A long journey & a warm welcome ...

Poster at Cardiff Ice Rink welcoming visiting fans
Poster at Cardiff Ice Rink welcoming visiting fans

You don’t need to do a lot to make a good impression. It’s the small things that count - that, and good service.

Cardiff Devils’ rink is cramped, the sightlines ain’t that good, the scoreboard almost hidden from the away fans. It reminded me a lot of the ‘old time ’ rinks such as Whitley, Durham and now, Altrincham.

But forget all of that, because, the Big Blue Tent - which isn’t a tent or big, but is blue - works, and that is entirely down to the people at the heart of the club.

I’m sure the new ice stadium just across the road will be smarter, brighter and even more special, but Cardiff’s current home can still offer lessons to pretty much every EIHL club on how to run a match night.

Sitting in Block One watching the Fife Flyers game the other Sunday I could barely make out a word that was said across the PA, a chunk of the neutral zone was obliterated by those sticky-oot staircases designed by architects who have clearly never attended a sporting event in their puff, while getting round the rink was a fair effort in itself, but, you know what, when you’re a made to feel welcome then all of that counts for nowt.

It was interesting to watch Cardiff simply let the away team step on the ice with zero introduction or recognition. They were left on the pad while the club then staged its own pre-game intros - a build up reserved solely for their team. I like that. It’s how it should be.

The ‘show’ was smashing, and it was great to see the fans effectively take the lead building up a wall of noise with their clackers which are banged relentlessly all night long - couldn’t tell you a single song the DJ played because he/she was very much in the background.

But the reason Devils make match night fun isn’t about the music - it’s about the people.

What was interesting was to watch Todd Kelman and his team effectively work non-stop. They were visible, active, and involved in every facet of the evening.

It was easy to draw a parallel between Cardiff and Manchester. Both operate out of pretty basic Planet Ice rinks that are far removed from the shiny but often soul-less multi-purpose arenas.

Both work very hard to make everyone - home and away fans - part of the match night, and both generate more atmosphere than venues two or three times their size.

One example said it all. On the wall next to Block One was a poster which welcomed the Fife fans. Didn’t matter whether there were 200 of ‘em or, as in the case last weekend, just half a dozen.

The message was thank you for travelling 434 miles and invited them to be part of the match night.

It also asked for feedback and welcomed participation on social media, and it was signed by the ‘Department of Fan Enjoyment.’ Now that’s just brilliant!

And what a simple but superb gesture - one that makes the convoluted journey out to the bay worth it, one that encourages you to buy 50-50s, spend in the bar and fork out for a programme, one that makes you genuinely welcome and valued.

It’s small things like that all clubs can learn from - some already do it - and if they don’t see the benefits then they need to look closely at how they treat supporters.

My other half took the pic of the poster which I tweeted. Within half an hour it had 25 retweets and over 60 likes - many from Cardiff fans.

Clearly they too take pride in making sure every fan is welcomed - something that I am sure will continue when they move into their new home.

I look forward to a return trip next season. to the new, bigger, shinier tent …