Building Awareness: Edinburgh Capitals Supporters Club

EdinburghCapitalsHockey in and around Edinburgh has a storied history. From the Murrayfield Racers to today’s Edinburgh Capitals, from players like Tony Hand and Scott Neil to Sean Beattie and James Wallace, the game in Scotland has seen almost everything there is to see. Starting out as a grassroots movement and moving towards a professional association, it has never been an easy task to keep the attention on the game moving higher. However, that could be said for the whole of the United Kingdom, not just Edinburgh itself.

The Murrayfield Racers also has its legacy but it’s been built in the past. The Edinburgh Capitals are looking to create a legacy of their own for the here and now. A new generation of fans have emerged and are trying to help the team take it to the next level. With the right mix of awareness, promotion and of course the product on the ice, the Capitals have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Enter Steve Salvini.

Salvini has been a hockey fan since the 1980’s following the aforementioned Murrayfield Racers but when the club went bankrupt so did the following. In October of 2012, Salvini was offered a discount ticket for the Caps. With his two daughters tagging along, he once again became hooked with the hits, saves and goals of the game of hockey. Even his one daughter Lorna became a die hard fan and started going week after week with him.

Noting that he wanted to help the club and create more promotion for the team, Salvini reached out to Scott Neil to see what he could do to help. Neil mentioned that the Supporters Club was dormant and well, it was Salvini’s to take if he wanted. The rest is history.

As the current interim chair, I spoke with Steve about some of the trials the Supporters Club is facing and threw in some good hockey chat for good measure.

March Hockey: Do you think that with time the Edinburgh Capitals can capture the reputation that the Murrayfield Racers once had?

Steve Salvini: The Racers had a great sponsor in Smirnoff at a time when the league was sponsored by a rival brewer / distiller in Heineken.  This meant that Smirnoff were both generous and disinclined to give up their foothold in a league where sponsorship by any new alcohol companies was now disallowed.  Caps need a similarly large and generous sponsor before the can hope to emulate the Racers success.

 

The Caps also need to grow their fan base.  AT present there are probably 300 hard core fans who turn up to everything and another 300 who are fairly regular.  After that, there are anything up to another 500 who are at best fickle: their attendance depends on the success of the team and/or discounted tickets!  That said, most of these fans are already into hockey.

Steve Salvini 

The all-new supporters club are reaching out to a wider audience and reach those who do not know the sport at all or simply do not know it is played in Edinburgh.  The latter group may include the large groups of Eastern European’s now living in Edinburgh, for example.  They might both be missing their usual hockey and fix and respond well to a team with a large proportion of players from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, etc.

 

MH: Breaking the old school mentality aspect of the fans (I.E. the Racer fans) is a tough task. How do they see the Caps in general? Do they give them the respect they deserve?

SS: I’m not sure I completely agree with your comment about the “old school mentality”.  The way I see it is that the Racers operated in a completely different environment to the Caps.   In the Racers heyday there were limited numbers of imports and so they may have appeared to be some much better than the majority of players around them whereas nowadays most of the players are full-time professionals.   The game has also become much more professional in its approach.  For example, I am sure you have read the part in Tony Hand’s autobiography where he makes reference to players drinking BEFORE games.  Nowadays that simply would not be tolerated, by management or even other players.  Similarly the shorelines are different.  My first game was a 12-12 draw with Durham Wasps – today’s equivalent might be a 3-3 draw as teams are more balanced in their approach to defence.  In Racers heyday every team just went all out to out-shoot their opponents, back-checking was, err, something of a rarity. Also, net-minding was left to British players again leading to higher scoring games.   Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Racers days but I also love the game today.  It was/is all hockey – nether approach is right or wrong, both are simply the product available at the particular time.

 

Racers days were a big party for fans and players, now it’s a professional sport – flip side it that it more impersonal, there is much less chance that the team’s star defenceman lives in the next street so there’s less of a local attachment to the team.
MH: How does Edinburgh develop their local talent? Which teams do they draw from for reinforcements, if any?

