Let me start by saying thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who was a part of Legends Day. Some people came from around the corner, some from around the globe.
My involvement with the Jets started 6 years after the team was born, in 1992. I started work at Slough Ice Arena as it was then in 1990, within 2 years I had become hooked to this fast moving but curious sport. Over the 2 seasons before my involvement I got to find out the rules and tactics and I knew enough to get involved. I was captivated by the buzz and the family spirit.
Before I took over the announcing I goal judged, I did the clock, I did the gamesheet, the penalty box all as fill in positions. I even once did the bench duty on a midweek away trip to Basingstoke when Gibbo was unable to make a game!
In the mid 90s I was asked by Gary to take over the announcing and I’ve never looked back since. I’ve had fun picking tunes, fun watching people clapping and dancing and the cheer that comes up after you announce a goal scorer is an awesome feeling. The Jets are my team, there is no way any home team announcer cannot announce in a biased style I believe but I’ve always also shown the opponents and their fans the respect they deserved with the mic in hand.
Due to work at the rink not finishing until 5pm I am rarely able to get to any but the most local of away fixtures but I remember the 2008 Play-off finals weekend. In those days face-off for the final was an evening slot so I collected my then 3 year old Godson as soon as I finished work and we raced to Coventry. Being able to enjoy the moment as Steve Moria, Nick Chinn and the team lifted the play-off trophy with the little man meant so much.
For the 2010 Play-off win I was in hospital as the finals weekend took place. I was awaiting a double by-pass operation which was scheduled for the Tuesday after finals weekend so I was still hooked up to the monitoring equipment. I was receiving game updates by text and that monitoring equipment showed me how much it really meant. Over the course of the final the nurses rushed to check my condition on numerous occasions as the monitor alarm sounded every time a game event occurred and my phone lit up with the incoming text.
Everyone knows the overtime penalty shot Blaz scored to win us the championship. Sharon Champion called me as the shot was awarded and commentated through the whole thing. The monitor alarm went off and the nurses came in to see me punching the air and jumping up and down. It took ages for the heart rate to return to what they termed normal after the euphoria of the win!
In 2012 this may sound arrogant but I knew after our emphatic win over Milton Keynes in the quarter final stage that we would win the event. I told anyone that cared to listen this prediction and sure enough on the Sunday early evening the Jets duly completed my prophecy. As it turned out this was the last trophy the Jets would go on to win.
The more recent success is obviously fresher in the mind but that doesn’t take away from memory the great successes of the earlier years too. The 90s were a particularly successful time for the club and I remember in 1998/99 playing “We’re Gonna Win” from Bryan Adams before every home game faced-off. I was never wrong as we went undefeated in every home game on our way to being crowned British National League Champions.
I remember a packed Hangar in the mid 90s when the Jets needed to win by scoring a certain number of goals to secure the much wanted promotion to the Premier Division. In those days before regulations downgraded the capacity to 1000 the Hangar could and often did hold 1500 people and this night was one of those nights. You could feel the tension in the air, you could feel the majority of the 1500 people in the Hangar willing the Jets on to the win and the winning margin they needed and the building erupted when it came and when the Jets were confirmed as taking their place in the Premier Division.
In the early days shut-outs were rare occurrences. Games ended with huge scores, 1-0 was almost unheard of and that of course affected the number of goalie shut-outs that were recorded. I remember another packed crowd right behind Charlie Colon willing him to his first shut-out in the Hangar. On the stage nobody even dared say the word, everyone just watched the clock tick down. Charlie himself earned his shut-out as in the final few minutes I remember he was forced into some huge saves but the horn sounded and the big man had achieved the shut-out he so richly deserved.
I was hugely honoured to be able to be a part of Gary Stefan’s testimonial held at Slough and also it was a huge honour to be a part of Steve Moria’s testimonial at Basingstoke. David Heath’s testimonial, Gary Cloonan’s memorial match, Jets anniversary games have all been a pleasure to be involved in.
There are so many memories but the Slough Jets are about so much more than those memories.
Through the Slough Jets I have made many life long friendships. Some of these people I still saw every Saturday, some not so regularly as they had now moved away but they are all the same life long friendships. That’s what the Jets are about, the family. Everyone in a giant family related by their love of the club and then all the clubs in the league related by the love of the sport. The EPL family was a pleasure to be a part of and the Jets family an honour to be a part of.
As of around 5.30 Saturday night as the final buzzer sounded at the Legends game the Slough Jets as we all know and love them ended. The name lives on, attached to the development programme and development team in a renaming exercise in the latter stages of the last decade but the spirit of the Jets sadly pauses now waiting for re-ignition.
The news of the ending when it came was heart breaking to many, myself included. Subsequent to posting the news my phone started ringing almost immediately and my inbox via email, text, twitter and Facebook swelled with messages of disbelief, sadness, anger, disappointment and more.
The media release pitched it as the Slough Jets re-inventing in a lower league, the actual reality is the supported EPL team from which all the others now took their name in the previous renaming exercise was stopped and a development team that was already in existence but with minimal support continued. The Slough NIHL Jets play in NIHL2, a league below the previously disbanded Harrier Hawkes from ED1 (now NIHL1)
The idea of a Legends reunion game was not long in emerging and what you saw at the Hangar as a swan song was the child of that idea. It was great to see the Hangar packed out on a summer afternoon. Face off 3 and a half hours ahead of normal in the middle of the afternoon and a gorgeous summer’s day didn’t stop the supporters turning up for one final time and a turn out bigger than any game of last season showed each and everyone there how much the team meant to so many people.
