Trekking the Great Wall of China


It’s been nearly 2 months since I returned from China, and I have finally got round to typing out my thoughts and memories of this incredibly rewarding and completely unforgettable experience.

Before I start though, lets rewind back to August 2016. My grandfather had just passed away from a short battle with cancer. He had spent most of his retirement years fundraising for the Royal British Legion, and also the Alzheimers Society which is a charity in Britain that focuses not only on finding a cure for Alzheimers and dementia, but also giving help and support to the families of people suffering from the disease. We had received a lot of help from them back in the late 90’s right up until 2004 when my grandmother sadly passed away from this disease.

Last summer while my granda was ill in hospital, he asked us to keep fundraising and donating to Alzheimers as it was still a very important cause to him. A few months after his passing I was still trying to think of something to do. I thought about donating money directly to the charity, but then I thought about possibly doing something in his memory and trying to raise even more money than I had in the first place. Then, almost by magic, I received an email from the Alzheimers Society listing their fundraising challenges for the next year, and the picture at the top was a group of people trekking the Great Wall of China. Within a week or two it was official, I was going to be one of them!

A year of preparation and fundraising, training and trekking, visas and vaccinations, the time came for the challenge. Here is a somewhat simplified day-by-day account of our trek, and what we went through.

Days 1 & 2: Berlin to Beijing

The first two days were travel. I had around 32 hours of non stop flights – from Berlin to London, to Dubai, to Beijing, and finally by bus on to Huangyaguan – where we spent the first two nights. I won’t bore you with any details of this, because to be honest those 2 days are just a blur!


Day 3: Huangyaguan

This was our first full day in China. We arrived in the dead of night to our accommodation, quickly learning that this would be one of the better bathrooms on our entire trip, and we were completely oblivious to the fact we were staying in a former military fortress entirely surrounded by the Great Wall! We had a short morning briefing about the days ahead before a quick history lesson and relaxed walk around our fortress accommodation, which was also a small (and so styled) museum and local heritage site.

In the afternoon we took our bus up the mountain for a short downhill trek to get us warmed up for the rest of the week. Our lead bus driver Mr. Liu showed us his magical driving skills by taking a 52 seater coach up some incredibly unsuitable roads, against the local drivers who are willing to overtake a bus even on blind corners with some sheer cliff drops if they mess up.

Once at the top we started trekking. 8 miles/13km covered in total, with a 880ft/270m climb, nothing too serious compared to the rest of the week! The route was cool as we trekked over a mountain and down the other side straight into our fortress where we were staying. When we got back we had a few hours to kill before dinner, which we used to drink beer and get to know each other.

Dinner was down the road in sort of a rural roadside diner where the electricity would cut out every 10 minutes. The food? Good! The beer? Good! The toilets? Erm…

Day 4: Huangyaguan to Mountain Village

This was our second day of trekking, and a real introduction as to what lay ahead the rest of the week. We were to trek the 9 miles up and over the mountains toward a farmers house where we would spend the night. We started from our fortress accommodation early in the morning and headed straight up the steep section of the wall that was looming over our fortress for the previous 2 days. Once we got to the top the trail seemed to disappear up a mountain, and into the clouds.


This is when we were then faced with ‘Heavens Ladder’. 302 steps directly up a cliff face! And once we completed that, we had to trek even further uphill, to the very top where we then had to walk along a ridge at the summit. Something I will admit, even for someone who does not have a fear of heights, was pretty frightening. If you slipped here it was almost 750 meters down at either side, unless you were lucky enough to be impaled on a tree!

Thanks to some quality leadership from our experienced guides, nobody died here, so we kept going toward our rest stop at a mountain top cafe for lunch, which was really just a porta-loo, some vending machines, and a billion wasps! After this we continued trekking around the tops of the mountains, where the weather opened up some spectacular views for the rest of the days walking.


We arrived at our farmers house accommodation just after 6pm, and sat down to a well earned feast of Chinese food! It was on this night where I tasted the local delicacies of both pig face and chicken feet… not the worse things I’ve ever eaten, but I won’t be ordering them again anytime soon.

Later that night while we were getting a history lesson on China and the culture from one of our local group leaders, the local police came to the farmers house to check all our passports and visas were in order, a reminder of the communist government in power and their grip over everything in the country.

In total we trekked 9.5 miles/15.5km, climbing 1750ft/540m over the course of our 8 hour journey.

Day 5: Mountain Village

Our third day of trekking the Great Wall of China, we started from our farmers house and again went directly uphill to a place called the ‘Three Province Stone‘. A marker for where the three provinces of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei all meet. The trek up was yet another beautiful journey along some unrestored parts of the wall, taking in endless mountains with the wall stretching endlessly into the distance.


Once we made it to the top we were mauled by locals who were fascinated with 45 white people at this random place over 100km from Beijing. One of them snatched our group leader Kevin and started shouting “Bear Grylls… Bear Grylls!” while forcing him into photos. I’m also pretty certain the lady fixated with me said ‘James Cordon’ to her friend, but I’m taking that as a compliment!

We then came downhill back toward where we started, but we couldn’t help but notice the local butcher was chopping up the village pig in the back of his pickup truck! If you were to ask me to describe rural China though, thats it. Everything is basic, but everything works. And everyone is friendly, despite the massive language barrier, people will just wave and smile at you, making you feel very welcome over half the world away from home.

Back at the farmers house we regrouped and set off down a 7km path to our busses which had been parked on the main road overnight as they couldn’t make it up to where we were staying. In total this was a 9.5 mile/15km day of walking, with only 1000ft/300m climbed.

While we were buying some mystery flavoured potato chips at the petrol station, the two bus drivers argued about which route was faster to our next night stop. Mr. Liu said the mountain back roads were slower, but shorter and with less traffic. Whereas Mr. Shu opted for the Beijing ring roads were longer but obviously you could drive faster. Lets just say one of them was very, very wrong!

90 minutes after Mr. Liu’s bus had arrived, Mr. Shu’s bus finally made it to our accommodation for the next 2 nights. A unique riverside motel with some more good cooking and alcohol! We once again sat down to a feast of Chinese food and beer, before chatting together late into the night.


Day 6: Jinshanlin/Mutianyu

Another long and difficult day of trekking as we drove to a touristy section of the wall called Mutianyu. And by touristy I mean the things we come to expect from any attraction in the world, but something we had somehow gotten used to not having the previous 3 days. Toilets!! There was also a museum, a Burger King, a Starbucks, and even a cable car up to the top! However we wouldn’t be getting that. Instead our local guide James decided to lead us up the back path to the wall.

About 3 hours of uphill, through endless almond nut fields, trying not to step on all the mantises, and absorbing even more spectacular and unforgettable views across the Chinese landscape. Once at the top we were greeted again with some of the most spectacular views of the entire trip. You could literally just see the wall stretching over every hill way into the distance. As there were some seriously steep sections ahead, our guides had planned the day so we were going down these parts and not up.

We continued over the mountains for another 3 hours – up and down, from watchtower to watchtower – and once we reached the end of our days trek we were given three choices to come back down the 400m mountain to the base. The 700 steps, which no one opted for. The cable car, which again I don’t think anyone went for. And the toboggan, which all 45 of us went for! 1 mile/1.5km downhill in a steel toboggan took just under 5 minutes, and speeds of close to 30mph/50kph in one or two places!

In total day 4 involved trekking 10.5 mile/16.5km and the biggest uphill climb of the week at 2600ft/800m uphill, and with the exception of the toboggan most of it back down again.

Day 7: Jinshalin/Mutianyu

This was scheduled to be our longest day of trekking, with some of the most spectacular sights to be seen. Sadly bad weather changed our plans. Not only would we not be able to see anything, but we would actually be risking our own safety. Instead our leaders opted to take us back to Mutianyu again. As a more touristy section of the wall we would be safe, plus people could choose what they wanted to do that day, if they wanted to rest injuries or take it easy.

One of the guys on our trip, Ed Jones, had gotten some unfortunate news the day before about his father (who was battling Alzheimers) being taken to hospital back in Britain. Taking a day off didn’t seem like the right thing to do. So some of the group went ahead and climbed up the 700 or so steps back to the wall, turning to the left and doing a short trek before descending again. But myself, Jim Lang and Doctor Ed decided to be rebellious, and to turn right at the top going as far as we could in the short time that we had.

We made it about 2 miles/3km before having to turn and head back. The dense fog made it difficult to see anything, but some of the sights we did get were simply spectacular, and something most visitors to Mutianyu would never witness. Overall we trekked 6 miles/10km and climbed 1400ft/430m in only 3 hours.

