Something wicked this way comes…

OK, so there was some interesting news in the Mancunian ice hockey world this week. And the fact that I’m roused enough to write some thoughts about it gives you an idea of much I am surprised about how passionately I feel about it.

Some very simplified background: From 1995-2002 there was an ice hockey team called the Manchester Storm. They played in the MEN Arena in front of crowds of anything from 12,000 (at the start) to 3,000 at the end. They won the league title and the B&H Cup. I was a season ticket holder, wrote a website about them, travelled all over the country to watch their games, had some behind the scenes discussions about working with them and then they went bust.

From that formed the Manchester Phoenix. The club was well named because it was largely run by volunteers and fans like me. Initially playing out of the Arena, then when that wasn’t financially viable, they went off and got a rink built in Altrincham. I worked behind the scenes again, building the first iterations of the website, and also took a more visible role including being the Match Night Announcer. That stopped in 2008 for many reasons, the biggest by a long way was that I simply didn’t have the time required to dedicate to it. As is my way, I’ve not been back since. I’m not over-emphasising my role in the history of the Phoenix, I was a very tiny cog in a very big wheel.

In the very simplest of terms, the Storm was being a fan and the Phoenix was a job. Equally enjoyable for very different reasons and I wouldn’t have swapped either for the world.

In the last few weeks, the owners of the Phoenix have fallen out with the owners of the Altrincham rink and been kicked out. The rink has now announced a new club to play from next season and called them the… Manchester Storm.

Now, right up until that last word I didn’t really care all that much. Hockey politics is a hornets nest, clubs come and go while the faces stay the same. (Another reason I quit, to be honest.) Indeed, only the day before the announcement of the Storm, the Hull Stingrays finally gave up the battle to keep playing.

But the fact that the new club is called the Storm irked me much more than I thought possible, and I’ve been wondering why. Initially, I thought it was because the name was so clearly a land grab and claiming to be the Storm “reborn”. If there is one thing guaranteed to annoy me, it is someone pissing on my back and telling me that it is raining.

Because let me be clear. Anyone who is thinks that this new club has the slightest thing in common with the Storm apart from the name is being fooled. It has no more in common with the ISL club than if I formed a band and called it The Beatles. There are people out there who know this, yet are willing to go along with the fiction. If you are one of those people, then you are, frankly, a deluded moron. To be unwillingly duped is unfortunate, to happily enter into a con and take others along with you in the pretence makes you culpable. The bell has rung and like Pavlovs dog, you’ve come salivating.

(It is telling that the new club themselves have not made this link – instead leaving it to some fans to fool themselves. So maybe they aren’t a successful Pavlovian experiment, but perhaps one of his earlier goes at it, where the dog heard the bell, got confused and started humping the gramophone.)

Calling the new club the Storm is a cheap, ill-thought through and crass stunt. If, in a few years time, someone says “The Storm. Oh, they were in Altrincham for a couple of years”. I’ll have to sigh and explain that they aren’t the same thing at all. It is ironic that the Phoenix were so named because the new organisation really didn’t want to be associated with the Storm name, it was pretty toxic at the time.

But that isn’t why I’ve been so roused about this new club. I think it is because the Storm were such an important part of my life. When you are young, everything is cool and shiny and you fall in love with the experiences you had. As you get older, you stick to those experiences. Looking back on it, the Storm were one of the major things that shaped most of my life and – selfish and odd as it may seem to anyone else – that is why this gets to me.

That seven years of the Storm were amazing and didn’t just give me sporting highs and lows I can never forget, but it gave me many other things. I wrote my first web site, teaching myself HTML on the way and that is now my career. The contents were my first proper attempts at writing, and the popularity and success of it still surprises me. It taught me I’m quite decent at writing for fun, can’t draw and badly need an editor. It also encouraged me to turn my hand to other writing which led to me doing standup for a while – which gave me the confidence to do my dream job of Match Night Announcer. Even more importantly, I made long and continuing friendships with people all over the world. And most important of all, it was the place where I fell in love with a girl.

