The Problem With Being a Women’s Ice Hockey Fan in the UK

teamGB3Being interested in women’s ice hockey in any country can be a bit of a challenge.  The closest thing to a professional women’s league is the CWHL in Canada, but even that doesn’t get a fraction of the attention that men’s hockey does.

Being interested in women’s ice hockey in the UK is even harder.

Do a Google search, and the first link you get is from the English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA), which has a section specifically marked up as women’s leagues.  I got quite excited the first time I clicked on that link, only to find that there doesn’t appear to be anything more recent than 2012 detailed there.

So I thought I’d try looking for websites for the individual teams.  Of the Women’s Premier League (WPL), only two teams have Wikipedia entries at the moment.  Even the WPL doesn’t have its own entry. Admittedly, women’s ice hockey doesn’t even have its own entry, just a couple of paragraphs under the general ice hockey entry.  The entry for Team GB Women’s still has the 2011 roster listed.  The fantastic women who came away with a silver medal this year deserve a hell of a lot more than that.

My local team is the Sheffield Shadows, so I tried them.  They have a webpage and a Facebook page, but almost all of the information on those is designed for the players to communicate with each other, rather than prospective fans.  There is a fixture list for this season, but I can’t find any information on how to buy tickets or watch the team play at all.  Of all of the other teams, only Streatham Storm, Slough Phantoms, Solihull Vixens and Basingstoke Bison even have websites. [ETA: It’s just been pointed out that Coventry Phoenix have a website too!]

Streatham Storm’s website is probably the most useful for someone looking for information on women’s hockey in the UK.  They have an introduction to women’s hockey on their site, which covers all of the different competition levels.

It also mentions the EIHA Women’s Playoff Weekend which is due to be held at IceSheffield on the 24th/25th May.

If I hadn’t found this by accident, I wouldn’t have known about it myself.   But I’m certainly intending to go.  Further digging found a link to it on the EIHA website which mentions that tickets are FREE!  Come on people – a weekend of free hockey?  You know you want to.  Anyone want to join me?

Back to the subject at hand.  I’m not blaming the teams for this, not entirely.  I think it’s largely a catch-22 situation: without the interest in the sport, the teams don’t have any real necessity to promote themselves, but without the promotion, there won’t be any outside interest. But when I look at how popular the women’s ice hockey was during the Winter Olympics, and even during the World Championships, I have to wonder if maybe the interest is there but we’re just not getting the opportunities to support it the rest of the time.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that women’s hockey isn’t at the professional level and that these women have full-time jobs and lives outside of hockey, but they’re damn good hockey players – good enough to play in Division 2A at the IIHF World Championships – and I would like the chance to support them.

I want women’s hockey in the UK to be more popular.  I want hockey fans to know the names of Lauren Haliwell, Nicole Jackson and Louise Adams to be as well known as Ashley Tait, Stephen Murphy and Robert Dowd.  I want people to get into debates on Twitter over which team deserves to win the trophies (another example – I don’t even know what championship trophy the women’s teams play for).

Ice Hockey UK (IHUK) is putting in a bid to host the Women’s World’s Championship in 2015 here in the UK, in Dumfries.  I want hockey fans from across the country to be there if the bid is won so we can show the world that we support our women as much as we support our men.  I promise now that if they win the bid, I will be there to cheer them on.

But I’m not going to just sit here and complain about it on my blog.  I want to do something to help.

So here’s my open offer to any women’s ice hockey teams – of any level – in the UK.  If you want help with your Twitter or Facebook presence, or would like me to do a blog post or interview about your team and your players, just email me (staalapalooza@gmail.com) and I will do, at no cost.  If you tell me about upcoming games, I’ll spread the word for you.   I’m no web designer, so I can’t offer to create you an amazing website, but I will help in any other way I can.  

But you know who else needs to do something about it?

The British men’s teams.

EIHL teams complain that they don’t get the support that North American teams do.  EPL teams complain they don’t get the support that EIHL teams do.  And so on down the chain.  But I’ll bet you that they all get more support and more encouragement than the women’s teams do.  Why aren’t they all working together to make hockey more popular?

So here’s the second part of my post – a challenge.  I challenge the men’s hockey teams to help support their women’s counterparts.  Invite women’s team players to some of your games and get them out on the ice during the intermission.  Share links and tweets.  Build up a rapport between you all. 

After all, ice hockey is ice hockey.  First and foremost we’re all fans of the sport.  Let’s give people the opportunity  to support men and women equally.

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