Ok, so I will admit that I have wanted to do a season review post, but I don't really have a structure or main aim for this post. Having said that, I have wanted to put some thoughts into writing about the season just gone and hopefully draw a line under the 0910 season.
As you will know the 0910 season saw Neil Morris make the, no doubt very tough, decision to switch the Phoenix to the EPL from the EIHL. For those who have followed the Phoenix history will know it has not been plain sailing. A number of tough choices were made early on, such as mothballing for two season while a rink was built in Altrinham, that along with the choice to go to the EPL have all been decisions to ensure the future survival of the Phoenix. Neil has come under much criticism from Phoenix fans and other fans around the country at both points. However I think the Phoenix we see today, largely stable and able to compete, is as a result of those decisions made. Hockey in Manchester has always had it tough, even in the heady days of the Storm, finances could never have been stable, who actually knows if the Storm ever made any money, but knowing the number of free tickets given out, I doubt it! Arena hockey was dead, the only sensible option was to build a rink!
Rink hockey returned to Manchester under Neil Morris at the Altrincham Ice Dome, and much better sized venue for the following of the Phoenix. After a couple of years in the EIHL, Neil was faced with another choice. Continue to plough up to £100,000 of his own money into the club every season, or move to a more affordable set up, ie, the EPL. The choice to move, was not greeted well in some sections of the Phoenix support, and many accusations of 'Big fish, small pond' were made by other fans. Quite frankly, given how much money Neil had put into the club, he could do what the hell he likes with the club, so long as we still had one to support. So the move was made, and the Phoenix headed into the 0910 EPL season into a world of the un-known.
Personally, after the first couple of games in the EPL, Neil's decision was vindicated in my eyes! The class of hockey that was on show, was no real step down from the EIHL! Ok, so maybe it was not as technically perfect, but the passion, pace and commitment was all there. Plus, as the squad's in the EPL rely heavily on decent British players, you could feel more connected to those guys on the ice. You really could 'feel' part of the team. The Phoenix started the season at a blistering pace, topping the table and leading the league for most of the pre-christmas fixtures. This was quite a funny time for most Phoenix fans, various pundits, and fans from other clubs, had put the Phoenix as pre-season league favourites. The only people who did not....were Phoenix fans! We were as shocked as any that our club could have been leading the league! A club that is far from a 'big fish in a small pond' a club that is not flush with money like some, say Guildford, were at the top of the tree! I think we were there because of two things, one, the skill of Tony Hand/Ed Courtenay/Adam Walker/Jaakko Hagelberg to name a few, and secondly the guys playing as a team, and working for each other.
Sadly two events conspired to derail the Phoenix train just before Christmas, Stephen Fone picture up a dislocated shoulder away to Swindon, and the Phoenix lost four of our Brit's to GB duty for a good month. No disrespect to Adam Summerfield, but he was thrown in at the deep end, and performed magnificently, but loosing four players, nearly one line, hurt badly! So the Phoenix went through December/January suffering from a short bench. Continuing into February saw the Phoenix struggle with form, but with all the guys back, and Stephen back from injury, the team cohesion came back and a playoff surge was mounted. In the closing month of the season, the Phoenix got on a run of form and climbed to third place.The club also made a cup semi-final and an appearance at an end of season playoff weekend. Which no previous Phoenix club had ever managed!
That playoff weekend really was the icing on the 0910 cake! The Phoenix faithful turned out in force and filled out one end of the Coventry Sky Dome, well over 400 fans travelled down from Manchester, just overjoyed we had a team there! No real expectations were held that we could make the final, so I doubt you would find many Phoenix fan's who were devastated the Jets nocked us out. Still, the largest group of fans at the weekend, nearly 50% of our average gate turned up in Coventry, what support for the guys!
All in all, the 0910 EPL season has been a fantastic success, ok we did not win anything, but we never expected too! I still doubt the Phoenix have the budget to win a league, but you never know! The team exceeded all my expectations at the start of the campaign, a good cup run, finals weekend appearance, and a 3rd place league finish! Thank you very much Manchester Phoenix! I really think we have found the true home of the Phoenix in the EPL. Great games, great atmosphere in the Ice Dome, average crowds must be minimally behind what they were in the EIHL, though you could argue that's because of the smaller travelling support in the EPL. Hopefully next season will see more of the same, Neil is working very hard to enhance the product to use fans and sponsors. There is a shiny new VIP area, and posh block, with padded seats and private bar. All things which should hopefully bring extra revenue into the club.
So what for the Phoenix second EPL season in 1011? More of the same for me please, i'd like to remain competitive in the league, maybe make a cup final, and defiantly a playoff weekend final appearance. I am one happy Phoenix fan!
So there you go, my thoughts on a season. Im sorry if I have rambled a little, but as mentioned at the start of the post I wasn't sure where I was going with this! If you have any thoughts on the above, or your own on the season, why not email The Angry Budgie and ill add them to my blog!