So that is why I’m annoyed at the revival of the Storm name. It takes an amazing roller coaster ride – not just mine, but in many peoples lives – and takes a huge great dump over it

The nuStorm is just a marketing stunt by people who understand little about what happened then and care even less. Not content with alienating a fan base that has built a rink and kept hockey going for a decade, not content with urinating all over the corpse of the Hull Stingrays without even letting it get cold (the Storm was announced the very next day) , above all else they had to take those people who had a great time back then and screw around with them too.

Not bad for a first day at the office, chaps, can’t wait to see what you manage by the end of the week.

So, yeah. Thanks for that, Manchester Storm 2: Storm Harder. Thanks for trying to feed off my memories and nostalgia for fun and profit like a vampiric Peter Kay. For being clueless about the “iconic” thing you are attempt to piggyback on. And for sidling up to some of the best memories I ever had and gone “hey, they look pretty good – I’ll take them.”

Sorry, but you’ll never be my Storm.

Sport and politics

It is often said that sport and politics shouldn’t mix.  That is an ideal that is rarely, if ever achieved.  Orwell famously said that “sport is war without the shooting”.

As most people who know me know, I am a huge fan of ice hockey and of the Boston Bruins in particular.  Last season, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, the biggest prize in the game for the first time in my lifetime.  They won based on many factors, balanced scoring, playing on the line between hard and dirty, taking their chances and one of the most astonishing performances in goal by Tim Thomas seen for many a year.  The man was just unbeatable and set record after record on his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy, the individual award for Most Valuable Player in the playoffs.

One of the traditions of the game is that the Stanley Cup winners go to the White House with the Cup and have their photo taken with the incumbent President.  This is usually scheduled for when the winning team is in Washington to play the local team, the Capitals.  It is a photo op for both sides, a formality.

Yesterday, the Bruins went to the White House for the formality.  They went minus Tim Thomas.  Thomas released a statement giving his reasons for not attending.

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT”

So what started as a formality has become a bit of a flap.  There are two sides to the argument, Thomas is free to say what he wants and do what he wants.  The other is that he should have sucked it up and smiled for the camera.

The latter is the preferred option of most people.  Yesterday was merely a photo opportunity on both sides.  The Bruins team will consist of Republicans and Democrats as well as Canadiens, Slovaks, Swedes and Finns who have no horse in the race.  The President, like many before him, probably knows little about hockey.  The idea is the President looks good, the NHL looks good, the team look good.  Sport and politics mixed, but only in a superficial way.

Thomas didn’t have to go – some players have cried off citing personal reasons.  Fine.  But by releasing his statement, sport and politics were mixed – and they were mixed by Tim Thomas.  So if you want to get into the politics, Timmy, then so be it.

So, Tim, you think the Government has suddenly grown too large since 2008?  What about beforehand – why now?  You support the Constitution and the Founding Fathers.  If the document is so binding, why does everyone keep ignoring those awkward bits about slavery?  How do you feel faced with the option of possibly voting for a Republican candidate who declared, just two days ago, that is so devoted to the Constitution that he will ignore the bits that don’t agree with him. Who are you on the side of, Tim, the aforementioned hypocrite, the tax dodger, the religious freak or the racist?

Oh, and for those who think Thomas is a hero for doing this are largely the same people who told the Dixie Chicks to “shut up and play” and organised events where their CDs were crushed by bulldozers for… saying they disagreed with the President.  Thankfully Thomas won’t be receiving death threats for expressing his opinion or have people turning up to games openly displaying guns or anything.

As for “this is the only public statement I will be making on this topic” is shutting down debate in a completely cowardly manner.  He lit the fire and is running away.  Like I said, he is the one who made it political. At least have the balls to stand up and defend your position – he does that plenty on the ice.  This is probably the first fight in his life that Thomas has started but never finished.

I’ve never made the mistake of elevating an athlete to a role model (they never ask to be put in that position and being able to score a goal, kick a ball or stop a puck doesn’t automatically make them one).  I’ll continue to cheer for him when he wears the Black and Gold – I don’t sit there and go “What a save! Despite being, you know, having views I disagree with”.  But I can’t help but be disappointed – because he has made himself look like a stupid, petty man and Tim Thomas is not a stupid, petty man.