ROMFORD, UK – When the doors of Rom Valley Way ice rink closed at the end of last season, many thought that the resident NIHL side Romford Raiders would mothball, waiting for a new planned facility in a few years time. GM Ollie Oliver and his management team had other ideas.
The announcement last month that a team called London Raiders would be competing in the NIHL out of Lee Valley Ice Centre, exactly eleven and a half miles south west of the site where Rom Valley Way once stood, was one met with surprise across UK hockey observers.
The last game of the 2012/13 season had seen the Raiders eliminated from the play-offs on penalty shots by Wightlink Raiders in front of a packed Romford rink.
It was an emotional occasion to complete an emotional season and one man in particular took it as inspiration to make sure it would not be the end of the team stood with their heads bowed on the blue line in blue and gold.
“Those who were at that last game will know how I felt and my emotions came out” explained 67 year old Raiders GM Ollie Oliver.
“It was the end of an era to which I had only been part of for about seven years. I had though, taken teams to RVW and every time dreaded it as Romford’s supporters were very vocal and in your face”
“Luckily over the years I got to know many of them and realised as people they are the salt of the earth, passionate about the Raiders and were willing to stand up for what they believed in”
“I never had any intentions of giving up although at times I felt I was banging my head against a wall. Mick (manager Mick Cahill) and I entered into negotiations with the Lee Valley rink management and we were really surprised how well the meetings went”
“Six months down the line we thought all was going well but we had a major setback but I’m pleased to say it was resolved. Mick worked tirelessly with Havering Council to see if there was any mileage for a temporary rink and I carried on with Lee Valley”
Oliver first got involved in hockey thanks to his son Danny, who joined Chelmsford juniors after a stint playing roller hockey. It was a long road through the age groups at Chelmsford and Oliver ended up taking control of the club’s senior side the Chieftains, ironically Romford’s bitter rivals, until 2003 when he made the switch down the A12 to Rom Valley Way.
In 2005 Oliver retired, had heart surgery and took a break from hockey other than to attend Romford games as and when he felt up to it.
Then an English Premier League outfit, Romford began to struggle as larger sides dropped down to the league from the Elite League and the league became a much more costly operation to be involved in.
“Three seasons back I was asked to go back to Romford which I did but on the understanding we dropped down to English National League which is now the NIHL” said Oliver.
“This caused a stir amongst certain team managers, owners and supporters who had all sorts of reasons for the Raiders staying in the Premier league, but they weren’t willing to put their hands in their pockets or even offer to help, only criticise”
“Those three seasons have been good to us and we’ve finished well every season and won some silverware in the process”
“I’m fortunate to have had a great bunch of guys around me whether on or off the ice. Danny Marshall has come up trumps with the players; Mick Cahill is my right and left hand and keeps me in check. Kevin Davis as our equipment manager knows what the players want before they ask”
“Then of course there’s Sam Taylor our sports therapist who is at every training session and games. Then there is our team of volunteers who are the backbone of the whole set up. Some other people come to mind err… oh yes the supporters and our sponsors of course”
The playing staff was a major concern for Raiders fans who, thanks to uncertainty over whether the team would ice in 2013/14, had already seen star forwards Juraj Huska and Matt Turner leave for Invicta Dynamos and Chelmsford Chieftains respectively.
Following the announcement of the team’s return, a host of familiar names returned to the blue and gold fold with Player Coach Danny Marshall persuading fan favourites Andrius Kaminskas, JJ McGrath and Billy Phillips to join the campaign along with prospects JJ Pitchley and Frankie Harvey.
There have been new faces with highly rated net minding duo Euan King and Dan Lane replacing Shane Kemp and Michael Gray, and perhaps more surprising the addition of grizzly Canadian defenceman Dwayne Newman from Milton Keynes.
“In all sports, and ours is no different there are players who go where they think the money is or think they will get a better deal” said Oliver.
“With the Raiders it’s loyalty to Marsh, Mick and the supporters. I suppose I’m in the equation somewhere but don’t think about it”
“Obviously our success is a factor and the fact of how long these guys have played together for three straight seasons and now coming into their fourth. It’s good also to have new players come in as we have this season and especially ones that have proved themselves at different levels”
Whilst the jerseys and the players may be familiar the change of name from Romford Raiders to London Raiders in reference to their new location, was a major talking point following the launch.
The assumption that Oliver and his team were unaware that a predominantly Gay, Lesbian, Bi & Transgender Softball team in the Capital were already operating under the same name, was incorrect.
“Sadly some people found it amusing, although there is no reason why it should be” explained Oliver.
“I did contact the club out of courtesy and we have exchanged emails so it is not a problem for either party”
The plans for a new rink in Romford are still not finalised so the future of the Raiders is an interesting talking point given their temporary arrangement with Lee Valley.
“I have spoken with Lee Valley about a long term contract and not just for one season” admitted Oliver.
“Our time there depends on how long it takes to build the new rink at Romford. In the meantime providing all goes well we will be happy to be there and I hope our current supporters and new ones will make the effort to be with us”
“I’m glad the NIHL is getting stronger, it’s how it should be. I feel happy and comfortable in this league and have no intention of going back up to Premier”
“I was one of the founder members of that league and enjoyed every minute of it like I enjoy every minute in the NIHL”
“As for moving up in the new Romford rink that is a long way off and I’ll think about that closer to the time”
“I really have to thank Marsh and Mick Cahill for their support and hope that we have a successful period in east London before we finally move back to our spiritual home in three years time, all things being well”
London Raiders will open their league campaign at home to Solent & Gosport Devils on the 14th September at Lee Valley Ice Centre.
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To remember the day Rom Valley Way closed its doors for the last time, have a read of the link below: http://prohockeynews.com/romford-say-goodbye-to-home/