After this we transferred to our hotel, the Yang Fang Da Do hotel (it’s real) on the outskirts of Beijing. It was a beautiful 4 star accommodation, and it was everything you’d ever dream of! It had pillows, and heating, and lamps, and even a toilet with a seat! We had another group dinner together before relaxing with some more drinks and chatting the night away until eventually the beer ran out and the staff sent us to our rooms. In a government run hotel, you do what they tell you to.

Day 8: Old Badaling

The final day of trekking, and an emotional one for everyone involved. This time we went to a place called Old Badaling. A touristy section of the wall, but without the tourists! Like some abandoned city, it was completely forgotten about, just us and a handful of locals.


This day simply has too many stories to write down. Things like Doctor Ed getting in trouble with the ‘Great Wall Authorities’, yours truly helping lead the group stretches, and screaming ‘Ni Hao’ at the top of the mountain and getting a reply from someone down below. Shaking beers, foot massages, racing back down the wall like you’re in some sort of Mario Kart game, and of course many tears and hugs. This day had a little bit of everything, and if anything was made more emotional knowing our trek was at an end, and this was the last time we would see the Great Wall of China.


Once we finished our trekking we bussed the 2 hours into Beijing itself to our final hotel for the next two nights. Some of us went out to explore the local area of Beijing for a bit, seeing the beautiful Temple of Heaven and the locals all playing strange card and chess style games throughout the grounds. And nearly getting killed at every traffic junction because again there simple are no rules!

For dinner we went to a famous Chinese restaurant where you don’t just get a table, you get an entire room to yourself! The chef comes to you with an entire duck and shreds it in front of you. We were also able to use our new Chinese vocabulary and hand gestures to order beer!

In total on our last day of trekking we covered 11 miles/17.5km and climbed over 2300ft/700m.

Day 9: Beijing

Our final day was a sightseeing tour of Beijing. We started by visiting a silk museum where we learnt all about the making of silk and the famous Silk Road. Our hostess Mary was phenomenal. She screamed “follow Mary” as she moved throughout the museum, before giving the most unique marketing pitch involving a freakishly accurate solo demonstration of my sex life under a silk duvet… a marketing tool which strangely worked so well that half the group ended up buying silk duvets!

After this we went to the centre of Beijing to see Tiananmen Square which was mostly closed off due to the huge government party conference going on that week. But somehow our local guide James got us in, and we got to explore a relatively empty square. Myself and Jim walked away from the group to take some quick photos of The People’s Hall, the building where the conference was taking place. We quickly noticed we were not only being watched and followed, but we were also being recorded by a “security patrol”. He didn’t make much effort to hide his iPhone recording us, but at the same time he wasn’t making much of an effort to pretend to film or photograph the surroundings, and once we headed back toward the group he left us alone. A truly strange experience, but another reminder of the governments control over this somewhat secretive and paranoid country, and the suspiciousness of 2 westerners breaking away from their local guides. After the Square we moved north into the seemingly endless Forbidden City, which was both beautiful and spectacular with an astonishing history that is really hard to believe.


After this we then went to a tea room where we got a demonstration of how to brew and pour authentic Chinese teas. Just a bit different than your Tetley’s with milk and 2 sugars! And finally on to the famous Pearl Market, a place where there are no prices, only haggling, and by just walking past a shop you obviously want to purchase the most expensive thing they have. The shop staff are aggressive and annoying, but at the same time absolutely hilarious.

That night a few of us went to the local theatre to see a play on the history of Kung fu. Something that I honestly went in with low expectations, but came away thinking it could probably be on the West End or Broadway and have a pretty successful run! We finished the long day with some final beers in the hotel lobby. With a 3am wake up call most of us just stayed awake to the point of no return. Or at least that was the plan until we were told by hotel staff to be quiet or otherwise we would be deported a few hours earlier than scheduled.

In total a pretty long day with 8 miles/13km of walking, but a bit more relaxing on the knees!

Day 10: Beijing to Dubai to Heathrow

The long travel day back to London. We left our Beijing hotel at 3am, through the airport for a 7am departure. The only thing I remember here is seeing KFC open at 5am and thinking “I don’t care, I’m getting a Zinger meal right now!” and then being disappointed to discover Chinese KFC has a breakfast menu that does not have chicken, fries, or even Cola! Turkey and egg white sandwiches with milk. Absolutely heartbroken.

Onto the flight and I was sitting with my boys Ed and Jim, and we decided to watch the same movie, pressing play at the same time so we would all be in sync, laughing at having fun all the same time. That lasted about 5 minutes in before Ed fell asleep completely ruining our Despicable Me 3 fun time.


8 hours later we landed in Dubai, and the first thing on my mind was the fast food I had been craving since that morning in Beijing airport! I was the first one to find the McDonalds, quickly followed by almost everyone else under 30 in our group. We then boarded our next 7 hour flight back to London, where we again tried to sync our movies again to zero success.

Once back in Britain it was time for our goodbyes. While crowded around the baggage carousel we all hugged and cried, going our separate ways. Or at least they all did, I had to spend the night in Heathrow airport before flying the 2 hours back to Berlin the next morning!

Day 11: Heathrow to Berlin

Another early start as I caught my 8am flight to Berlin, where once I landed I dropped off my bag and went straight to work for a 4pm Eisbären game against reigning champions Munich, before finally going back home to sleep for what felt like an entire day!


This was a trip I will never forget. Despite all the oddities of the country of China with the controlling government and the excessive pollution, I loved every second of it and I would hope to be back someday. If you have ever thought if doing something like this, I would say go for it. It will be something that will change your life. Sure its hard work, the preparation, the training, the kit needed and the travel to get there, but it was worth every little struggle.


When I started fundraising I set the target of £1,500. My mum and her friends held a Zumabathon fundraiser in my hometown which on its own raised well over a thousand pounds! Now, one year later, having raised just over £4,500 (€5,090) I cannot thank everyone who has donated along the way. Every pound, euro, dollar, penny, cent, or whatever else you can donate is very much appreciated. Our group as a collective has raised a phenomenal £185,000 (€210,000) in just over a year! You can still donate easily and securely online in multiple currencies through my JustGiving page, and all the money donated by you goes directly to the Alzheimers Society as I paid for the trip and all expenses myself.

One last time, thank you. To the local guides, the trek leaders, the bus drivers, the charity reps, every one of the 41 other people on that trip, and to every one who has donated and helped along the way. I cannot put into words how much this means to me and my family.

Thank You.

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Being a Tour Guide in Berlin… How Hard Can It Be?

Since moving to Berlin 2 years ago I have been not only working with the ice hockey team, but in my spare time I have been giving guided walking tours around this great city. Growing up as a somewhat shy kid with pretty bad stage fright, the thought of standing in front of groups of anything from 10 to 70 people and delivering the history of a country I am not even from, is something I never thought about doing at any point of my life. But here I am, almost 150 tours into a job I love.

Pic: Dom Bryant

A lot of people who come on my tours ask where I got my degree in history from, and it always shocks and surprises them to learn that not only do I not have a degree, but I never even paid attention to history in school. Mainly because the mandatory history taught in my school was all the boring stuff about the King who got shot in the eye with an arrow and that time Britain tried to take over the world. It wasn’t until 2014 on the first of what is now an annual trip to the D-Day beaches in Normandy with my Grandad that I started to become interested in history, specifically World War II, which obviously Berlin was at the heart of.

But talking about the history of Berlin and Germany isn’t that easy. You see, the country of Germany has a pretty complex past, and technically has 5 different birthdays:

  1. January 18, 1871 – German Empire is founded.
  2. May 23, 1949 – Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) established.
  3. October 7, 1949 – German Democratic Republic (East Germany) established.
  4. October 3, 1990 – Reunification of West Germany and East Germany
  5. March 15, 1991 – Unified Germany becomes fully sovereign.

That means that somehow the country of Germany is officially not even 150 years old today. Before that it was Prussia, which is a whole other mess of history I won’t even begin to get into. The city of Berlin itself also has an incredible history dating back over 800 years, but it is only the last 100 years which people find interesting.

What happened was, the German Royal Family back in 1914 forced the country into a war they did not want. Doing this escalated what was a small war between two countries into a ‘Great War’ known as World War 1. After the loss of 18 million people in the war, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated the throne of Germany in 1918 and the country became a federal republic. This means the relatively new democracy had to deal with everything after the war, including the Peace Treaty of Versailles.

