BRITAIN’S oldest surviving ice hockey club has reached a crossroads, and over the coming days Fife Flyers must choose which direction to go in.
Bow to pressure, join the Elite League, and take on the financial risks that go with it – or persevere with the Northern League which may or may not have enough teams to continue into another season.
Or simply do nothing, accept that the game is over, and call an end to 73 years of history and tradition.
If the Fife directors have the best interests of the club at heart – and Tom Muir and Jack Wishart certainly do – then pulling the plug is not an option.
However, whether the choice be Elite or Northern League, they will be taking a gamble either way.
You need only look at Edinburgh and Newcastle to know that chasing success in the 10-import EIHL can run you out of business.
Yet while the NL may be appear a more sustainable financial commitment, the lack of games, weak competition and declining fan-base make it an equally risky route for Fife.
This week, The Fife Free Press opened up the debate to the people at the heart of the ice hockey scene in Kirkcaldy. Here is what they had to say ...
TODD DUTIAUME has been the player-coach in charge of the Flyers since 2005 : “Ideally, we’d be in a competitive league where we had four or five imports, and the rest locally trained guys. That’s something the Flyers have been trying to nudge ice hockey towards, but we’re caught between clubs who want to play EIHL, and clubs that cannot commit to anything more than SNL. It’s been a tough four or five years for people waiting for something to happen, but I look at the positives. We’ve given local guys a platform to play when otherwise they may have been overlooked. They now need a bigger challenge – but where is it going to come from? I’m sympathetic towards the directors as everyone is telling them what to do, but nobody is willing to say ‘here’s the money to do it’. Could Kirkcaldy afford Elite League hockey? I don’t know what the answer is, but the main thing is that I don’t want to see Flyers go down the tubes. This is the oldest club in Britain so they have to find some solution to keep it going. I am willing to play in any league and will go in it to win it.”
STEVEN GUNN joined the Flyers following the BNL demise in 2005 and was the club’s top scorer last season: “It would obviously depend on finances but I definitely want to see us go to the Elite League. Even if we could start with eight imports and see how we got on, that would still give the British guys a chance. I’m getting a bit sick of playing against the same teams all the time, and it’s not really competitive. We could win every game if we played as well as we can. It was okay to begin with but that’s been six years now. We need a new challenge. I think our players are ready for it, especially when you look at some of the guys that are playing Elite League.”
JOHN MCGREGOR (Kirkcaldy), a Flyers supporter of 47 years, emailed: “To keep on going trying to kick start a new league set up is becoming an embarrassment. I would rather we mothballed than keep going in that direction. Whilst I believe that we should have a go at the Elite league it is not my money. However, if Mr Muir was to take a gamble he would be guaranteed my support at the door as I would be happy to part with my money to see my team have a go in the Elite.”
PAM CLARK is the chairman of Fife Flyers’ Supporters Club: “Like every other Fife Flyers fan, the Supporters Club like to see good entertaining games of hockey at Kirkcaldy and no-one can deny that the East Coast Challenge games were some of the more exciting games Flyers were involved in last season. As for next season it’s a very hard decision for the club to make especially as the options appear to be running out now as to choices available and each option has it’s pros and cons – not a decision that can be taken lightly I’m sure.”
FRANK MORRIS played for Fife Flyers between 1991 and 2005 and is now bench coach at Elite League side Braehead Clan: “I would love to see Fife Flyers in the EIHL and without a doubt they could compete within a manageable budget. We started with nothing at Braehead but by the end of our first season we were touching 3000 people a game. Fife are how many years ahead of Braehead Clan? They’ve been packing that place for years. There’s no reason why they couldn’t compete, and financially, they should be there. It’s all about putting the money in the right place and sticking to a budget. The EIHL has a 10 import limit, but you don’t have to run with 10. We won the BNL with Flyers with six imports in a nine-import league. Fife proved a point back then – why not go and prove it again? The EIHL is the modern day Heineken League, it’s where all the sponsorship is, and you have to go with what’s on offer. It’s a good standard of hockey, it’s entertaining, and people are coming out in numbers to watch. I’ve been telling our owner Neil Black that the EIHL needs Fife Flyers in it, but Fife also needs to be in the top league – it’s almost a no-brainer. ‘‘
JIM ANDERSON is a previous general manager of Fife Flyers, and current Scottish Ice Hockey chairman: “At the moment, Fife are caught between a rock and a hard place. You have the Northern League, which is sustainable but not to the Flyers because there are not enough games, and the competition is weaker. Then there’s the Elite League but I don’t know if it’s do-able in Kirkcaldy. People don’t understand the financial implications. You’re talking about £9000 before a puck is even dropped just for ITC cards. Then you’ve got flats, salaries and travel to consider on top of that. Fans might say they want Elite, but would they then be willing to pay between £15 and £18 per game? In this climate, when people are fighting to put bread on the table and pay the mortgage, the last thing they are going to think about is a trip to the hockey. I don’t think people fully appreciate the financial commitment the directors Fife will be making if they go Elite. It would be a huge gamble, and if it was me in charge, I wouldn’t be taking it. ‘‘