Power to the People
PUBLISHED: 10:00 08 January 2011
Real Essex stars dancing on ice
Forget reality TV and give some live sporting action a go.
I’m thinking of making that my motto for 2011 after witnessing another exciting Essex derby on ice last weekend.
I wasn’t the only one looking forward to the latest instalment between the Romford Raiders and Chelmsford Chieftains, judging by the gridlocked car park and long queues to get into the rink.
Starved of any games for a couple of weekends, due to the heavy snowfall and Christmas break the faithful fans came out in their droves to cheer on their heroes.
It’s a long time since I saw my first Essex derby, but as a keen follower of the Raiders, I felt like a fan again as Danny Marshall and his men claimed a 6-3 win.
The decision to drop out of the four-import English Premier League and into the English National League, where only two overseas players are permitted to play attracted some criticism at the time.
And some fans have stubbornly refused to give it a chance, taking their admission money to other rinks to watch ‘better’ hockey.
You pay your money, you takes your choice, but it is rather sad when people turn their backs on what used to be ‘their’ team to watch another, just because they play at a higher level in the system.
Still, new fans will, hopefully, be impressed by a team showing plenty of effort and passion, a fair amount of skill and a winning record to create a new wave of support.
Raiders badly wanted to set the record straight, having been denied victory in the dying seconds of their previous meeting (a last-gasp equaliser, how exciting!), and to a man, they worked their socks off to achieve it.
Michael Gray remains a revelation in goal and pulled off two stunning saves, worthy of a higher level, to keep Romford noses in front in the second period.
And David Oliver stepped into the breach caused by Pierre Wilhelmsson’s absence and showed exactly what he can do on the blue line.
Oliver played for the club’s junior teams and showed promise when he first broke into the Raiders set-up a few years ago.
Now, hopefully, he can really grow into a role on the team as he is one of several players with Romford blood who are making their mark.
Frankie Harvey burst on to the scene last season, averaging close to a point per game in the EPL, and is adding to that tally alongside Marshall and the clinical Juraj Huska.
Joe Allen is also starting to produce more offensively and is exciting to watch when he gets up a head of steam, while James Murnane has forced his way back into a Romford shirt and shows plenty of edge, skating and hitting well and getting under the skin of opposition.
JJ McGrath was an England junior international while in Romford’s youth ranks, before a move to Canada, and is developing a bit of cult hero status with his grinding style, while captain Anthony Leone continunes to find the net on his return to the gold and blue.
Billy Phillips is expected to come ‘home’ this weekend, which only strengthens the case and it is hoped these Romford boys can continue to improve as players and carry the club forward.
A successful senior team, built on local foundations, can only be good for the sport in the town, no matter the level of play for now.
Also making good starts to 2011 were our two senior football teams.
Hornchurch maintained their long unbeaten run in league play with victory at Wealdstone, in what manager Jimmy McFarlane called one of their best performances of the season.
They are back on home turf this weekend for the first time in six weeks to take on play-off rivals Lowestoft and it would be great to see a big crowd at Bridge Avenue to help make up for some of the recent postponements which have put further pressure on club finances.
Similarly at Romford, who were frustrated by a broken boiler which forced the postponement of their league match at Leyton on Saturday, but took up the opportunity to give their first-team a good run out in a midweek friendly at Hornchurch.
One would not have guessed they had not kicked a ball in anger for three weeks, which goes to highlight the fine job being done by Paul Martin, his staff and the players.
They welcome Wingate to Mill Field (such a shame both our teams are at home on the same day!) for what should be another intriguing battle between play-off rivals.
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