October 2002 Remember: Part 3 The Other Team

Whilst the headlines in October 2002 were being grabbed by the Manchester Storm there was another headline being played out at the same time. North of the border there was only one team in the Superleague and they had almost been the definition of a powerhouse.

The Scottish Eagles has started life in the south-western Scotland town of Ayr in 1996. The town had once been home to the Ayr Ice Hockey Club. The side reached the top levels of the sport in the UK but in 1992 time ran out on the Ayr Ice Rink. By 1996 the new Centrum Arena was finally built in the town and the Ayr Scottish Eagles became the resident side in the newly established Superleague.

The Scottish Eagles were instantly a successful side. In the first season they were runners up in the Benson & Hedges Cup and the following year became the only team Superleague era to win the grand slam. In 1998 they defeated AK Bars Kazan twice in the European Hockey League.

Despite winning the Challenge Cup in 2002 and finishing runners up to Belfast in the league there were issues for the Ayr Scottish Eagles. Raising costs and the low capacity of the Centrum Arena compared to the likes of Manchester, Sheffield, Belfast and Nottingham were having taking their toll on the side. In the post season though a solution looked to be found as the owners relocated the side to the newly built Braehead Arena in Glasgow.

It was a decision that was bold and very brave. The Scottish Eagles had a fan base in Ayr and an arena whilst Glasgow was a new market and untested but other the potential to grow the fan base with a bigger city and bigger capacity. However soon after the start of the 2002 – 03 season it was clear that the groundwork had not been done in Glasgow.

Attendances at the Braehead Arena did not meet expectations and after just 6 games it was all other. The club had folded and efforts to take the side back to Ayr were in vain.

It could be argued that the club’s owners were in a move or die situation due to the lower capacity and catchment area in Ayr coupled with the raising costs of the Superleague. But the decision to move to the Glasgow area was ill fated from the outset. The work simple hadn’t been done to introduce the team to a new area and ultimately the Scottish Eagles fell foul of the same adage that the Manchester Storm did. Success in ice hockey is based on the numbers in the arena as much as it is the numbers on the scoreboard.

What is a greater tragedy of the Scottish Eagles is that because that decision to move to the Braehead Arena left the Centrum Arena with a tenant and an operator. Which meant when the Superleague folded and the Elite League formed there few options for a new team to be formed in Ayr.

On the flipside though as we see in part 4 the memories of the Scottish Eagles have played their part in the success of the Braehead Clan since their formation in 2010.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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