This is an era known as the Weimar Republic, and once the Golden Twenties had come crashing to an end the country swung far to the right, as the only party that seemed to be offering a genuine and unique change (or propaganda) in the country at that time was the National Socialist German Workers Party, or NSDAP for short. This party was headed by Adolf Hitler, who simply wanted to ‘make Germany great again‘, something I said on almost every tour before a certain person took the quote, adapted it to his own country and put it on a cap! And that brings me to one of the most difficult things to talk about on my tours, comparing these two politicians…

Side Note: I started writing this blog back when President Trump was threatening North Korea with “Fire and Fury”, so a lot has changed since then and things have gotten a little more complicated

There are people on almost every one of my tours who are happy to make this comparison, and in order to beat them to it and stop the discussion before it gets started I have to mention them both in the same sentence and illustrate the vast differences between them. And before you say it, yes I have tried not mentioning Trump at all, but about 90% of the time his name gets raised by someone either as a joke or a genuine comparison, which leads to group discussing it and adds time to an already long tour. So I think its best to get it out there first and explain their many differences.

But the reason it gets a bit difficult is because there actually are some similarities in their rise to power; both are inexperienced politicians heading a major political party, both subsequently went on to lead their respective countries, they both have the ability to play the media, as well as the ability to work with new technologies at the time – but there are a large number of differences in them.

Thankfully when explaining the comparisons and clearly showing where they end between these two people is something that seems to go down well with my groups, but it is a challenge all tour guides in Berlin are facing right now. I have overheard a few guides from other companies all mention similar things as me. But it is an ever changing topic, and as of right now it isn’t so much the comparisons between Trump and Hitler we have to deal with, it is the two movements themselves.

Explaining the difference between what the Nazi regime was back in the 1930’s/40’s and what the “Alt-Right” movement is today is a difficult task, and this is something I do try to avoid mentioning all together. But sometimes people in my tour groups like asking questions about this and voicing their own opinions, which I am more than happy to answer and join in the discussion. But at the end of the day this is a tour about a period of history that ended over 70 years ago, and that is what I have to focus on.

People do though find it shocking when they see how the country of Germany deals with topics and symbols of the Nazi regime to this day. Everything from outlawing the use of symbols of the Nazi regime outside of the contexts of “art or science, research or teaching”, what the city of Berlin have done with the site of Hitlers Reich Chancellery and his Führerbunker, to tourists performing the Nazi salute in public, which can lead to arrest or even just a swift beating.

At the end of the day it is important to know and remember that Germany itself is the very first country in the world to ever build memorials to war crimes committed by their own citizens. The biggest and most famous is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in downtown Berlin. The memorial itself comes with an incredible amount of controversy from the price tag at €28million, the size of land at approximately 4 football pitches, the anti-grafitti chemical used to coat the blocks, and even the attitudes of visitors there.


Everything I have mentioned above is just one era of history here in Berlin. Once we finish with the Nazi history we now enter the Cold War era. This is the period where the Soviet Union, who were in control of the East of Germany and the East of Berlin, constructed a wall to keep people inside their country. To most people today, the idea of communism/socialism is a bad one, but back then it is important to remember that not every single person in Eastern Germany wanted to leave for the capitalised West.

For example, the sports teams of SV Dynamo were formed from Police and Stasi guards. The sports club offered handball, athletics, gymnastics, cycling, speed skating, figure skating, boxing and volleyball. Arguably the most famous team in the entire sports club is the BFC Dynamo Berlin football team who won 10 consecutive championships from 1978 to 1988. They were often seen as getting assistance from referees to help them to glory, and some players and fans enjoyed this. But despite the success, the fact they were state run by the Stasi had players who wanted to leave rather than reap the benefits.

Even the ice hockey team has his DDR history as SC Dynamo Berlin was their name even as recently as 1992. Fans from the other 13 DEL teams (all of which are located in former Western Germany) hold a special kind of hatred for the Eisbären, something the ‘Ost-Berlin’ fans strangely take pride in. Some of the players and fans of the former Dynamo team were/are still proud East Berliners, and some were simply trying to keep the sport of ice hockey alive in the suppressing country of East Germany.

The topic of building a wall to stop people getting from one side to another is again something people on my tours will compare to the situation on the southern border of the United States of America and President Trump’s wall plan. This is something that has mostly been forgotten simply due to the overwhelming number of controversial topics President Trump has fought for in the past 7 months. But it is still important to show that there are vast differences between these two walls.

The wall built by the Soviet Union here in Berlin was effectively a massive scare tactic to stop their own people from fleeing to the west. And when that wasn’t enough, it was adapted in a way to make it a murdering device to therefore stop people from making their way over to the west. Right now that death toll stands at 140 individuals, a number which is constantly argued and being painstakingly researched to be as accurate as possible.


The bottom line is, almost every dividing wall built in the world is there to either stop people getting into one country, and/or to stop a potential outbreak of violence. The Berlin Wall was a device to keep people inside their own country, to stop them fleeing to what they felt was a better life than what they were living.

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.” – John F. Kennedy, 26 June 1963

On top of all of this, us tour guides also deal with the seemingly daily threat of modern terrorism. It is something you obviously don’t want to think about, but when you are walking around some of the most touristic hot spots not only in Berlin or Germany, but the entire continent of Europe, it is always in the back of your mind.

The terrorist attack in Berlin just before Christmas really hit home as to how realistic it is to be caught up in this. Just a month prior the attack at the Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market I was at that exact site with my mother, and again just 9 days before the attack with some friends. Then seeing all the other Christmas markets get surrounded by reinforced concrete barriers, and the tributes paid at the Eisbären game a few days later, reminded us that this can happen at any time and any place. But we can’t let that stop us, we just have to keep going with our everyday lives as much as we can.

Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market – 10th December 2016

Terror attacks in these central city places have been planned and thankfully stopped by the constant work of Berlin/German polizei. But when everyday vehicles are being used to murder many innocent civilians throughout, it is something you do have to keep in the back of your mind.

Graphic: Deutsche Welle

Another big task with being a tour guide in Berlin is delivering all I’ve mentioned above, and many other aspects of history I skipped out of this blog, to a group of tourists in just over 3 hours. We have to skip out entire eras of history, otherwise the tours would simply last forever. My very first ‘test’ tour was with my family, and even subtracting the McDonalds breaks (yes, plural) it still went for a good 7 hours. And that was at the beginning of my training!

Since then I have learnt much more about this city, watched countless documentaries online, read endless articles, and even visited some incredible museums and documentation centres throughout Berlin and Germany. And with everything happening in the world right now there are a lot of comparisons to be made to this city.

At the end of the day this job has not only given me something to do on my free days and during the off season, but it has changed my life and introduced me to many fantastic people all throughout the world.

Every person, family, company, sports team, city, country, or whatever else, should always honour their history. No matter how good or bad it was, it shaped us into what we are today. The most important thing is the future, as it will shape how we are remembered by future generations.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress; Vol. 1

2016 in a nutshell.

“2016 was the worst year ever!” – Thats something I’ve seen a lot of people say on social media over the past few days. Most of them are referring to the amount of celebrity deaths that have occurred within the last 12 months. I hate to break it to you, but the reality is 2016 wasn’t the worst year ever. It was just another year, and let me tell you why…

First of all let me address the obvious. Yes, the world did lose a lot of famous people, who entertained and inspired many of us in our every day lives.

The acting world lost Alan Rickman, Doris Roberts, Victoria Wood, Gene Wilder, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

The musical world lost David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, and Leonard Cohen.

The sporting world lost Muhammed Ali, Geordie Howe, José Fernández, Arnold Palmer, and of course not forgetting the entire Chapecoense football team.

In fact, if you were to print every notable death from 2016 listed on Wikipedia, you would get 416 pages filled with people who were inspirations to many, all sadly lost from this earth within the last 365 days.

Chances are you won’t personally know someone on this list. I know I don’t. The biggest loss I have encountered this year was my grandfather whom I lost in May. He was the second biggest influence and inspiration in my life behind my mum. He doesn’t get a Wikipedia page, or a BBC News article. He did however get a small piece in his local town newspaper, and a short blog post written by yours truly, but that was it really. The important thing is that none of that matters. He will always remain a huge part of my life, even if the rest of the world moves on and leaves their memories of him in the past.

And that brings me to my point here. In todays world, with the Internet forming its own little bubble in which people live in, it is easy for a lot of us to get sucked into a universe in which celebrities seem like they are our family and friends. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat – they all give us an insight into the life of our favourite singers, actors, or Kardashians. We become so obsessed with their world that it is sometimes easy to forget we have our own world around us, neglecting our own families to check up on what Kylie Jenner is wearing today, or whats next for Brangelina.