SS: Well-develop junior setup – teams at under 10, 12, 15, 18 plus Scottish National League (SNL) team – sort of second string team including youngsters knocking on the door of the Big Team plus old hands who are helping the young guys develop.   There is also an Academy System for those thought possibly able to make the step up from Junior / SNL level to the EIHL.

 

No “farm teams” as such but recruit from own Juniors set up and that of others (including arch-rivals Fife Flyers!) plus attract players from other SNL teams for example James Wallace from Solway Sharks and Callum Boyd from Kilmarnock Storm.
1319473523533MH: Most of us here in Canada never hear about the greats from non-hockey countries. Scottish guys like Tony Hand and Scott Neil helped put ice hockey on the map to not only create a following in Scotland but the U.K. as well. Who are some of the current up and coming stars that we should keep an eye on?

SS: “Non-hockey” country???  Hockey is the second most popular indoor sport in the UK! 

 

Yeah, Ok, that doesn’t mean much really.

 

The up-and-coming stars from Edinburgh include Sean Beattie and Jay King.  Both are in the Edinburgh Capitals Academy System and play for the EIHL and SNL teams.  Plus both play age group for Scotland.

MH: Has Edinburgh adopted a rivalry with any of the other EIHL squads?

SS: Ever since a team played out of Murrayfield Ice Rink the big rivals have always been Fife Flyers.  In fact, it’s interesting how many Fife fans have said how much they want Edinburgh to improve so they can start “hating” them properly again!   The rivalry is definitely there but also the camaraderie of the “hockey family” that I think makes our sport unique.

Edinburgh-capitals-logoMH: How can fans get involved to help the team grow?

SS: Join the Supporters Club and work together to build the fan base – bring along a new person to every game – stay positive and keep behind the team even (especially?) when they are going through the inevitable bad patches.  Talk up the Caps at every opportunity – word of mouth is the best advertising we can have.   The company running the team need more income – that will come from, a larger fan base – but they also value the various professional and technical skills we can donate to them – everything from helping paint the changing rooms to writing programme articles to helping provide jobs or work experience placements for players to introducing potential sponsors to the club.  Enthusiasm, energy and support for the players we can all give.   Keep the faith!

 

For more information on the Edinburgh Capitals Supporters Club including how to help out and become a part of the movement, check out their website at www.edcapssc.co.uk and follow them on Twitter: @EdCapsSC

The “Scottish Gretzky”: How Tony Hand kept hockey in the minds of the UK

3797 Tony CVRI’ve always known there was hockey played in the United Kingdom in some aspect. It would just be downright ignorant to dispute that claim. However, at what caliber and level the game was being played at remained a mystery. From here in Canada, we knew players of all levels were recruited to play for teams abroad. When it came to the United Kingdom everyone had their eyes locked on mainland England.

The advent of social media (while some say is a curse), is a wonderful invention. Every little bit of information on any topic one could want is at the tips of your fingers. When I started to dig deeper into the hockey world of the UK, a name was constantly thrown in my direction. Not only from different sites on the internet and historical hockey pieces concerning the sport in the 1980’s, but from many UK hockey fans. That name was Tony Hand.

I chalked Tony Hand up to just be a hockey great from England. I had no idea he was actually a hockey powerhouse from Edinburgh, Scotland. Now that’s no disrespect to Scotland at all. That’s just pure ignorance from yours truly; a young Canadian hockey historian. Hell, I was just being born when Hand was starting his dominance.
All throughout my life I’ve been fascinated by all the different countries and cultures of the world. I even collect flags for fun. So having another nation to add to the ever growing list of hockey lovers to research brought a smile to my face. Either I’m obsessed with the game or I have no life. You be the judge.

 

But I digress.

A fellow hockey friend by the name of John Oxford reached out to me to say he’d be willing to send over Tony Hand’s biography for me to read. Along with sending Paul Thompson’s “Benched”, I have been enamored with the words and world of UK hockey in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Tony Hand’s book feels like I’m going back in time to my own childhood looking up to the players I idolized at that time in the NHL. It’s a bit of an eerie feeling reading about someone you know absolutely nothing about but can relate instantly to the topic being written.

