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MICHAEL DUBERRY COLUMN: Stars experience has won me over - I'm a new fan
7:15pm Wednesday 11th September 2013 in Sport
Sunday was my first visit back to the city of Oxford since I left in May.
I wasn’t going to watch my old team Oxford United, but instead was attending the Oxford City Stars ice hockey team for their season-opener against Basingstoke Buffalo.
It was my first time going to watch an ice hockey game at any level and I didn’t know what to expect – except that it would be cold, so I came prepared with my woolly hat.
James Schall invited me to the game. He is a massive United fan and a former Stars player.
Now retired, James acts as part of the marketing team for Stars.
I was given a quick explanation of ice hockey rules and just did my best to take it all in.
Up until Sunday, my limited knowledge of the sport was New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and Wayne Gretzky.
James gave me an insight to the history of the Stars, and it was a surprise to me – as I am sure it is to most Oxford residents – that ice hockey and the city have such a deep history.
Oxford became one of the first European cities to witness the sport of ice hockey as Canadian servicemen played the game here in 1885.
This kicked off a successful sporting period for Oxford, which ultimately led to British Championship wins and then massive success in European competitions between the two wars.
Oxford City Stars Ice Hockey Club were formed in 1985, and competed in the second tier of British Ice Hockey.
As money was being pumped into the top level and with new arenas springing up around the country, it left the Stars with an uphill battle to compete.
And in 2011-12, the club hit dark times.
They were unable to field a senior team and with off-ice problems mounting, Stars effectively folded.
A rebuilding process started with a team of dedicated fans and some Oxford-raised players.
And last season the hard work paid off, and the Oxford City Stars were reformed, joining the fourth tier of British Hockey.
They won their league, but bizarrely rejected promotion – instead choosing to remain in the division.
This was explained as purely a financial decision and something to benefit the club.
Moving up a division that quickly would put too much of a financial strain on the club.
After my history lesson, I was taken to the dressing room, which was very tight for 20 ice hockey players in full kit.
I stood out of the way, just observing players getting ready and listening to them motivate each other.
The sharpening of boot blades and the taping of hockey sticks are common pre-game preparation.
Another observation is that there are few universal words, which I cannot repeat here, that you will hear in all dressing room, in all sports, at all levels.
Player-coach Darren Elliott then gave his team talk to an already very-motivated dressing room.
His manner was calm, but stern, and he was very precise with his demands and instructions. I was lost trying to stay with the tactics and the terminology, so I just waited for him to finish and joined in with the clapping.
One player in the dressing room stood out more than any other – and it wasn’t just because of his Errol Flynn-type moustache. He had a presence with what he said and the way he said it.
Alan Green, No 16, came up through the junior ranks at Oxford and iced for the Stars initially between 2005 and 2008 (see, I got a bit of the jargon!).
He spent two years in the English Premier Division with Wightlink Raiders before rejoining Stars.
It now made sense on why he spoke with such confidence and authority in the dressing room.
On the ice, he had just as much presence. I thought he was one of the best players out there.
Another stand-out player was No 21, Josh Oliver. He scored four goals and was man-of-the-match, which I was honoured to present.
Stars destroyed the Basingstoke Buffalos by a whopping 12-1.
It was an entertaining game, as the scoreline suggests, and all of the 400-or so crowd got their money worth.
I am very impressed with the fact that the Stars team actually pay the club for the privilege to play for them.
The only thing that the club gives the players is their match shirt – the individuals have to reach into their own pockets for everything else.
It’s amazing commitment from these players, who are mainly Oxford-raised and just want to help their hometown club.
There is a sense of pride about this city, which I have witnessed during my time with Oxford United and now I see it again with the Oxford City Stars.
I hope the Stars keep going in their quest to get the club stable and reach the heights that they once enjoyed.
They certainly have made a new fan out of me, and I recommended you sample a visit to Oxford Ice Rink to see them play yourself.
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