asking why they should care or support what is purely a local matter. In doing so they’re missing a clear and obvious truth.
The EIHL is changing. Many club owners are by and large realising that they need to change the way they do business if the league is to be taken seriously (some are doing so very slowly, others more quickly), and that they need to adapt to a changing sporting landscape for the EIHL to grow.
Many owners are working to change for the better. Questionable practices of the past, self-interest, insularity and seeming disregard for the actual good of the sport that has plagued the top levels of the sport in the UK for years are slowly being squeezed out as owners have to improve their by the increased power of a more discerning and social-media-aware fanbase questioning things in a way that simply hasn’t happened in the past. And that is a good thing.
But in in a league like the EIHL, the fate of one club is often inextricably linked to the fate of all. One badly-run club, one club that consistently puts out PR disasters and appears not to care about the wishes of its fanbase, one club owner who seems to feel that the fans are irrelevant and that sponsors can be treated badly at will, and the image of the whole league suffers as a result.
That’s why it’s important for fans across the league to support Devils fans in their protest tonight. This , for many, is not about ousting Ragan or Pope from the Devils. It’s simply a way of saying to the Devils ownership, and by extension re-iterating to those of the rest of the league (even though most owners are decent enough), that EIHL clubs HAVE to be run well and professionally, and situations like the one currently occurring in Cardiff are no longer acceptable.
The Devils fans standing outside the BBT are not the militia Paul Ragan insists on presenting them as in an attempt to divide the Devils fanbase. Even as late as Tuesday, Ragan has accused a group that has swelled to contain former players, former and current Devils sponsors and many season-ticket holders as having a “personal” agenda, and even trying to destroy the club. He’s even made allegations of fans being “bullied” into protesting despite the organisers making it quite clear at every stage that no-one will be approached or “forced” to protest…indeed even those who will protest are told that if they wish to go to the game after the fifteen-minute duration of the protest, they can do so.
These are not “militia” . They are simply Devils fans whose patience has run out. Who are fed up with the constant changes, PR mis-steps, and having they concerns ignored, and are saying “we want our team run properly, and we want to be listened to by our owners”. And that’s a message that every fan in the EIHL should be sending to their clubs ownership loudly and clearly every time they walk through the doors of a rink.
For the good of the Devils, for the good of your own team, and more importantly for the good of UK hockey, #devilsoutside deserves your support. Please give it to them, stand with the Devils fans wherever you are this evening and let your voices be heard by the EIHL.
As the old song has it-“The times, they are a changin’.” Make sure it’s for the better.