Within the first 16 pages of Hand’s book I stopped. I stopped and took a moment to reflect at how similar his hockey upbringing and the upbringing of kids in this country are. If he didn’t name drop places and teams, you would swear he was Canadian. From the graciousness of Willie Kerr keeping the rink open after dark to Hand walking miles down the road to just be able to play showed just how in sync and how comparable the game was.

Playing for and having loyalty to his hometown team of Murrayfield reminded me how much the game has changed. Loyalty is no longer a factor concerning the players today. It is all about the coin. Money. The game of hockey in the 1980’s was a fragile and odd kind of sport. Trying to grow itself but yet not wanting to sell themselves out provided a slippery slope for most players as the old guard still had not retired yet.

TonyHandThe Murrayfield Racers also reminded me of my hometown Cornwall Royals. While the Royals were a junior the team, the fans and talk surrounding both cemented them a legendary place in the world of hockey. I knew that there was something special about them that not many on this side of the Earth’s hockey world would ever hear about. As I continued reading it was clear that Hand was, had been, and still is an elite caliber player. Having over 100 point seasons and then over 200 is nothing short of brilliant. Case in point his being drafted to the Edmonton Oilers.

Former NHLer Garry Unger had been a scout for the Oilers in the late 80’s. He was still playing the game though over in Scotland and happened to play against Hand a few times seeing his greatness. A little phone call to Glen Sather made Tony Hand the 252nd pick in the 12th round of the 1986 NHL Entry Draft and gave him a shot at that years training camp. Of course, this was all unbeknownst to Hand as he was all the way in Scotland. Phone tagged was played and he eventually headed over to Alberta.

Icing the training camp alongside the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Dave Semenko, Hand was put up against a daunting cast of characters. However, he didn’t let the pressure get to him and had a good camp. Good enough for Sather to offer him a contract that would send him down to the minors while still in the Oilers system. Sather even remarked that Hand had the best eyes on the ice, second to Wayne Gretzky. At the same time a friend also had an offer waiting for him at the Victoria Cougars in the WHL. As the story goes, Hand did not feel comfortable. He was suffering from exhaustion from suiting up for 3 games with the Cougars and along with homesickness he flew back home, denying both contracts.

While some think that Tony Hand blew his and the chance to put UK hockey on the map, I have the upmost respect for his decision. He was young, in a new place, dealing with players who trained much harder than him and everything was just uncomfortable behind his means. Some people just can’t adjust. Also, being in the minors, there was no guaranteed way he’d ever come back and crack Edmonton’s lineup. It was a no brainer decision.

Although when I think about it some more, I firmly believe that his tune might have changed had he been drafted to another NHL team that was not stacked with talent. He would’ve no doubt made the roster right away and would be playing night in and night out. Sadly, that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

As I continued to read, the book got a bit dry in a sense that Hand would massacre the point totals year in and year out. In some ways it doesn’t even seem fair to a player of his caliber but just goes to prove what kind of character he really is. Playing for the sake of the game and his hometown team rather then grab a large contract and take off to Europe.

The story about Glen Anderson made me laugh. Showing up in a limo to play with Cardiff and demanded a wealthy pay cheque. The money I can understand but how demeaning is it to your teammates to flaunt your priviledges around.

(Photo: Manchester Evening News)
(Photo: Manchester Evening News)

When I reached the middle of and late 90’s, you could see how Hand’s hockey mind progressed. Maturing to the business side of things. It’s essential for hockey in the United Kingdom to keep minds and people like Hand around for the progress of the sport. (Yes, that’s including David Simms.) Hand is right on the money when he starts talking about the import limit and how to grow the game domestically. He’s also on the money with teams and their budgets. Of course we can talk about all of this until we’re blue in the face. It will take a big shakeup for something of that magnitude to change.

I hope that I will get the chance to meet Tony Hand one day. It would be weird for me to say that his contribution to the game is monumental. I mean, coming from little old me it would be. I don’t have to tell him that. Without him and a few others, the game might have died and been completely washed out in the U.K – Who knows.

What I do know, is you’re going to be hard pressed to find another player come out of Scotland and compete at his elite level.

Message to all the Scots at this present time: Prove me wrong.