Outside of the celebrity world, there is a seemingly non-stop cascade of negative news such as the murder of British politician Jo Cox, the fallout of Brexit, and whatever is going on in American politics. There was the terrorist attacks of Brussels, Nice and Berlin, which together claimed the lives of at least 130 people. And you can not forget the civil war in Syria and the ongoing conflicts throughout the Middle East.

Despite all of this, there has been some good news throughout the world in 2016:

A solar powered plane circumnavigated the earth. Sri Lanka was declared malaria-freeNew chemotherapy breakthroughs have increased the survival for pancreatic cancer. Scientists found the gene thats linked to ALS thanks to the money raised from last years ice bucket challenge. Tiger and manatee numbers are growing in the wild, and the Giant Panda is no longer endangered. The ozone layer is slowly repairing itself, and Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar!

The ultimate fact is that people today always tend to dwell on the negative news, and simply forget about the good stuff that is happening in the world. Always focusing on the bad things in life, forgetting to give a thought to all the good things going on elsewhere. They feel like it is only them experiencing these scenarios. But thats not true. There have been over 108 billion people who have walked this earth. Only 7% of them are alive right now. Everyone of those individuals has gone through adversity. Everyone has been affected by tragedy. And what this reminds us is that regardless of what happened, you are not alone.

Since you started reading this blog over 200 people have lost their lives. 60 million people die every year. Each and every one of them an inspiration in their own way to their friends and family. However, in the same amount of time you have been reading my ramblings, over 500 people have been born into this world. These babies will become the next generation of intelligent minds, celebrities, athletes, and inspirations to others.

Maybe its time to stop dwelling on the past and the negatives, and start focusing on the future and the positives. Think of it this way, if 2016 is a book, then the next couple of hours make up the last few pages. Finish off on a high, party with some friends, tell someone you love them, have fun and go wild. Because with tomorrow brings a brand new book, the sequel to 2016, and it all starts on page 1.

Goodbye Granda

As some of you will know, the last 3 months of my life have been incredibly tough. Just 12 hours after the Eisbären season came to an end, I was sitting in a hospital in Northern Ireland visiting my Granda who had just been diagnosed with terminal & aggressive cancer. We didn’t tell him I was coming home. Only 3 people knew of my last minute trip home. Over the next month I ended up spending more time in Belfast than in Berlin, travelling between the 2 cities almost every week. It became somewhat of a normal way of life.

Then just a couple of days after my birthday he sadly passed away. From receiving the news to arriving at my front door in Greenisland was just 14 hours, the wonders of modern transport helping me get back to spend time with my family when it mattered most. Those weeks racked up quite the credit card bill, but it was worth it to spend an extra few days and moments with the most important man to ever be in my life, and to share in the many stories and memories people had about him.

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I decided to continue on what would have been our third annual trip to Normandy for the D-Day commemorations in early June. He had repeatedly told me to still go regardless of his health situation, but with him not there it was a strange experience. Seeing the outpouring of love and respect from not only the group that he annually travelled with, but also the group of people from Saarbrücken and their incredible gesture of holding a moments silence for a man they only seen 3 days a year made the week an incredibly memorable one.

During the week I scattered some of his ashes on the D-Day beaches at Arromanches, as despite not serving during World War 2, he always loved his annual trip to France with some of his best friends. And Arromanches has, in his opinion, the best mussels in France, so it seemed like the perfect place for part of him to forever be resting. Seeing the faces of all his friends filled with tears was something I will never forget. Ian Crangle, my grandas annual room mate for these trips, and the company bugler, played an emotional rendition of ‘The Last Post’. Bystanders all stopped for a moment and looking out over the sea. It seemed like time stood still for the minute I was on the beach, and I hope I made him proud.


Then exactly 2 months from his passing, the entire family got to say their goodbyes as the remainder of his ashes were spread to sea at Carrickfergus, a place he called home for over 50 years.

For those of you who never knew Alan Hamilton Senior, he was a great man. To summarise his life in just a single paragraph is a challenge, but I will give it a try!

Born in 1938, he grew up in a Belfast suburb before lying about his age in order to join the British army. He joined the Royal Ulster Rifles where he served during the Cypriot war of 1957/58, and also in British occupied Wuppertal in Western German in 1960. He returned to Britain to marry my Grandmother Iris in 1963, raising two daughters and working as a Texaco fuel tanker driver. He reached the level of branch manager before stepping down to spend time with his now extended family of grandkids, but also to take care of my grandmother Iris, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimers. She passed away in 2004, and the void in his life she left behind was noticeable. If anything he started working even more then with the Royal British Legion. He became chairman in 2006, a role he proudly held for 10 years until his death. He was also a main organiser behind the annual Armed Forces Day in Carrickfergus, even bringing the famous Red Arrows display team over in 2013.


I was very close to my Granda, and the last 2 months since his passing have been extremely strange. No longer receiving the weekly whatsapp message about a random topic has been a strange void in my life. And I just know he would have been constantly on the phone to me about the Northern Irish football team in the Euros, as he always had immense pride in his national team, no matter what the sport. Plus, he would have loved that England v Iceland game!

It was tough to say goodbye to a man who was effectively a father for me. He taught me most of what I know today. The realisation has hit hard that I am the last remaining Hamilton to continue our family name, a name which he single handedly built up to its current status and reputation in his local community. And not only that, but to live in the shadow of a man who had so many friends in so many places, is going to be an incredibly tough job.

If I can even be half the man he was, I will be happy.

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Alan Hamilton 1938-2016

6 Monate in Berlin

Roughly six months I have lived in Berlin, and I can honestly say I have loved every minute of it! The history, the nightlife, the food, the sports, and of course the beer! It has changed my life completely, and I couldn’t have done any of it without the help and support of my friends and family, particularly my mum Elaine and granda Alan! But I can’t help but feel like I am one of only a very few people doing something like this, and I will try to explain why…

When I look back home to Belfast, and all the rest of my friends throughout Britain and Ireland, I see everyone settling down and starting families at a young age. I will admit, I was almost one of them. At one point just a couple of years ago I had two brochures of engagement rings. Sadly that chapter of my life didn’t have quite the happy ending, but I think its safe to say that things did work out better for both myself and my ex in the long run.

But enough about the past, lets talk about the present and the future. I am now living in Berlin, a city I have always loved, working as a statistical analyst for the Eisbären Berlin, my dream job, and most recently I became a tour guide around the city, which is both a dream job and in my favourite city!

To say I am somewhat lucky to have found happiness in almost every aspect of life is an understatement. But it wasn’t until recently when I started re-watching the American sitcom ‘How I Met Your Mother’ on Netflix that I realised what a fantastic turn my life has taken. Someday about 30 years down the line, that will be me sitting my kids down and boring them to death with stories of what their dad got up to in his earlier years!


Stories like how interrailing back in the summer of 2014 opened my eyes to the many different cultures throughout Europe, altered my perceptions of people, and pretty much changed my entire life. Going to the London Olympic Opening Ceremony in 2012. Visiting Normandy in northern France and listening to stories from someone who was there on D-DayWinning two Elite League championships with my hometown team. Sitting in the press box at Boston’s TD Garden for last years Beanpot final.

Then there’s the more recent events like somehow landing an interview with the Eisbaren within 10 days of touching down at Schonefeld Airport. Getting to wear Uwe Krupp’s 1996 Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup championship ring. Watching the Super Bowl on the jumbotron at Mercedes Benz Arena. And the endless evenings hanging out with friends; wether its in a cool bar, coffee shop, or a nightclub, my life is pretty much like living in a tv show now!

And of course I can’t forget the more interesting stories like ‘the kebab incident’, kicking a polizei car, missing the last train home and staying in the club until 5am when they start up again, and the chipped tooth (which my mother will only be discovering as she reads this… sorry mum!)

There is one thing that I have noticed in my brief 6 months living here, and that is that the British and Irish as a whole are probably the least travelled in the world. Yes, we do travel a lot in terms of city breaks and trips to Magaluf, but the rest of the world actually travel a lot more extensively. There are a lot of people who simply spend a few months in a new city, renting a small room, getting a shitty job to pay rent. They generally just have fun, and after a while they simply pack their bags and move on to another new city in another new country for another couple of months. I have met so many people who do this, and I can’t lie, I’m thinking of possibly doing it as well at some point in the future.

