The latest in our Fan Voice series where we feature passionate fans from across the globe on what makes them cheer for the teams and leagues that they do.
Paul England (who also resides there) is a die hard Sheffield Steeldogs fan. He is also a proud supporter of the AIHL and NZIHL. He gives me an in-depth look at the tier 2 league in the U.K.
March Hockey: Where are you located and how did you get interested in hockey?
Paul England: I am from the UK and live in a town called Huddersfield which is in West Yorkshire. I first got interested in hockey when I was at high school. My PE teacher was Canadian and always went on about the sport. So one day I phoned up my local Ice rink to get some information about the local team. A few days later I went to see my first hockey game. It was the Bradford Bulldogs v Haringay Greyhounds and the year was 1985. From then I was hooked and watched and helped out at the Bradford Bulldogs games. I was the DJ for the junior games for a few years which was really good fun. I left the club after 4 years but to this day the Bradford Bulldogs are still going strong and have a really good junior system that is doing really well.
MH: What makes you a passionate fan of the EPIHL compared to the EIHL?
PE: For me the fact that the EPIHL is a league that is mainly of British players really is the key. The teams are only allowed to ice 4/5 imports which really helps the development of the British players. Even though it is a semi professional league, the standard of hockey is really good and it keeps improving every year. The other thing about the EPIHL is I like the style of hockey that is played. It’s more of a British based style of hockey compared to the EIHL which is a more North American style. I think the EIHL is also very overrated. They have 11/12 imports per team which dosen’t help the sport develop over here at all. In my view they should be working with the EPIHL teams in order to bring the British players through to play in the EIHL which in turn would bring better results for the National team and more coverage on the TV and Radio.
MH: Who is your favourite EPIHL team and player? Why?
PE: Well I support the Sheffield Steeldogs. We play out of a facilty called Ice Sheffield and get crowds of about 450, although when we play Manchester Phoenix its normally about 850 as they are the biggest rivals. The reason I love the Sheffield Steeldogs so much is because the players interact with the fans a lot and make them feel part of the club. The match day experience is also really good and in my view one of the best in league. I have always said since i started watching the sport if you can make the match day experience really good then people will come back whatever the result. It’s quite hard for me to choose my favourite because they all bring something different to the team. But if i had to choose one I would probably have to choose Ben Morgan. This is mainly due to the fact he has a really good work ethic on the ice. He is also a really nice bloke of the ice as well. I also watch the two Sheffield NIHL teams called the Sheffield Spartans and Sheffield Senators. These teams have players in their side who have come through the junior system at Sheffield and act as feeder teams to the Steeldogs. I also cover all the games on twitter to give the teams as much coverage as possible. My twitter feed is @Sheffhockeylive and I already have followers from Canada as well as Australia and New Zealand.
MH: Does the EPIHL or the teams of the league in general do enough to incorporate fan interaction or to keep fans interested?
PE: All of the EPIHL teams do a really good job of keeping the fans interested in their team. All the teams do fan forums and some do shirt launches as well at the start of the season. One team, Telford Tigers are actually owned by the fans. Even though they finish the bottom of the league most of the time the work they do off the Ice is quite amazing. I have a lot off respect for the Tigers fans. The one other thing that the teams do is get local match reports in the local papers. By doing this it really does help to get new people involved in the sport. I really think that in these hard times when people have less money to spend, the EPIHL teams do a fantastic job of getting people in. Lats year’s play off weekend at Coventry was a sell out a few weeks before it was due to take place. I think that just goes to show how good the league really is.
MH: If you were to change one thing about the league, what would it be and why?
PE: Now this is a really good question. The league as it is at the moment is doing really well and growing every year. The one thing I will say is that if the sport wants to continue to grow in the UK then the only way forward is to have 2 leagues with promotion and relegation. But for that to work the EPIHL and the EIHL would need to come together and that is not going to happen as the two leagues don’t get on very well at all. The only other suggestion I could think of is that we have a EIPHL North and South league with the top 2 teams from each meeting at the play off weekend. Again though the chances of it happening are very slim. The main problem with the EPIHL is that 8 of the 10 teams are from down south leaving the Steeldogs and Manchester been the only Northern teams. Other Northern teams want to join but the Southern teams don’t want them in because of the travelling involved.
MH: Let’s talk NHL. Who’s your favourite team and player and why?
PE: I support the Toronto Mpale Leafs in the NHL and my favorite player is James Reimer. But to be honest I don’t really watch it that much. I concetrate on following the OHL, QMJHL and the GOJHL.
MH: How do you think the NHL could market itself better for fans over in Europe?
PE: The NHL is very popular overhere. The main problem though is that it’s pay per view TV. If the NHL wants to get more people interested then it needs to sell the rights back to Channel 5 which is a free channel. It used to get really good viewing figures until they lost it. Also maybe get a few more games over here. A few years ago we had a regular season game in London which sold out in about a day.
If you are a passionate hockey fan and want your voice to be heard about your team, I want to hear from you! Tweet me on twitter @MarchHockey or send me a message on facebook! http://www.facebook.com/MarchHockey