Ten Years After

It is ten years since the Rink Rush set out to visit every ice rink in the UK to raise funds for Cancer Research UK. Paul Balm tells the story of an unforgettable week in his own unique style…

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A team of half-trained monkeys!


This is a story whose beginning could be summed up in a single Star Wars quotation: “Who’s more foolish? The fool or the fool who follows him?” Now I know you were probably hoping for something about looking for droids or me being Luke’s father but you’ll have to manage with this. Stay with me it’ll all make sense in the end. You see, just over eleven years ago I was that fool. I had an idea. An idea that wouldn’t go away. I kept coming back to it over a period of weeks and knew that, in the end, I had to do something about it.

I knew that I couldn’t do it on my own and that that meant asking someone else about it and that can be quite nerve-wracking. What if they didn’t like it? What if they thought I was a fool for even considering it? How would that make me feel? I had to find out so I sent an email to a few friends. And that’s where the Star Wars quote comes in. To my surprise they liked it and pretty soon one person with half an idea turned into that one person plus Mark Balm, Adam Reddish, Ian Braisby, Mark Atkin and Jono Bullard who all thought it was a good idea, or at least a good enough idea to go along with.

I suppose it might help at this point to tell you what the idea was. It was a simple one: to visit every ice rink in the UK & Northern Ireland that are home to a senior men’s ice hockey team (all ideas are simple if you say them quickly so try it with that). Plus, being Panthers fans we threw in the sites of our, then, meagre, trophy winning locations that didn’t fit that criteria – Wembley & the NEC in Birmingham. We wanted to do this in the shortest amount of time possible and ask for items from the teams we were visiting to auction off for charity when we returned.

The problem with simple ideas is that the only thing that is usually simple about them is coming up with the idea itself. They take a LOT of planning. There were countless meetings, email and pub discussions with ideas passed back and forth until it became difficult to know who had said what in the first place. And that was just to decide the name – The Rink Rush. I’m not entirely sure now who came up with the name – I know it wasn’t me. That’s no disrespect to whoever did just my old age and the passage of time. Whatever, I think it was and is a great name – way better than anything I came up with. I won’t embarrass myself any further by revealing them to the world suffice to say they were truly awful. We toyed with Puck Cancer for a while but after a few Dubonnets we decided it was a bit too racy. The Rink Rush as a name summed up everything we were doing in two words – we were going to be visiting a lot of rinks and it was certainly a rush.

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Our families were only there to make sure we left!

I mentioned sending the email out earlier and when I was talking to Jono about writing this article he told me that I had to mention the fact that he was threatened with the redundancy on the day I sent my original email and it was just what he needed to lift his spirits during that nervous time. This wasn’t the last time something like this happened (by which I mean things happening at opportune moments rather than Jono being threatened with redundancy). Time and time again we had moments where something good just seemed to happen out of nowhere. They came to be known as Rink Rush moments which I have to say sounds a bit cheesy when you write it down and to be honest it feels a bit cheesy describing them that way but that’s just what they were. Maybe it was the idea; maybe it was the fact that we were doing it for a great cause. I don’t know, they just happened. They seemed to follow us around throughout the week we were on the road.

The thing that those moments had in common was that they were unexpected. Unexpected things are the best. Think about Christmas and the presents that you had no idea you were getting, now compare them to the ones you knew you were getting. Which was better? Oh, only me then. Anyway, on the Sunday we finished in London ending up watching the Racers take on Hull. Now the Racers offered us brilliant support even playing in special Rink Rush shirts (if anyone has one they want to sell, please get in touch – not Jason Hewitt or Mark Thomas’ though, I have standards), they bought in to what we were doing completely and I won’t hear a bad word said about them. OK, they played like a bunch of half-trained monkeys at times but who doesn’t like a half-trained monkey? All this meant that we were pretty excited about getting to Lea Valley to take in most of the game and, if I’m honest to have a couple of relaxing sherbets afterwards. Before we could do that though we had to go to Romford. This may sound harsh but we weren’t expecting all that much from Romford. We thought we’d get in there watch a period of hockey, do a quick bucket collection, hopefully get a couple of items to auction off and then head off to what we knew was going to happen in London.