My point is that everyone back home now-a-days is so driven on finding a career and buying a house, getting married and having kids, and it all has to be done some time in your mid-20’s so you can ‘relax’ and cruise to the finish line. What I don’t understand though is that everyone loves some surprise and suspense in their lives. TV shows, movies, books, sports… they all have some unpredictable moments, twists and endings, and that why we love them. Put it this way: If your football team done all the work in the first 25 minutes of the game and then just cruised to victory at the final whistle, would that still be interesting enough to keep you a fan game after game, year after year? Probably not, so why should life itself be any different?

Now I understand some people won’t agree with what I’ve said. Travelling, experiencing new cultures and getting out of your comfort zone isn’t for everyone. But it is what most people crave in life. New experiences, meeting new people, learning new languages, living new lives.

I will leave you with one final thought. It was something my former boss told me moments after I informed him I was quitting my job and moving abroad. It was surprisingly meaningful, and I remembered every word he said:

There are 7.4 billion people on this earth. Billion, with a B! And most people live their entire lives within a 25 mile radius of where they were born and raised. They go to school, get a job, make friends, and even find the love of their life, all within a 10 minute drive of where you grew up.

Even if you believe in the statement that someone is one in a million, that still leaves seven and a half thousand people out there for you, and in my honest opinion, you’d be damn well lucky to find them all in your home town.

EIHL and DEL – They’re pretty much the same, right?

I have been a citizen of Germany for just over 5 months now, and in that time I have been consulting with one of Europes biggest ice hockey teams, die Eisbären Berlin, who compete in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. After spending the last 7 years with my hometown hockey team in Belfast, I can’t help but make comparisons. So hopefully in this blog I will help explain both the obvious and the not so obvious differences between the two leagues.

The on ice product is actually very similar. Britain has done nothing but improve over the years, and Germany has struggled with the creation of the KHL and the rise of many other major leagues around Europe. From my vantage point I can see that the British league is most definitely on par with the DEL-2, able to compete with them each year in the Continental Cup, and the likes of Brian StewartBrett Jaeger, Brendan CookTyler Plante and Jeffrey Szwez able to compete in both leagues.

Each year we see teams from the EIHL compete with the top flight Germans in the Champions Hockey League. Now, comparing the EIHL with the DEL just because they got a few wins under their belt is a bit more of a stretch. Yes, both Braehead and Nottingham have defeated DEL opponents in the last 2 seasons, but there are a few factors that play into this. Mainly that both teams have only been together for a few weeks, and that injury-free rosters are a huge plus. And while I’m not trying to demean the performances of any EIHL team, the reality is most European teams actually change the style and tempo of play for the CHL for the reason that import limits are so much stricter in other European leagues.

The main differences between the leagues though is off the ice. And there are so many ways this differs, so I think the best way to compare these is to make a list with a description of just what the difference is.

League Operation – Most fans of the Elite League will agree with this straight away, but I don’t think you realise just how much of a difference there is between the EIHL and the DEL in terms of behind the scenes operation. To compete in the DEL you need to buy a one off license which comes in at a rather costly €800,000¹. Obviously the EIHL cannot charge anywhere even close of half a million pounds per team – they probably cannot even raise that combined. But the key here is to get some input from each team to help cover operating costs such as league travel, logistics, and the ever hot topic of officiating. This fee, combined with the television deal covers everything the league needs to run successfully. And, if a team needs/wants to leave the league for whatever reason, they sell their license and get their money back. This cash then helps set them up to continue operating as a DEL2 team. Best way to explain this is if Manchester had to purchase their EIHL license from Hull – Hull would then use that cash to help continue the Stingrays in a lower league until such a time as they were ready to move back up. But instead the Stingrays simply lie fossilised at the bottom of the Humber.

Officiating – Admittedly I haven’t paid much attention to the Elite League this season, but every week my twitter is filled with complaints about officiating. The reality is Tom Darnell, Mike Hicks, Dean Smith, Stefan Hogarth and the rest of the crew are all there is in Britain, and they are actually very good by IIHF standards. I’d even go as far as saying they are better than some DEL referees! The problem is the lack of officials. Britain’s league is seen as semi-pro by most people in the world of hockey, simply because you don’t use the 4 man system. And I know the response to this will always be “we don’t have enough officials and can’t afford the travel” – well, see my first point as to how to help solve that. Also, I told our head coach about the whole Belfast v Edinburgh overtime fiasco back in September, and I genuinely believe he thinks I made it up as some kind of rookie hazing the coach thing. Side note: What are the British officials are doing with the Danish league this year? Why is it not a two way system with their officials helping out the EIHL?

Travel – Every year I always see a couple of people discuss the topic of travel in the EIHL and complain about Belfast and the Scottish teams being too far to travel to. Guess what… every league has some bad travel logistics. All you can do is find a way to make it work. Teams in the DEL bus almost everywhere in their super awesome team busses with amazing graphics plastered up the sides, except us. We don’t even have a team bus. Berlin are the Belfast of the German league. Hamburg and Wolfsburg are in very similar travel situations. There are 7 teams down in southern Germany, and 4 more clustered out in the West, with us 3 up in the north/east. The other 11 teams travel almost exclusively by bus, as the most you will visit an opposing team in the regular season is twice. But the other three teams rarely bus, opting for flights or the slightly longer but less hassle option of trains. Then you have to add hotels into the equation as just like in Britain you can rarely fly commercial after 11pm, and trains would’t get you back to your city at around 2 or 3am, getting you to bed around 4.

Thats just the DEL. Jokerit is a KHL team based in Finland, and they started their season with a 4 game, 8 day, 14.000km road trip to some of the furthest teams in the KHL. They had to pay over a quarter of a million pounds sterling for a charter plane alone, and complications with Chinese airspace added about an extra hour to and from Vladivostok, as well as a fuel stop and crew change in Novosibirsk on the way back from Habarovsk.

Source – Twitter

The National Hockey League also has their problems as the Atlantic Division actually has the entire Metropolitan Division geographically separating the six northern teams with the two Floridian teams.

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Side note: I started writing this blog a few weeks ago, and since then its come out about the possibility of a KHL team in London. Eisbären Berlin and Kölner Haie were approached by the KHL in 2008, and both rejected as they didn’t think it would be successful. Thats two of Germanys biggest terms with regular 14.200 and 18.500 sellouts of die hard hockey fans. That was also 8 years ago, and still no German team has joined the league, and it doesn’t look like any one is interested in doing so within the immediate future. A brand new franchise would be incredibly hard to sustain, not just financially, but logistically as mentioned above, and also in terms of fan base. Could you guarantee enough ticket sales to create enough revenue to maintain a healthy bank balance? Realistically Sheffield and Nottingham are the only two viable options, and even then I don’t think this would work very well.

Import Limit – The DEL operates a strict import policy. It currently sits at 11 imports, with 10 being allowed to dress for a game, and thats it. If someone gets injured you can’t just replace him and when he gets better you have two guys battling for one roster spot. Theres no healthy scratches. Theres no one month injury cover contracts. Once you have used an import slot, its done for the season, and that includes season ending injuries as well.  Most teams only sign 10 imports, leaving one spot open for an emergency goalie should it be necessary. If you use all 11 import slots you better have confidence in your backup goalie to play 2 games a week should your starter get injured, and your third string goalie better be ready to see a game or two every month, and number 4 on your depth chart then has to take the load of the remainder of the DEL-2 season.

Dual nationality does however count as a German passport, i.e. Daniel Heatley with Nurnberg. This goes back to my point at the beginning about the CHL. Teams cannot afford injuries of any kind. To lose an import in a side competition is a catastrophic loss, and losing a national team player is even worse as they are pretty much irreplaceable. Yes, every DEL team has a fantastic junior system with good players they can call up at a moments notice, something Britain doesn’t have. They will rarely more that 8-10 minutes, but they don’t just fill the bench while every other guy gets double shifted, they do actually see some ice time. (See 17 year old Maximilian Adam who is one of Germany’s 35 NHL Draft eligible players in 2016 who was called up this weekend to help fill in for injuries to 3 of Eisbären’s top 6 d-men, and seen approx. 5 mins of ice time in a special teams heavy game.) I don’t even know what the import limit is in Britain now, but I’d suggest it is dropped to 8 or so, with British passports counting as non-import players.

