WHEN Steelers celebrate their 20th anniversary with a Sheffield Arena festival on August 27, it is pretty obvious that some of their most unsavoury commercial moments will be airbrushed from history.
Nobody would expect any reflection on the series of owners that have come and gone – some leaving a trail of debts behind them – since the club was formed in 1991.
Some of the owners hit by financial trouble (one of them, Darren Brown, famously ending up in prison) threatened to drag the club into virtual ruin.
So it was with a sigh of relief that fans welcomed compassionate millionaire and ice hockey fanatic Paul Ragan as the club’s new owner in January; signalling as it did the end of Bob Phillips’ troubled reign.
There was no sign, then, of the news which emerged yesterday – that Rink Corp, his management arm of the Steelers and his other club Cardiff Devils, was in so much debt that it was being liquidated.
And it is precisely because of Ragan’s historically successful and super-smooth management style that made the announcement such a surprise.
He has always insisted that the minority sport must sustain itself via lower wages and a more modern approach to engaging sponsors, TV coverage and community links.
All that is known for sure, now, is that the businessman has called in Insolvency Practioners Harris Lipman, of Cardiff. Ragan has decided to wait until Thursday to give details of what has gone wrong, at a fans forum.
There’s been a modest attempt to pacify supporters saying that the administrator had granted ‘licences’ for both Elite League clubs to continue to play next season and honour season ticket payments already made.
It seems Steelers will be run by a new company (Ice Arena) and operate completely independently from Devils, who will be run by Cardiff Ice Arena. Creditors will know some specifics when a ‘statement of affairs’ is released on July 7.
Steelers have been trying to placate fans with ‘business as usual’ announcements: they say retired defencemen Chris Kelland, Andre Malo, Mike O’Connor and Neil Abel will all take part in the friendly Cardiff Devils legends in August.