We couldn’t have been more wrong, we were welcomed in, had 50/50 sellers telling people to put their change in our buckets in addition to the signed shirt and puck they gave us. In essence they were great to us. It may not have matched what the Racers did but in a way it was better, more humbling, because we didn’t know what was going to happen. The game wasn’t bad either.

What can I tell you about the week away? Too much probably, to this day we bore our wives, partners, friends, relatives etc. rigid with tales of Jessie Hammill’s beard, what the man in Fife really thought of Dave Simms, how Mickey Mouse’s head or a Labradoodle can get you killed or how to visit the Isle of Wight for 15 minutes. On the other hand you could describe it as six blokes drove round Britain in a minibus, collected loads (and I do mean loads) of items to auction, had a laugh and got home safely. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. We did visit everywhere we set out to visit, not necessarily in the right order and we couldn’t get in Wembley or the NEC, we did get home safely but there’s more to it than that. It’s probably still so vivid with because it meant (and still means) so much to all of us. It is vivid as well, I can still tell you the exact order we visited the rinks in. Want me to prove it? Nottingham, Peterborough, Milton Keynes, Wemb… OK, I’ll stop but you see what I mean. I could fill this article and many more with tales of that week but they would probably bore you as much as the people we keep telling but if you’re desperate to know buy us a drink some time and mention it. Be warned though, you won’t be able to shut us up. It doesn’t surprise me that we’ve all got so many memories of that week, so much happened and you wanted to take in every single thing so that you didn’t forget anything. I’m sure I have forgotten stuff (I’ve been reminded of so much since I started writing this), it was ten years ago but the majority is still there as vivid as it was in 2005.

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Three of these people don’t like Andy Carson. Can you guess which?

I remember on the last night talking to someone at the unexpected (and therefore so much better than normal) party that the Newcastle fans laid on for us being asked if we’d fallen out with each other and I could honestly say that we hadn’t. They said that we’d potentially put our friendships on the line doing this. That had never occurred to me (I don’t know if it had to anyone else) but I suppose they were right. All those hours cooped up in the bubble that was the minibus could have gone very wrong. It did make a change from being asked how much the bus smelled though.

We lived in a bubble for that week. Everywhere we went was for one thing and practically every one we met knew what we were doing. I don’t think I realised that until I was walking through Victoria Centre to meet the rest of the guys in the pub so that we could make that final walk to the NIC together. I’d got my Rink Rush shirt on like I’d had all week (mainly through the wonders of layering clothes and deodorant) as I walked through the throng of shoppers but no one was looking at me. That doesn’t normally bother me (in fact I quite like it) but I’d just had a week where everyone did and to be thrown back into normality after what we’d experienced was a big shock.

I learned a lot of things on that week, many of which I’ve never had a use for since – Ian doesn’t like melons, Jono doesn’t like florists or where Adam left his dumb bells. Some were merely useful – cheap accommodation is always cheap for a reason; everything in London takes twice as long as you think it should and Elgin is a long way from everywhere. Some have been invaluable – I’m too old (even ten years ago) for bunk-beds and never share a room with either of the two Marks if you want to be able to get to sleep. Most importantly, though I learnt that something exists that if you’ve watched the news recently you might be forgiven was long since dead – human kindness.