Fans/Atmosphere – German sports fans are like nothing I have ever experienced. The atmosphere in Berlins fankurve makes even the best Elite League fans look like they are part of a funeral procession. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get goosebumps at every game at the Mercedes Benz Arena. From the opening song ‘Hey, wir wollen die Eisbären sehn‘, to the entrance and introduction of the players, the ‘Dynamo’ chants, and the famous ‘Ost Ost Ost Berlin’ at the halfway point of every game. Not to mention the banners and flags, as well as the pyrotechnics at the end of the intro video! It may sound like it may never work in Britain, but I happen to think it would. The standing terraces are a hot topic in the UK for obvious reasons, but each teams fan section has strict rules as to how things operate. Flags cannot be waved while play is ongoing, no flares inside stadiums, drums are fine, and banners displaying any political messages must be authorised by a ‘fanbetruer’, a representative for the team who works to organise the fan section. Also, it doesn’t hurt to throw in a couple of ‘scheisse scheisse’ chants when addressing the opposition and their fans, but that would lower the PG rating which most British hockey teams are aiming for.

Social Media/Promotional Material – This is more of a cultural thing rather than a difference in the hockey leagues themselves, but I thought it was worth including anyway. Eisbären Berlin are probably the most socially interactive team in the DEL with a over 9.000 fans on Instagram, 13.000 followers on Twitter, and almost 100.000 likes on Facebook. They are still a couple of steps behind some of the promotional stuff the British teams do (specifically Belfast). But to be honest I think this is more a Germanic thing. The country as a whole is very different with social media compared to Britain. It simply isn’t as huge here as elsewhere in the UK, USA, Canada, etc. Even I have I have turned off push notifications from Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat on my phone because they were beginning to annoy me. So if its not a text or WhatsApp, I probably won’t see it until the next time I’m sitting on the toilet. But the biggest difference is promotional material such as the excellent videos the likes of Belfast and Sheffield use. Especially Belfast. Not that I’m biased, but seriously Belfast have some awesome videos in their archives. Advertising over here its a bit more mainstream. Huge billboards, printed press, radio and TV commercials, and so on. There’s even a 25ft tall portrait of Micki and Pohly wrapped around the Dunkin’ Donuts at the Ostbahnhof. I just don’t think the Germans have grasped shamelessly hilarious promotional videos yet. Maybe I’ll talk them round to it next year…

Playoffs – Seriously, sort your shit out Britain. 4 victories and you win the “playoffs”? No one takes that seriously. A player actually laughed when I told him that. It needs expanded in some way, and by doing this you will instantly get more recognition as a good hockey league, therefore bringing better players to the league, therefore raising the level of competition.

For those that don’t know, the DEL playoffs start with the top 6 teams from the 52 game regular season qualifying, and the teams ranked 7th to 10th compete in a pre-playoff best of 3 game series. The winning teams then go through to the actual playoffs, a 3 round best of 7 game series using the traditional 1v8 or 9, 2v7 or 10, 3v6 and 4v5 ranking/bracket system.

Schedules – At the time of writing this blog the lowest number of regular season games played by an Elite League team is 34, and the highest is 39. In the DEL the lowest is 39, and the highest is 40. And after tonight this will change so that all 14 teams are on 40 games played. Every team will remain on the same number of games played throughout the remaining 2 months of the regular season. This leads to a much more competitive end of the season, as theres no maths needed to calculate teams catching up points using games in hand. And I remind you this is all for a league championship which is comparable to the NHL’s Presidents Trophy. It gives you top seed for the playoffs, and thats about it. Eisbären’s regular season championship banner doesn’t even hang in the MBA, instead being located in the teams practice facility (and former home arena) the Wellblechpalast. The reason for this perfect symmetry in the DEL schedule is that teams play all their games every Friday and Sunday. Obviously in rare exceptions there are a couple of midweek games. But apart from that, it is pretty much a perfect schedule. Obviously this would be more difficult to enforce in Britain with bigger events priority over hockey games at certain venues, but there still shouldn’t be a 5 game spread throughout the table at any time throughout the season.

In Conclusion – The on ice product is comparable to a certain extent. Obviously the styles of play and team systems used on the bigger regulation ice over here are different than Britains hybrid skill/physicality style of play. And running 4 good competitive lines vs 3 good competitive lines will wear a team down quickly. So while EIHL teams have defeated DEL teams recently, it doesn’t quite mean they are on equal terms on the ice. But the main difference is behind the scenes, as I hope I helped illustrate in this long and rambling blog. Every other league in Europe has a stable structure similar to the DEL, and operational organisation behind it is helping push their individual league toward being more competitive with other leagues throughout the world, including the KHL and even the NHL.

Whereas Britain, well, you have Tony Smith, chairman of “the board” of the Elite Ice Hockey League. A league which will never change as long as he is in charge, kind of like FIFA. To become a better league and to actually be able to compete in the likes of the CHL, it will involve a league wide makeover. Every team needs to buy in to making the league great, and I just don’t know if every team is willing to do that.

From Belfast to Berlin

Todays the day. I have just boarded my flight to Berlin, a city with double the population of Northern Ireland. A one way ticket, a backpack of clothes, a suitcase of some more belongings, and two weeks in a hostel. That is quite literally all I have… which when you take into consideration that I made this decision back in April it really isn’t much, but I have done all I can do for now.

I need to apologise right now for this blog, because I started writing it about 3 weeks ago and I know it will get pretty rambling and lengthy. But please bear with me as there is a lot of people who have been a part of my life over the last quarter of a century who I need to thank for being there for me before I embark on this new journey.

From way back in Greenisland Primary School, where I coasted through 7 years of education before somehow getting an A in my final exam and sticking it to the teachers who doubted me; to Belfast High School, where once again I casually cruised through 5 more years of learning, gaining just enough grades to continue my higher education elsewhere, and making some friends who ended up being hugely important influences in my life. Guys like Hazer, Dill, Warren, Hollie, Emma… you were my first real close group of mates!

Then theres my working life. It all started in 2007, working a year and a half in Core Systems with Phil, G, Catherine, Jane, Julie… my first real taste of the office lifestyle. 3 years of my life were then spent in Dunnes Stores, who legally I cannot bad mouth because they were generous enough to donate £250 to my charity ice hockey tournament last month! I had my ups and downs while working there, and almost each and every person who worked with me made some sort of an impact in my life. Ursula, Sarah, Alan, Sheila, Gillian, Karen, Laura, Rebecca, Michael, Clare… due to the high rate of staff turnover there’s a literal butt load more people to mention that I cannot fit in here, but they were all amazing people to work with! Also, I still have that size 24 blouse if anyone wants to hire me for their wedding.

After three years in Irelands version of Marks & Spencer, I then moved to the actual Marks & Spencer where I worked on and off for a year, again learning new skills on merchandising, cash handling, customer service, and of course, endlessly flirting with every female who worked in the entire building. Not that I was very good at it, but it helped pass the time!

Last but not least, theres Product Earth Solutions, who rescued me from unemployment in January 2014. After just one month of hard work, I simply floated through the next year and a half doing minimal work for minimal pay, making endless “thats what she said” jokes, inventing any excuse for a chippy, and generally getting sloppy with the whole ‘close Facebook when the boss walks into the room’ thing. But I made some great friends there; Chris, Ally, Becky, Gary, Raymond… they all made going to work that little bit more fun!

Then theres the whole ice hockey side of my life. I went to my first game in 2002, and fell in love with the sport. I then first skated in 2006, and met a whole new group of people that would end up being hugely parts in my life growing up! Dawn, Victor, Julie, Dale, Laura, Adam, Toffer… again the list is almost endless, but they were all great friends to me throughout those years!

Back in 2008 the new Giants coach Steve Thornton asked Dale Cree (who ironically would go on to become MD of the company I’d work for 7 years later) to help assemble a team of ‘statisticians’ to give him an extra advantage in coaching.  I didn’t actually like statistics that much to begin with, but I stuck with it. That team of stats guys would then quickly dwindle from 6 to just myself within a few months. It was around this time I actually started to get into it, and the rest as they say is history!

That history was winning 5 titles and 2 league championships throughout my seven years there, and I loved every minute of it! I need to thank Steve Thornton for getting me started in statistics, Paul Adey for our weekly coffees to chat stats and hockey, Todd Kelman for being my all time favourite Giants player (even if he did abandon us for Cardiff), and of course Doug Christiansen for continually helping me improve myself, and for still giving me guidance in my career path. Then theres the players like Tim Cook, Keefer, Lloyder, Sandy and Shieldsey to name but a few, and of course all the off ice guys: Glover, Dave, Matt, Jo, Brooksy, Bobby, Rachel, Michael, Laura, Kira, Paddy, Coach and Davy… again the list of friends I made at the Giants is endless, and they are all fantastic people who I will miss seeing on a weekly basis.

Then there’s Dumfries. A place I visited as a fresh faced 17 year old for my first ever ice hockey camp, and I had the privilege of returning in 2013 to be a statistician at the world championships, and again in 2014 and 2015! Meeker, Searlait, Craig, Scott, Jessie, Struan, Mitch, and more. All of you made my annual visits worthwhile!