Two decisions by Slapshot Ltd effectively ended the Slough Jets as we know and love them. The first decision was the announced decision to drop the professional team, the second decision was to refuse to release the ice time needed to run an independent team stalling the attempt to keep Slough a professional ice hockey team town.
This came from the back of an email to me from Zoran Kozic confirming that, in 2013/14, should the NIHL2 team have won promotion to NIHL1 it would have been turned down to remain in NIHL2 and that he does not foresee “pro” hockey again under his ownership.
Gary Stefan and I did a lot of work in the early summer in investigating the feasibility of an independent senior club. With the finances calculated, the business plan worked out and the feasibility of an independent senior team confirmed we moved to step number two. We secured the backing and cooperation of the individuals, companies and bodies that we needed with many essential parties expressing how much they looked forward to working with us. Finally, with everything we needed in place came the attempt at securing of the essential thing to run an ice hockey team. We enquired of Absolutely Ice whether we could have ice to run the team including games and practices and we were told that the ice we needed remained under contract to Slapshot Ltd. With no EPL team in the Slapshot fold we enquired whether the former ice used for the EPL team could be released and the answer was simply no.
This decision leaves the EPL with an unhealthy 9 teams, something all the team owners I spoke to wish to avoid, leaves the town of Slough without a single professional sports club playing from within the town boundaries and leaves Slough Ice Arena without a top flight ice hockey club for the first time since 1986. There will be financial consequences to Slough Ice Arena and to the other nine teams in the league as well as most probably their home rinks too.
Slapshot Ltd was formed to take control of the Slough Jets in 2005, soon after he swallowed up the highly successful and award winning Junior Development programme formerly run by John and Pauline Rost. This put all of hockey in Slough under the control of Slapshot Ltd and soon every team was renamed, removing their individuality and renaming them all Slough Jets.
Over the 9 years to date of Slapshot Ltd ownership average attendance of the club has declined, despite three play-off wins and one cup win which at most other clubs would boost interest and attendance.
Over the last few years supporters have turned their back either on the club entirely or some die hard fans have remained Jets supporters but only at away games, in their words to me supporting the team but not the ownership. That’s a sad state of affairs! Over the last few years many players have left the club in far from glorious circumstances, some vowing to not play for the club again under it’s current ownership. That’s another sad state of affairs!
Last year Ryan Watt was sacked first, followed by Michael Wales, both franchise players and both talismanic players that any other club would have been pleased to have signed. Indeed both players were snapped up by other EPL teams quickly. When Dan Scott spoke out announcing his decision to take up an offer from Telford this became the last straw and a mass exodus occurred leaving the team struggling to complete the season. We’ll never know the reason for all the curious player departures last year and as true professionals the players have rightly so kept silent on the team affairs including those leading up to and provoking the pre-Christmas walk out.
Following the announcement of Gary and I attempting to start an independent and professional EPL team Slapshot countered with an announcement about junior development. I respect that they are intending to develop junior players, they are the future blood of the sport and both Gary and I fully believe in full junior development. My question would be what is the point in developing junior players if you don’t have the top structure for them to aspire to? At the weekend we saw 60 Jets legends on the ice, many of those legends passed through Slough’s own junior system and went on to become Legends of the Slough Jets. As of now every junior in the system will not have the aspiration to work to that those Legends had.
What’s worrying, and I said this on Twitter at the time, is that with an EPL team in Basingstoke, Bracknell and Guildford as well as junior clubs and all these clubs being within driving distance there’s a chance that the most promising juniors will sign elsewhere and that would have a massive impact upon the stability of Slough ice hockey.
The vision Gary and I have is of a professional Slough ice hockey team, playing ice hockey at the highest level possible. We believe from our calculations that the EPL is a feasible way forward for Slough. With the support we’ve received from many quarters it is an achievable dream.
Our plan is to build a sustainable business, to run a hockey team. We want a hockey team that you the supporters can be proud of, a team that Absolutely Ice can be proud of, a team that the community can be proud of. We want a team true to the values that Gary held when he formed the Slough Jets in 1986. We want a team that takes part in community events, players and the team integrated into schools, youth clubs, cubs/scouts/guides/brownies, football clubs, sports clubs, corporate social clubs and of course charitable events too.
It’s important that we remain true to our beliefs. It’s important that we build a sustainable business as a vehicle to operate the ice hockey team. Important that we attract back the supporters that have chosen to abstain, attract new supporters, to attract sponsors who also believe in our business model and visions for success. We have generous offers of help and support at every level behind us and with passion, experience, drive and belief we can succeed to return a professional sports club to Slough and to return an EPL team.
The Jets supporters, and Jets family deserve a team run professionally with the very best of intentions and for the right reasons. A team run for the good of itself, its players, its supporters, its community and a team that everyone can all get behind and that we can bring back the good times with. Gary and I will continue our quest.
Thank you to you all for some great memories, fantastic friendships and being a part of over half my life. Your friendship, support and participation in my hockey career has been very much appreciated and until we have the team we, the Jets fans including those in exile, want, need and deserve I hope we’ll catch up and keep in touch by phone, text or on-line or at a nearby EPL rink where the Jets fans on tour will be until they can return home.
My team, your team, OUR TEAM