I was always worried that the Rink Rush would fail. It was probably the same anxiety that had made sending the original email so nerve-wracking. What if no one donated anything to the auction? What if no one came to meet us? If a minibus travels the country and no one notices does it still raise money? I needn’t have worried. Almost every team we visited gave us something for the auction and if they didn’t then often their fans did. There weren’t many of the forty odd stops that we made that didn’t have someone from the club or who had nothing better to do there to meet us. In Fife and Streatham we thought we’d be able to make a quick getaway (something we needed to do particularly in Streatham) until someone appeared from the rink to welcome us (and, in the case of Fife, give us his thoughts on a certain well-known figure in British ice hockey). I’d like to think that people gave because of the idea and that we did it for Cancer Research UK to help fight the disease that had affected all our lives in one way or the other. For whatever reason those people who put their money in buckets or sponsored us or bought items in the auction we’re still eternally grateful. I spoke earlier about Romford but I didn’t mention the one man who put a five pound note in my bucket as he passed and looked at me and said “You know why”. Trust me, we do.

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“How do we get these things to fight?”

This spirit of kindness was displayed again when we got to Belfast. We managed to get the flight sponsored by bmibaby.com (all one word, no spaces, no capital letters, at least that’s what they told us) which meant we landed at Belfast International airport which is, frankly, in the middle of nowhere. After a few discussions we decided to appeal to see if anyone could give us a lift into the city centre more in hope than expectation. We’d had two replies within hours. They picked us up and delivered us to the Odyssey where we were due to meet another group of fans in the Titanic Bar (it obviously didn’t go down very well as it’s Rockies now) at their own expense, giving up their own time for a bunch of strangers. That night was another example of a Rink Rush moment as well. The flight out was delayed and we were due to be interviewed on Radio Nottingham at half time in the Notts County game. The delay meant we thought we were going to miss the interview as the delay put half time at about the point that we flew over the Isle of Man (not that I was looking). What we didn’t know was that there’d been a delay at Meadow Lane as well. The floodlights had failed so play had been delayed and we were able to do the interview whilst travelling to the Odyssey. That was like a microcosm of the whole week, we had the Rink Rush moment, the spirit of human kindness and a couple of the funniest moments of the whole trip. I’ll never play cards or think about Chinese women without laughing to myself about that night.

If we did it today (who shouted ”No!”?), the Rink Rush would be a very different affair. It might only have been ten years ago but, technologically, the world was a very different place. There was no Facebook or Twitter to help spread our message and Google Maps? No chance, we had to use Microsoft Autoroute. I don’t think either would have been much help with some of the route “discussions” though. Without Facebook or Twitter (not that they existed back then) we had to rely on sending texts after every visit to Lyndsey Edwards who then added them to the Cage Forum. In a way that was good because it allowed us to actually enjoy the journey. We just got in the bus, sent the text and then drove to the next rink. Any longer updates had to wait until we’d got internet access in hotel lobbies at (in one case) half past four in the morning because I couldn’t sleep. If we were doing it now I’m sure there would be far more interaction using tweets, facebook statuses etc to keep up a constant commentary of the journey. We’d probably be begging a GPS tracking device from somewhere so people knew exactly where we are. This lack of technology didn’t stop people following us; we’ve heard numerous stories of people constantly checking the Cage to see where we were. When you walk into Dumfries to be greeted by the words “You guys are the Rink Rush, you’re late, you got stuck in Manchester” you know you’re on to something.

I’ve spoken a lot in this article about the six of us but I don’t think that the Rink Rush was ever really about us. For me it was about everyone who followed us as well. This may sound a bit daft but it felt to me like the British ice hockey community came together for one week to support a great cause. We were the lucky ones we got to experience the whole of that journey but it always felt like we had a whole host of people not just following us but with us and that can be a pretty humbling feeling. If you were one of those that followed us that week, thank you, I hope we did you proud.

Don’t worry; I’m wrapping this epic up now. Frodo is off to the Grey Havens & the Ewoks are celebrating the destruction of the Death Star. I always knew this would be a difficult article to write but I didn’t realise it would be difficult in so many meanings of the word. I knew that I would have to work to get this written because I wanted it to be right. It had to be right. Normally, I write one draft, skim through it so that it makes sense re-writing anything that doesn’t make sense as I work my way through (and yes, I know that all it shows). This article had to be different, it had to be right and that’s meant a lot more time (this is the seventh attempt at this particular paragraph & I still don’t think it’s quite right) has gone into in it. As I write this I’ve already submitted three “final” drafts and then sat and thought “that bit doesn’t sound right” or “I can’t leave that out” and had to go back and re-hash parts of it. I hope it’s been worth it though. I don’t think I’ll ever think it’s exactly what I want to say but I’ll just have to stop as it won’t make much sense to release it in June.