Last season I even got the chance to partner with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Each week I would watch up to three game tapes, spending on average 4 hours per game, recording analytics and statistics on every player. Helping provide future NHL stars like Max Domi and Mitch Marner with data to help improve their game is something I will always cherish doing, and I need to thank Rob Simpson and both Dale and Mark Hunter for that opportunity. Also, for all you hockey nerds with a keen eye on hockeys future, keep an eye out for Victor Mete!

Hockey analytics is as of right now a literal ‘one in a hundred million’ job. And even though I do have my name in the mix, hopefully someday soon I will get into sports analytics.

Last month I also had the honour of playing in the UK Forums All Stars Charity Ice Hockey Weekend in Sheffield. I was a late addition to Team Breast Cancer Care, and still managed to rack up £1,198 for a great cause! In total that one weekend with 130 players has raised over £70,000 for 8 separate charities!! There wasn’t one person I met at the tournament that I didn’t get on with. G, Dave, Kez, Astill, Nic, my first line buddies of Alex, Matt, Carl, Steve, and everyone else on Team Boobs! It was great to meet you all, and I’m already planning next years trip! And of course theres the Team NI lads; Aaron, Glover, Sauce, Maca (and Emma) and Dave. Together we raised almost six grand, and the fact I got to spend one of my last weekends at home (in Sheffield) with you guys was awesome!

One more thing hockey has gave me is a very generous 50/50 win in 2014. Yeah, the year when I was filling out my name and address when Drew Fata scored ‘that goal’. That night is all a bit of a blur, and not quite for the reasons you would think! But as I walked back to the hotel with two good friends in Mel and Stevie Robinson, they gave me the idea to go interrailing once again… which I did!

In two separate interrail trips in 2011 and 2014, I visited 26 cities in 15 countries. Along the way I made many great friends, from Ben, his partner, and the Sprogg family I met in Munich; soon to be wed couple Aaron and Sarah in Salzburg; the 5 girls from Belfast I went swimming with in Lake Bled; Bradley and Niall who we bonded over Top Gear and US Late Night Talk Shows on that interestingly endless train journey to Budapest; Kirstie for a great evening in Prague; my 2 fabulous Scottish pals Shannon and Mel, along with Brittany, Riley, Erin, Simone, Tim, Fran, and the three welsh guys who’s names I cannot remember, all whom I met in Berlin; Steve, Steph and Gary, and also Elizabeth, all in Copenhagen. There are a load more I have probably forgot to mention, but again I could ramble on for days with stories about everyone!

Then theres that elite group of people who are probably most glad I am leaving, the guys and girls I’d class as my best friends! Mark and Vikki for many, many chinese nights, and for providing me with God children! Sam, you were such an annoying cousin growing up, but our love for Top Gear and Tesco brought us closer together than I ever imagined! Mark Dornan, I think its time I finally admitted that I am obviously the Gus in our scenario… Good luck to you and your Juliet! Neil, my go to video nerd and endlessly annoying Boston buddy… same time next year? Stephanie, the main reason I have WhatsApp, and my personal rear of the year winner for the last two years! Sally, our heart-to-heart coffee dates were always a highlight, I guess you will just have to come to Berlin for our next one! Becca, you made me the man I am today, and despite how things ended you will always be one of my closest friends. You have all made huge influence in my life, and I can’t wait to have you all come visit me whenever and wherever I get settled!

Finally, I need to thank my entire family, but especially my mum and granda. We’ve had our ups and downs, but you two done whatever you could to give me a good life. Ever since granny past away a decade ago it has just been us three, and I can only hope that she would have been proud of what I have done so far, and what I’m setting off to do with my life. I can’t wait for you two and Gary to come visit me when I get settled in Germany!

Hopefully this blog served as a decent insight to my life and the future I am embarking on. And I also hope that I won’t be coming home in a few weeks with a maxed out credit card and my tail between my legs! If I missed anyone out, it was never my intention.

Thanks for the memories.


“At the end of the day you gotta go out there and just do it yourself, really. You gotta make mistakes along the way; and over the years you will find your own path.” – Sig Hansen

NI Invasion at UK Forum All Stars

In just a few weeks, I will travel to Sheffield with 5 good friends from Belfast to take part in the 8th annual UK Forum All Stars Ice Hockey Charity Tournament being held in Ice Sheffield from the 24th to the 26th July, and will feature 163 players from all over the UK playing for 8 different teams, each representing a separate charity.

These teams are:

So far over £165,000 has been raised since 2008, including over £45,000 this year alone, and the Northern Irish contingent of just 6 players have a combined £3.5k to their names with 3 weeks still to go!

Meet the Team:

Dave Seay #25 – Prostate Cancer UK

I am delighted to be taking part in the 2015 UK All-Stars Ice Hockey Weekend. I love playing ice hockey and have heard such great things about the UK Allstars Weekend.

Set up so that fans that love the sport of ice hockey from across the UK could come together and have a fun, enjoyable and great time playing ice hockey and whilst raising money for a number of good causes.

My team is Prostate Cancer UK so please donate as much as you can for a such a great charity. Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men. Over 42,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year – that’s more than 110 men every day.  1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime, and there are over 300,000 men are living with and after prostate cancer.

Thanks for taking the time to read and thanks for all the donations towards Prostate Cancer UK 🙂

Dave Seay – Picture: Alan McNeice

James Glover #14 – Dreams Come True

For a number of years now I have wanted to do something for charity and there is no better way for me to do this than playing the sport I love.

The UK Forum All Stars Weekend has raised a phenomenal amount of money for various charities since 2008 and I am proud to be representing the Dreams Come True team at this years competition.

From the outset there was only one team I wanted to fundraise for and fortunately that is the team I was assigned. All of the 8 chosen charities carry out fantastic work however Dreams Come True is a charity that I am extremely passionate about.

Dreams Come True is a children’s charity serving England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, bringing joy to terminally and seriously ill children by making their dreams come true. Over the last 25 years Dreams Come True have helped more than 5,000 children and young people as well as their friends, family and carers.

In my work with the Belfast Giants I have been fortunate to see first hand the joy and excitement young children experience when they get to meet their favourite player, watch a practice from the bench, or go on a tour of the locker room. I want to help create moments like that for seriously ill children and their families and by supporting Dreams Come True, hopefully make the hard times a little easier for someone.

To bring me back to my first point, hockey attracts a unique breed of people. The 136 players taking part as well as the officials and fundraisers for Sheffield 2015 are not only doing something they enjoy but also they are making a difference. Please give us your support. Donate what you can, share a post on facebook, retweet a tweet and let’s get the £200K milestone smashed. Every penny is going straight to the charity and will go a long way in fulfilling the dreams of a young person.

James Glover – Picture: Nicky Johnston

Jonathan McIlmurray #50 – Autism Plus

I am glad to be representing the charity Autism Plus in this years event. We all know someone or know off someone effected by autism and how tough it can be both on the people who suffer from autism and their carers. I personally know a few people who have autism and know their families which makes playing for this charity even more special.

I have been playing ice hockey for 5 years now for the Belfast Ice Foxes which as you can tell is based from Belfast, I love the sport and being able to play in this charity event is just amazing. I am lucky enough to say that i am one of only 6 people selected from Northern Ireland from people all over the UK who asked play in this years event.

Jonathan McIlmurray – Picture: Alan McNeice

Ross Gowdy #72 – Autism Plus

In July I will be playing in the UK Forum Charity All Star event for the Autism Plus team. The event has been setup to bring people from all round the UK together to play ice hockey and most importantly, raise money for the team they will be representing.

In the UK, it’s estimated that about one in every 100 people has Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While there is no ‘cure’ for ASD, a wide range of treatments – including education and behaviour support – can help people with the condition.

After playing ice hockey for 3 years at the Belfast Ice Foxes, i am delighted to be selected and play for Autism Plus and raise as much as possible. So if you can spare anything at all it will be much appreciated and go a long way whether it be £1 or £5

Ross Gowdy – Picture: Robert J Rainey

Alan Hamilton #90 – Breast Cancer Care UK

This July I am playing ice hockey at the UK Forums All Star Weekend in Sheffield from the 24th to the 26th July. This will be my first year at this event, and I am honored to be taking part in raising money for such a great cause.

I started playing hockey 9 years ago, made it as high as the Irish Amateur League in 2010 before a hit left me with a severe concussion and kept me off the ice for the best part of 2 years before I started helping out coaching a women’s team. I’ve only recently got back to skating and practising on a regular basis so I’m still lacking fitness and getting used to it all again!

