All quiet on the Phoenix front, but not for long!

Friday, 2nd September 2005
"Having to keep silent is driving me crazy!" says Neil Morris, Managing Director of the Manchester Phoenix.  "There's so much I want to let our fans hear, and as soon as I'm permitted to, I'll be shouting from the rooftops, rest assured!"
On the eve of the new Elite League season, Neil Morris is feeling the pressure.  "I wish right now that I was looking over a fixture list instead of looking over floor plans.  I'm seeing all the other team owners throughout the Elite League putting the finishing touches to their squads, and I have to admit it makes me more than a litte jealous!  But you've got to walk before you can run, and the priority of Manchester Phoenix right now has to be getting the new rink built and getting the skaters of Manchester back out on the ice."
Since the closure of the Devonshire Road rink in March 2003, the city of Manchester has been without public ice facilities, and that's something that Neil Morris is working hard to put right.  "The closure of the original Altrincham rink came up on us all so suddenly.  Even though there was notice of its closure, the focus of so many of Manchester's ice hockey fans was still on the Manchester Storm and the subsequent efforts to keep the team afloat.  When Storm ceased to exist and the efforts to keep the team alive failed, we all took a step back and looked at the bigger picture, and it's then that we saw the Altrincham situation.  The supporters of the Altrincham rink and the Aces were dedicated in their efforts to keep their local facility open, and we tried to support them as much as we could, but the fate of the rink had already been decided and we were all left without a public rink."
The final months of the Altrincham rink coincided with the early days of FOMIH, the Friends Of Manchester Ice Hockey, an organisation which has developed into Club Phoenix.  FOMIH was set up by Neil Morris, working with a small band of hockey supporters from the Manchester region and beyond, and it worked towards the achieving of two stated aims - to bring top flight ice hockey back to Manchester, and to build a new public facility within the Greater Manchester area.  The first aim was achieved with the formation of the Manchester Phoenix Ice Hockey Club.
When the Phoenix took to the ice for the inaugural season of the Elite League, the team were playing out of the Manchester Evening News Arena, the former home of the Storm.  Phoenix Fan Liaison Richard Allan remembers the excitement of the first game, against the newly formed London Racers.  "Playing out of such a large Arena was a great experience, it was a thrill to see the team that so many people worked hard to create finally make it into active competition," says Allan. "There we were, our logo in the middle of the ice, playing our first game in a new league against a new team, and coming up with a tremendous win.  But the further we went into the season, the more we found ourselves facing the same problems that Storm faced in their later years, and that meant that we needed to look to a new home for the team in order to secure the future for Manchester Phoenix."
Neil Morris sees the second of FOMIH's original aims as a solution to both problems.  "There's a need for ice facilities in Manchester, there's no question about that," he says.  "The closure of the Devonshire Road rink meant that skaters and hockey players were faced with the choice of either travelling great distances to keep their sporting activities going, or of walking away from them completely. Hockey teams at all levels, from juniors to adults, were scattered across the whole of the North West, there are former Altrincham players who are now travelling to rinks in Blackburn, Deeside, Bradford and Sheffield to get ice time.  The fact that these players are willing to put in the time and mileage to keep their sport alive shows that there is a demand for ice facilities in Manchester.  On top of that, with the Phoenix in need of a new home, it made sense that a new Manchester rink be large enough to cater for a top-flight hockey team, a full junior development system, recreational hockey, and public skating as well, and that's what we're working towards with the new Altrincham development."
Progress on the new rink is being made at a steady rate, but due to the nature of business negotiations a veil of silence has had to be lowered on the proceedings, and that's something which means that Phoenix can't keep their fans as updated as they'd like.  "It's certainly frustrating," says Neil Morris, "but it's a necessary step.  We got some great business partners in this venture, with David McLean Nikal and Planet Ice, and our negotiations and progress with the local authorities is going very well, but since privacy is required throughout the negotiations, a non-disclosure agreement was reached.  I'm happy to abide by it, it makes very good business sense to keep all your wheelings and dealings behind closed doors - that's the way of business, that's how it's done.  The only downside is that whenever we make a giant step forward in our efforts, I can't tell anyone about it!"
Phoenix Director Mark Samaru knows first hand how the non-disclosure agreement is affecting morale amongst the fans.  "We get phone calls, letters and e-mails all the time here at the office," he says. "Most are very supportive, people naturally want to know what's happening and because we're unable to say anything publicly they write in to try and get some information.  Unfortunately if we can't say it publicly then we can't say it privately either, so we can't give out any information that isn't already published, and hopefully most people understand that when we explain why we can't tell them anything."
Not all the correspondence received at the Phoenix office has been so supportive, though.  "Yeah, we've received a handful of mails, calls and letters that we'd rather not have received, but that's all a part of the business I guess," Samaru elaborates. "People want to know information, that's understandable, but some of the abusive stuff that we've received can be very downheartening, especially to the staff who are working so hard to get the new rink built and get the team back on the ice."
"Having to keep quiet is certainly a problem," says Fan Liaison Richard Allan. "We're always receiving enquiries from genuine and not-so-genuine fans wanting to know when we're going to be announcing this, when we're going to be announcing that, and the answer I have to give each time is to keep an eye on the official site, because when we announce something, that's where it will be.  It's not a strong answer, it's not the answer that people are looking for, but it's the only answer I can give."
With developments on the new rink progressing as planned, the future of the club and the rink is looking more and more defined.  "We're now looking at a probable opening date early in the new year," says Neil Morris. "The Elite League is holding a place open for Manchester Phoenix for the 2006-2007 season, so we have a guaranteed place in the top flight to return to when we relaunch the team.  The planning of the temporary building with all our partners is going well, I've been making several trips over to Scandinavia to look at rinks and arenas over there, and the local authorities have been very supportive, pushing through with our negotiations as quickly as possible.  Everyone involved in the creation of the new rink at every level knows and understands how much a new rink will mean to the people of Manchester, and we're moving closer and closer to the point where we can deliver it."