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That awkward moment when you want to sleep more than you want to watch a hockey game.

What I didn’t expect when I started this was the emotions that it has triggered within me. I thought the events of that week were long in the past, buried by another ten years of experiences but now that I’ve been thinking about them so much maybe they aren’t. I miss being involved in something like this. Not just the time we spent on the road but the organization, the nights spent poring over Microsoft Autoroute, making arrangements with the clubs or the frankly chaotic meetings we had at Jono’s house. There were times when it could easily have driven us mad and I’ve lost track of the number of times I walked around the boating lake on Highfields Park trying to think my way around some problem or issue. But regardless of how frustrating it was at the time I know that it was all worth it.

That’s why I look at events like the UK Forum All Stars and I have to admit I’m envious of those involved. I wish I was part of something like that again. I’m pretty sure that I’m too old to learn how to play now but it’s not the actual playing part that I’m bothered about although I guess that’s pretty important. It’s the feeling of being part of something, the feeling of belonging to a group that is doing so much good while you’re having such a good time. We can spend so much time feeling like we’re on the periphery of things but there’s nothing quite like the feeling you have when you’re at the centre of something good.

Camaraderie is a pretty clichéd word but it’s a pretty good way to describe it as well. If camaraderie is clichéd then “band of brothers” is far worse, but that’s what we were that week we were as much a team as any you see out there on the ice. We all had our roles and we fulfilled them. Those roles were never really allocated we just fell into them because they were the right ones for us. We bonded over that week and it’s a bond that I hope will never break.

It was a lot of hard work (laughing can be very tiring I’ve found) but there’s no way you can say it wasn’t worth it, not least because we raised over £13,000 and I don’t think that’s bad for six blokes from Nottingham following one daft idea. Oh, and we got to find out what Eric Cairns thought of Andy Carson. Let’s just say he wasn’t keen.

So, what next? I don’t know really. There’s part of me that hopes that by writing this article I can leave the Rink Rush behind me but that just causes more problems. You see I’m not entirely sure I want to leave it behind. What we did was so much fun and did so much good that I want to carry it with me forever and I suppose it will always be with me in my memories. If I did leave it behind then what would I do then? Would I want to do something like this again? Something different but something that contains that level of enjoyment. I know how I think and deep down I know that’s how it’ll end up happening. Another idea will surface and keep re-surfacing no matter how often I push it back down. That question – “what next?” will probably stay with me until I find an answer. There’s a few ideas bouncing around at the moment, nothing concrete yet though… I’ll have to wait and see what floats. I hope something does. If that’s the case I know five people who should be very worried.

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Well, you have to don’t you?

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3 Responses to “Ten Years After”


  1. 1 Mags February 13, 2015 at 10:10 am

    As a Panthers newbie (5 years, but hooked!) I have often heard people talk about this great achievement. It has been an absolutely brilliant read – and yes, the chap in Romford has brought tears to my eyes. £13000 back then was (and still is) an awful lot of money. Well done guys! PLEASE write a book about the experience Paul – would love to hear about the rest of the highs (and lows).

  2. 2 Nuttyrockeress/Lyndsey Edwards February 13, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Brilliant recollection of a brilliant week and I even got a mention 😉 I’m still surprised that Cap One didn’t sack me that week after the time I spent updating the Cage and moderating.

    Still, it was worth every minute of my time to support you lot and help along the way.

    Raise my glass to you all. Fantastic bunch of blokes!

  3. 3 Mark February 13, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Ah Odious T and his **** flicking five. I’d nearly forgotten them. Nearly but not quite. Have to say he nailed Simmsy just right


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