For my first year at the UK Forum All Stars I am honoured to be representing Breast Cancer Care UK, or ‘Team Boobies’ as its known. Every year nearly 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and it is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women in the UK, killing nearly 12,000 people every year in the UK alone. Breast cancer also affects men, around 400 men are diagnosed each year.

The research into breast cancer could someday cure this, and possibly other forms of cancer. Please donate whatever you can to make this possibility become a reality.

Alan Hamilton – Picture: Nicky Johnston

Aaron Stewart #64 – Captain – British Heart Foundation

For those I haven’t met yet, I’m Aaron, I’m 24 and three quarters, and from Bangor, Northern Ireland. 2015 will be my third UK Fallstars tournament, and this season I’m honoured to have been asked to captain Team British Heart Foundation.

Over 40,000 premature deaths in the UK are caused each year by cardiovascular disease, and the British Heart Foundation are the UK’s largest independent funder of research into cardiovascular disease.

Being asked to be a captain in any team, in any sport, is an honour. It’s something most people aspire to, and when it happens, it’s a shock.

My road to the Fallstars started about 6 seasons ago, when I first heard about the tournament. I thought it was an awesome idea. I think it’s best been described as a ‘second playoff finals weekend, without the emotional rollercoaster that goes with watching your team win or lose’.

I began playing hockey in the tail end of 2010, and first applied for the UK Fallstars in 2011, sadly, I didn’t make the roster, only the reserve list. The same happened in 2012 and 2013, until I got an email from David in April 2013 saying there had been a few people drop out and roster spots had opened up for Team Breast Cancer Care, amazingly, the team I wanted to represent. So that’s where it all started really, I made my justgiving page and spammed twitter for a solid 4 months. Team Boobs went on to win the tournament that year, which felt almost as good as hearing that the entire weekend had raised over £30,000.

In 2014 I represented Team Autism Plus, a locally based charity in the Yorkshire area. Initially I worried I wouldn’t be able to drum up as much sponsorship as the previous season. This wasn’t the case. As I’ve said before, the amount of donations and kindness and promotion you see for this event and the people taking part, is enough to restore your faith in humanity at times, and I’m sure I speak for all the players that take part, that we can’t thank everyone who donates enough for their donations and constant promotion for this event.

Hockey isn’t the biggest sport in the UK, but it has this aura around it that intrigues people, whether it be the scoring or the fights….well maybe mainly the fights, but it draws people to it. This weekend, to me, is all about the charities and meeting new people. The actual hockey plays second string to that. Whether you can or can’t skate, whether you can shoot or not, or whether you can stop or have to crash into the boards. It’s really not that important. The fact you’ve raised money for 8 great charities and being able to do so by playing and watching a sport you love, having a few fun nights out in the local area, and all while raising ridiculous amounts of money charity in the process. That’s a pretty sweet gig if you ask me.

I have no doubt that the 2015 event will carry on from the success of previous years, and I can’t wait to get into swing of things again; chatting to team mates, organising training camps, thinking up ridiculous ways to raise money, and generally, just having fun, that’s what it’s all about.

It’s an honour to take part in this event, and I can’t wait to see you all in the summer, until then, mix in a water, stay away from the mustard and play hard.

Aaron Stewart – Picture: Colin Nellis

For our tomorrow, they gave their today.

Every year a group of Royal Ulster Riflemen from Newtownabbey make the near 500 mile, 17 hour trek by both air and sea to the beaches of Normandy in Northern France. For most of them, it is a memorable and meaningful trip to make annually, but for one in particular it means a whole lot more. William ‘Billy’ McConnell MBE served with the 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles on D-Day, and even at the ripe old age of 90 he makes the trip every summer to pay respect to his comrades, most of whom were his friends.

He flew into Normandy at the age of 19 on the evening of 6th June 1944 with the 6th Airborne Division as part of Operation Mallard, and he played a major part in the liberation of Longueval and Ranville in the days immediately following their landing.

Picture: Alan Hamilton
Ranville War Cemetery with the church in the background. Bullet holes are still visible on the church, bell tower, and the surrounding walls.

One of his most memorable and fascinating stories, is that of the battle in the village of Ranville. It is a beautiful place, with a church and bell tower dominating the village skyline, and a large war cemetery with over 2000 graves, the majority of which are soldiers from the 6th Airborne Division. While walking through the village, a German sniper opened fire on Billy’s battalion from the bell tower of the church. The the Luftwaffe soldier to took out a Royal Ulster Rifleman before being taken out himself. This scenario unfolded all throughout the Battle of Normandy, most notably in the American sector which was then portrayed in the movie Saving Private Ryan.

The thing that makes Billy’s story special though is that he was the one who took out the Nazi soldier, quite the feat considering he didn’t have a sniper rifle to do so. The four RUR men were laid to rest, not in the war cemetery next to the church, but in the church graveyard itself. Buried alongside them is the German soldier whose name is still unknown to this day. Every year Billy returns to that churchyard and places memorial crosses at the graves of his friends. He then places a cross at the grave of the German soldier. This draws a lot of questions from bystanders, but his reasoning is simple and admirable. The German soldier was just doing his job, defending his country for a better life for his family. Billy and his comrades were doing exactly the same. And for that reason he remembers the German soldier knowing that as there is no name on the grave, his family more than likely never found out where he died, or where he was buried.

Billy fought in Normandy until September when he was sent back to England before going to Belgium that winter to halt the German offensive in the Ardennes. He then went on to cross the Rhine in 1945 where he suffered shrapnel wounds. Billy eventually rose to the ranks of RSM before leaving the army in 1969.

The Royal Ulster Rifles were the only regiment in the British Army to have two battalions sent into Normandy in Operation Overlord, and when Billy returned to Normandy for the first time on the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 he was shocked to see there were no lasting monuments to either of these units. He set out single handedly to change this, and for the cost of a bottle of Bushmills whiskey in exchange for some land from a local farmer, and a trip to France for a Ballymena stonemason, he had erected two beautiful monuments to both the 1st battalion (Longueval) and 2nd battalion (Cambes en Plaine).

This was my second annual trip to Normandy in the presence of Mr McConnell, and I have already started planing flights from Berlin to Paris and a train on to Caen next June for next years visit!

“When you go home, tell them of us and say: For your tomorrow, we gave our today.” ~ John Maxwell Edmonds

Clip from BBC One Documentary ‘We Fought on D-Day’ featuring Billy McConnell

Ich bin ein Berliner!

As many of you may know, later this summer I am moving my life away from Belfast, a place where I have lived all 25 years of my life thus far, and on to Berlin, a city I have visited three times in the last four years, and every time I never wanted to leave. This time I won’t be leaving. Or at least that’s the plan! A one way flight from London awaits me on August 16th, and 2 weeks in a hostel is all I have planned.

I’d be lying if I said it was a tough decision, because it was rather easy to be honest. Everything just came into alignment, and it seemed right that I move on sooner rather than later. My contract at my day job was ending later this summer, and the option for renewal wasn’t what I truly wanted. In terms of personal relationships, I was close to settling down 2 years ago. That all changed and turned my life upside down. And when it comes to chasing my dream job of working in professional hockey analytics, I have worked with 3 great coaches and won every title up for grabs in the Elite League over the past 7 years with the Giants. And after last season I felt like the team is going in a different direction and I am no longer wanted. So its time for a new challenge…

Which brings me to Berlin. Why Berlin? Many people have asked me this, and I have had the same answer for them all. I love that city. Its what I dream Belfast will become. A city torn apart, and brought back together by its own people. But with the small minority of people annually dragging Belfast back into turmoil, combined with the backwards politics of Stormont, leaves us as a troubled city and country that will take a lot longer to fix.

Last year when I was in the German Capital, I met a load of people. I met two beautiful Scottish gals (who I’ve kept in touch with, and even visited at Christmas), a Canadian lass (who was travelling the world for what seemed like an eternity), a Canadian guy who is a hockey fan and sends me many front row snapchats from Sens games (for which I will forever despise him for!), an Australian couple  and even a Finnish student who admitted she didn’t speak any German. Its a city which is surprisingly bi-lingual, which isn’t to say I’m not going to (attempt) to learn German, but it will help me get started!

Everyone talks about writing new chapters in ‘the book of life’. But I felt like I was approaching the end of my book, nowhere else to go in the storyline, the penultimate chapter if you will. So I thought to myself what I could do, and then it dawned on me. Wrap up this book, and get started on the sequel!