Over the last month, to say the team have been on a rollercoaster, is an understatement.
We know there have been many stories regaled, some with elements of the truth, some completely fabricated. The team had said that until such time as things were sorted, no statement would be released. Today is that day. The Sheffield Spartans will not be icing a team in the NIHL this season.
We feel it is vitally important that the actual facts are shared, so that the truth can be shared, and to say thank you to some very important people who have been with us on this amazing journey. This is not a rant, nor is it a personal slur, it is the facts of the last month for the team.
The Spartans were busily preparing for the start of the season. John Ross had been appointed as the coach and anyone who knows Rossi’s history will be aware he had previously coached the Spartans in 2007/08 achieving one of their best seasons; add the wealth of his playing experience, vision and knowledge of the game made it very exciting. Two challenge games were booked in for August v Widnes and Billingham, players from both Sutton and the Steeldogs were in negotiation with John to sign, plus John had spoken to U18 and U20 players about being part of the squad.
It is important here to say that Sheffield Spartans do not and never have paid any player to play, they don’t have the funds for that. The players pay subs over the year and pay a registration fee to the EIHA to play, so sometimes that has been a barrier for players signing, as they have been paid at their previous club. The positive note there is the players wanted to play for us, which is testament alone to the strength of the Spartans.
The phone call came on the 15th June, followed up that evening by an email stating the academy could no longer fund the team. It was stated that financial support for the Spartans had been on the increase year on year and was no longer tenable. Without sufficient finances put in place, the whole academy was at risk and there were two options on the table. The first to pay money up front into the club account to fund the season, but then the committee would appoint the coach, manager, players and have total control of the team. There aren’t many sponsors who would pay a significant amount of money into an account without any ownership of their money. The second was to leave the academy and stand alone.
After the initial shock of the news, an urgent meeting was requested to discuss this with the committee, and to look at how the Spartans were threatening the academy. There was confusion as to the extent one team could cause this catastrophic decline in the academy and it was to see what, if anything could be done to salvage this situation. This request was declined.
The team were now being classed as the ‘old boys club’ from the committee, a hurtful, disrespectful tag line. That must be all NIHL teams in both the north and south now as they are a core of experienced players interspersed with junior and U20 players. The level of hockey played would be a dangerous thing if filled with young inexperienced players, where injuries would/could be many. What hurt us most though is you only need to consider the number of players the Spartans have farmed through their team up to EPL, Elite and internationally; there are more than any other NIHL team.
The next step was to try and find a solution; this solution was in the guise of Tony Smith at Sheffield Steelers. A meeting was had and Tony agreed to take the Spartans under the Steelers umbrella; all that was needed was the ice to play the games. The relationship we had been told had always been cool between the academy and the Steelers, we can state that couldn’t be any further from the truth where we were concerned. Tony was understanding, supportive, proactive, on board, offered advice and a great asset to our plight. He could see the opportunity for development under the Steelers umbrella for younger players, ones like Cole Shudra and Liam Kirk, both whom iced with the Spartans last season, until being quickly picked up by the Steeldogs then Steelers; development at its best!
SIV were then contacted to secure the ice, it was then the team received the news there was no available ice at Sheffield. Another note to point here is that SIV have been supportive throughout this situation, and worked hard to find ice for the team, but to no avail.
The saga from there on in is so long, with so many meetings, discussions, negotiations so it will move to this week, where Andy Brown from Bradford found the Spartans enough ice for all their home games to be played there. SIV then found us an hour ice for training each week; the team had found a solution to a problem that was not their making. Thank you Andy, we are really appreciative, thank you Mandy Parker and Shaun Lough. The number of emails you received would have tested anyone, but you looked to help us.
Once the calculation of getting players, supporters, generating door revenue became a reality, it was apparent that to ice the team at Bradford was going to be a challenge too far, so the decision was made to call a day on the Spartans.
Numb, I think is the only way to describe the feeling. If the academy didn’t want the team anymore, so be it, but then to not be able to get any ice for the team, once a solution had been found is heart breaking. To lose that depth of team, to effect the NIHL league, which in turn affects every other team, their doors, and their fans, without any discussion prior to the momentous decision made is baffling.
There have been so many messages of support, it has truly humbled us, not just from Sheffield players, ex-players, other teams in the league, but teams from Southern leagues too.
