‘’The Scottish refs’’ – now there’s a phrase to raise hackles, and smiles.
And it’s one that needs to be buried.
It’s been uttered by many ice hockey coaches down the decades, a throwaway line with just a hint of sour grapes at its heart.
Interestingly, the notion of ‘’the Scottish ref’’ never applies when their team wins – only when they’ve been gubbed.
The inference is clear. There has been a stitch-up.
Defeat had nothing to do with their own team’s discipline shortcomings, its failure to convert on the PP, its inability to defence, or to withstand any pressure from Fife.
Nope, if it wasn’t for that pesky bloke in the black and white stripes and his arm in the air, they’d have got away with the points.
Here’s a thing though.
In 30-plus years of covering ice hockey, I have never once heard a Fife coach, or player, complain about ‘’an English ref.’’
Any issues they have raised have been to do with the stripey’s handling of the match, rather than his nationality – and if you think Fife have never been done up like a kipper then you clearly never went to Durham during the Heineken era.
Wasps’ old Riverside rink delivered some of the most laughable, outrageous refereeing calls, prompting Chic Cottrell to once say ‘’you need to score 12 goals just to get a 2-2 draw down there…’’
And he was right.
So, for Nottingham Panthers’ official website to re-hash ‘’the Scottish refs’’ conspiracy theory after their recent defeat in Kirkcaldy at the hands of Fife Flyers, was just daft.
True, it was only a throw-away line, but it was used for a reason.
My first thought was how brave of the club to allow their work placement unrestricted access to the official website.
Then it twigged - they were serious.
Exhibit A for the prosecution: ‘’After a little spat of very much six-of-one half-a-dozen of the other push-and-shove the Scottish referees assessed just a penalty to Panthers for unsportsmanlike conduct and shortly afterwards when Tim Billingsley finished his hit up the boards on a Flyer who turned his back at the last moment they added a 2+10 penalty to the scoresheet.’’
I loved that phrase ‘’just as a Flyers turned his back at the last moment’’ – what a beautifully crafted piece of cobblers.
Of course, club reports are biased. They see everything through rose tinted glasses, whether that’s blue white and gold, or black and gold.
Sport is all about opinion and perception.
One team’s goon is another team’s protector. A wind-up merchant will be lauded by one half of the rink, and have the rest grinding their teeth in anger.
One example of ‘’finishing your hit’’ is another man’s cheap shot which saw a player taken out of the game through injury.
But there’s another strand to this.
The EIHL is a pro league. It needs to raise the bar in terms of PR.
The message clubs put out is key – and that includes everything from tweets to match reports.
What they say is very much in their own hands, but so too is how they say it.
There are some fantastic writers across this sport – from pros to volunteers who get across their passion and their knowledge in their articles, their analysis, their pictures and video reports.
They are a joy to read and watch.
They inject humour where it is appropriate, and make the most mundane of matches come alive with their perceptive analysis and sharp observations.
As a league, we should be looking at how they do it, and then sending out a basic ‘best practice’ guide that all members should follow.
Let’s bring them into the fold, tap into their commitment and passion and make them part of the team.
I’ve said this for 30 years – ice hockey has a remarkable product to sell, and a great story to tell.
So, no more talk of ‘’the Scottish refs’’ ... particularly when the stripeys concerned weren’t all Scottish in the first place.