Murrayfield Racers’ return sparks memories but ends Caps’ road

Fife Flyers v Murrayfield Racers 1993 (Pic: Bill Dickman)
Fife Flyers v Murrayfield Racers 1993 (Pic: Bill Dickman)

The lives of Scott Neil and the Hands have been woven around ice hockey in Edinburgh.

From their days as young rink rats to rookie debutants to leading the peerless Murrayfield Racers at the very height of their success during the sport’s Heineken era, the dressing-room, corridors and offices at the Riverside rink have been their second home.

Fife Flyers v Murrayfield Racers circa 1989 - pictured are Rick Fera, Tony Hand and Scott Neil (Racers) and David smith (Pic: Bill Dickman)

Fife Flyers v Murrayfield Racers circa 1989 - pictured are Rick Fera, Tony Hand and Scott Neil (Racers) and David smith (Pic: Bill Dickman)

The news that one was now about to replace the team led by the other is surely laced with personal sadness.

The plan to play once more under the name of the legendary Racers’ name will rekindle memories of a sporting dynasty, but it will also mark the demise of Edinburgh Capitals, who often defied gravity just to keep the game alive in a city that has shown limited inclination to catch the ice hockey bug.

And, currently, they sit at an impasse.

Scott Neil’s Edinburgh Capitals retain the franchise to play in the EIHL, but no longer have anywhere to call home.

Steve Gatzos, Fife Flyers, playing against Murrayfield Racers, late 1980s  (Pic: Bill Dickman)

Steve Gatzos, Fife Flyers, playing against Murrayfield Racers, late 1980s (Pic: Bill Dickman)

Racers’ Consortium, fronted by David Hand, brother of Paul and Tony, have the ice pad, but not, as yet, a ticket to play in the Elite League.

It’s safe to assume there’s lots happening behind the scenes to transfer the necessary licences – assuming Caps’ management team accepts the inevitable so soon after announcing a major restructuring – but the clock is ticking.

The sport’s four-month summer sabbatical may only just have begun, but teams are already building and season tickets are being flogged.

Building a team from scratch is a huge task. Fife Flyers did it in barely six weeks when they grabbed an EIHL place seven years ago, and it was an incredibly tough baptism.

Fife Flyers defenceman Ally Reid on the boards with Jimmy Pennycook,. Murrayfield Racers (Pic: Bill Dickman)

Fife Flyers defenceman Ally Reid on the boards with Jimmy Pennycook,. Murrayfield Racers (Pic: Bill Dickman)

They were making a major step up from grassroots hockey. Racers’ consortium is starting with zero.

With the change direction only just sinking in, there are many questions yet to be answered.

The news of Caps’ almost certain demise comes at the end of a shambolic season which sucked the joy out of the sport for many among their small but loyal, hard-working fan base; the rock which has supported and dragged the team over the finishing line more than once in recent years.

Dismissed as the league’s weakest league – often with a lack of respect for the sport’s history in Edinburgh spanning back to circa 1952 – Caps felt like a side on borrowed time after the excitement generated by Riley Emmerson who injected some belief, fire and passion on and off the ice.

Sadly, that felt like a nostalgic memory after a 2017-18 campaign yielded just five wins in 56 starts, the liquidation up of Scott Neil’s holding company, and the collapse of its move to Russian-led hockey.

For many, even some of their own fans, Caps had reached the end of the road.

This was a club crying out for fresh investment and energy.

Caps’ long-delayed management restructure was meant to be that launch pad. Instead, it seems unlikely to ever attain lift-off.

So far, the new consortium is talking the talk – hockey at the highest level, and a return to the glory days.

That’s the emotive call to arms.

But the business case is equally direct.

Racers’ bid will be based on ‘‘a robust and sustainable business model with secure financial backing’’ – foundation stones which Caps clearly struggled to keep in place in a full-time pro hockey league packed with big spending arena franchises – and step two was to pitch its case to the EIHL.

The new consortium wants to play at the ‘‘‘highest level of ice hockey possible next season under the team name of Murrayfield Racers’’ – that has to translate as the Elite League.

But, if that door does remain closed – and, unless Caps have an ace up their sleeve, it’s hard to see the league not rubber-stamping the switch – then the highest level will be something much more modest in scale, at least for the short-term.

That’s a scenario no-one wants.

The summer recess in Edinburgh just got rather interesting, and hockey fans across Scotland – not just in Edinburgh – will be watching events very closely.