We would like to use this part of the write up as our thank you section; of which there are just too many and apologies if we miss anyone out, but it’s safe to say we thank each and every one of you for everything, anything you have ever done for the Spartans.
The first person, clearly, is Craig Webster. SIHA was born in 1991, this year is the 25th anniversary, what a shame the Spartans won’t be there to celebrate that achievement for our mentor. Queens Road days were the epitome of hockey at its best. Without Craig, his extra ordinary style, his love, nurture, drive and passion for all his boys and girls made the hockey world of today full of his protégé’s. Every single person who came through with Craig has a story to tell, friends for life, local, nationally and internationally. He gave structure, taught lifelong skills, developed hockey players who have gone onto NIHL, EPL, Elite and international clubs; not a bad resume there.
Within Queens Road there was Mac, (bend your knees), John Ross senior, for his Saturday morning skating courses, Cotrina Stasi for her figure skating expertise, making the players the best skaters across the country.
The second person is Jon Rowbotham. Never, have we known anyone with such a dedication for the sport he loved, to the point of when he was ill, he continued to come to the rink, coach the teams and suffer in silence. The hours he spent watching teams, their drills, creating new techniques for the teams, his love of every player was boundless. His achievement within the academy was immeasurable and we are eternally grateful for having Jon part of us for so long, as a coach, supporter, and friend.
A team isn’t just made up of a group of hockey players, it is made up of a family of people and the Spartans had a great family.
From there on in, it becomes an endless list of people, but here are some;
Ian Bellamy; Ian has been part of the Spartans from the start, he has been the man with the tool box and energy drinks for many years, mending everything along the way to keep the lads on the ice, hydrating them after training and games and being a part of the team. Alongside that, he was our resident announcer, everyone knew Ian, everyone knew he would be there, just getting on with the job and making sure the smooth running of the game from that side. His grandson Ryan Handisides was a Spartan for many years and is another player who moved up and on, another Spartans success.
Debra Holden; we put Debra before Phil as she has been part of our family for many years within the junior section ever before a lifelong Spartans supporter. She is a gem amongst gems. Her repair skills on hockey kit,
shirts, has been exceptional, but moreover her dedication to us, sitting at the door on every home game, selling tickets, raffle, having banter, sharing her humour and love. Thank you.
Phil Holden; our biggest fan and biggest critic. What other team have had a book written about them? Honesty and Passion exactly sums Phil up. We all know Phil is opinionated, but with that opinion comes an overwhelming love for the team and game. Phil has been involved with the team for many years and Mr. & Mrs. Slice are much loved within the team but the whole hockey community. Fan of the century, and he’s a Spartan…. Thank you for everything.
Gill and Steve Pearson, our game sheet and clock couple. Gill and Steve have turned up every home game, season after season, done a fantastic job, been very much a part of the Spartans, come along with us on our end of season or Christmas bash. Thank you.
Louis and Abbie Thorpe; Louis is our resident coach drive for Maxfields, whom we owe so much. He has made our away travel the best experience ever. His love of all the team is apparent, his passion for the game grew within each season. We have felt supported, safe and cared for in his hands. Abbie, his daughter is yet another Spartan gem. She has grown with us, coming to home and away games, being a huge supporter of each and every one of us. Thank you.
Cressida Ridge; Two years ago Cressida joined us as a sponsor for the team. She came with us to Solway for the play off weekend, she saw the team we really are and the camaraderie of that group of people. Thank you for your support, however short.
For all our previous coaches, for the ups and down, who we have laughed, cried, achieved with, whether it be with league standings, or making the team stronger and the group of people we are today;
Steve Bingham, Jon Rowbotham, Martin White, John Ross, Matt Darlow, Greg Newton, Tommy Brooks, Chris Wilcox.
For all our game day helpers, without you the game wouldn’t go ahead;
Steve and Ang Morris, Mike Strawson, Karen Handisides, Michelle Oakes, Kirsty Pyatt, Ann Liptrott, Sarah Liptrott, all our door volunteers, everyone else who helped out to make things happen, thank you.
To all other teams in the league, both division one and two. It’s been an amazing journey, it ended too soon, thank you.
And that’s it, a thousand other things we could say, but nothing will change this outcome, the division one NIHL Sheffield Spartans are no more.